3/31/2009 12:39:44 PM
When discussing solar power these days, the name Jigar Shah comes up often. The founder and former CEO of SunEdison, the nation's largest solar power provider, Shah formulated a new way to finance the construction and operation of commercial solar equipment, from rooftop arrays to larger ground-based solar farms.
“SunEdison customers pay nothing for their solar systems,” writes Michael Behar in a profile of Shah for OnEarth magazine. “Instead they sign what is known as a power-purchasing agreement, or PPA,” a pact to buy the electricity the system produces at a set price for at least 10 years.
Common in the coal, oil, nuclear, and natural gas industries, the PPA is new to solar and has attracted customers including the Kohl’s department store chain, which now has SunEdison arrays on the rooftops of 67 stores.
Anyone interested in the future of solar will want to check out the OnEarth article, which transcends its personal-profile angle to capture the state of the solar industry without getting too wonky.
Which reminds us: We also recently saw Shah turn up on the EnviroWonk blog, speaking about the effects of the recent stimulus bill on the solar industry. The outlook? Sunny, of course.
In remarks to an audience of businesspeople at a solar conference, Shah said this year would get “some growth, but 2010 will have amazing growth.”
Sources: OnEarth, EnviroWonk
Image courtesy of SunEdison.
3/30/2009 3:08:48 PM
Maybe this is the future of putting the human back into transit, and redesigning streets for multi-purpose transportation: Parisian urbanites are experimenting with a “street code” to designate the rules of the road, and for the most part seems like common sense. In this system you are “responsible for a user that is lighter than you” while navigating the dense urban system—emphasizing co-existence: semi-trucks yield to cars; cars to bikes and bikes to pedestrians. This video explains the system in further detail and highlights other features of the urban network.
3/27/2009 3:37:08 PM
Far from the mall-pocked, highway-scarred backwaters they’re made out to be, small cities should be a cornerstone of America’s sustainable future. Renewable energy sources like geothermal and solar often require abundant, cheap land, making small towns ideally situated to take advantage of a green revolution.
Urban planners and policy makers are making a mistake by neglecting small towns, Catherine Tumber writes for the Boston Review. Many people suffer from a kind of “metropolitan bias,” giving disproportionate funds and attention to big cities. “Smaller cities located in the heartland could one day anchor a regional agricultural shift from industrial monoculture to more localized biodiversity,” Tumber writes, and could show the way toward a more sustainable future.
Gainsville, Florida, (population 120,000) for example, is “gearing up for a solar power boom,” Mariah Blake writes for the Washington Monthly, “fueled by homegrown businesses and scrappy investors who have descended on the community and are hiring local contractors to install photovoltaic panels on rooftops around town.”
The key to Gainsville’s success is a “feed-in-tariff” policy that requires local power companies to buy renewable energy from independent producers. The policy, pioneered in Germany, is fueling investment in green technology at a time when much of the corporate investment for renewable energy has dried up.
, licensed under
Sources: Boston Review, Washington Monthly
3/27/2009 11:44:43 AM
The wolf is back in a big way in Wisconsin, with more than 500 of the animals roaming the state’s northern regions where they were wiped out a half-century ago. And like many other states with growing wolf numbers, this resurgence is kicking up a heated discussion that has scientific, political, and social undertones. An article in Grow, the magazine of the University of Wisconsin’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, explores the balancing act faced by wolf biologists as they navigate this thicket of issues.
At Utne Reader, we’ve read plenty about the wolf boom further west in High Country News and other sources. And Minnesota, where we’re based, is no stranger to the discussion since Wisconsin’s wolves came from packs in Minnesota, where there are several thousand wolves. Still, the Grow article, by Erik Ness, is a fascinating read full of thought-provoking quotes from wolf researchers. Among them:
-- “Not only do [wolves] not require wilderness, they will live absolutely everywhere. As long as you don’t kill them, or hit them with a car, and there are enough deer, they’re fine. And of course, sometimes things substitute for deer.”
-- “The people who accept these large predators are often the people who don’t live near them.”
-- “Like a like of natural resource issues, the agenda is set by the people who scream the loudest.”
-- “The fact that wolves made it back on their own into Wisconsin, into a place inhabited by and used by people, gives me more hope for the places I work in the rest of the world where there isn’t a big pristine place to put wildlife in.”
Sources: Grow, High Country News, International Wolf Center
Image by Tambako the Jaguar, licensed under
3/23/2009 11:05:31 AM
Alt Wire is a morning digest of links and information collected and explained by a different guest blogger every weekday. Today's guest is Andrew Lam of New America Media, (check back tomorrow for media activist Joshua Breitbart ):
The new economy may be forcing Americans towards a new diet—or at least a cheaper way to eat. Spam and mac & cheese are selling swiftly, but if you know where to look, there is plenty of advice on how to survive on a shrinking budget and still enjoy balanced and nutritious meals.
Six Dollars a Day: John Handley is a young father searching for work while spending less than 6 dollars a day to survive in San Francisco. He writes about the experience at Youth outlook, a literary journal of youth life in the Bay Area.
Six Dollars and Fifty Cents a Day: Meanwhile, Andrea Nguyen, author of Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors has a piece over at Viet World Kitchen called How Would You Eat for $6.50 a Day? “The stock market may be bearish on mortgage-backed securities, but I'm bullish on home cooking,” Nguyen writes. “A good home cooked meal is always a safe bet, in good and bad times.”
The Korean Taco: In Los Angeles, the Korean taco is the rage. It's a combination of spicy bites of pork, chicken, or tofu and kimchi wrapped in soft taco shell and spiced with sesame chili salsa—all for $2 dollars a pop.
Frugality is Healthy: Last but not least check out The Cultural Defense: Frugality is Healthy and Wise, a piece I did that makes me very hungry for home cooking.
BIO: Andrew Lam is an editor at New America Media and the author of Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora.
Previous Alt Wire Guests: Jessica Valenti, Jessica Hoffmann, Noah Scalin, Rinku Sen, Paddy Johnson, Melissa Mcewan, Fatemeh Fakhraie , Joe Biel , Anne Elizabeth Moore
3/20/2009 10:12:12 AM
Drug traffickers grow millions of pot plants in national parks, plundering public lands’ rivers and creeks to keep their thirsty crops thriving. Terrain, the eco-news magazine of Berkeley’s Ecology Center, reports that these illegal grows, which started in Southern California, have since infiltrated “every national park on the West Coast” and are rapidly spreading eastward.
We’re not talking about small patches of plants grown by enterprising hippies. Ron Pugh, a U.S. Forest Service agent who investigates these grows, clarifies to Terrain that the problem is with large-scale operations, not the gentle Humboldt County tokers you might be imagining.
He’s come prepared with a list of comparisons between a “hippie”grow and a DTO site—one maintained by a drug trafficking organization. A traditional garden on public lands, Pugh says, has one or two growers and fewer than fifty plants. The gardener, who lives locally, hikes in every other day or so, carrying water for his plants. Firearms are uncommon, and locations are predictable. “They’re within a quarter mile of a road,” Pugh explains, “and they’re rarely uphill. White guys are lazy.”
DTO sites, on the other hand, average 6,600 plants, and growers go to great lengths to keep them watered, using pumps and hoses to divert water from streams and rivers, and sometimes constructing illegal dams.
Image by LancerenoK, licensed under Creative Commons.
3/19/2009 11:43:52 AM
The U.S. military has joined the growing ranks of Nobel laureates and climate experts who are exploring the idea of geoengineering to combat global warming, according to ScienceInsider. Geoengineering advocates want to change the earth’s climate using ideas that range from simple—painting the tops of buildings white to deflect sunlight back into the atmosphere—to complex—launching tiny mirrors into Earth’s orbit to deflect sunlight from space.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is the agency spearheading the U.S. military’s exploration with a meeting to discuss geoengineering ideas. One of the meeting’s participants, geochemist Ken Caldeira, explicitly opposes any DARPA effort at changing the environment saying, “Geoengineering is already so fraught with social, geopolitical, economic, and ethical issues; why would we want to add military dimensions?”
Science writer Chris Mooney, on the other hand, expressed a tempered optimism on the website Science Progress. Mooney stresses that geoengineering may “prove practically irresistible to politicians and governments,” and therefore it’s a good idea to have reasoned debate about it now. Acknowledging the danger in viewing geoengineering as a panacea for climate change, Mooney suggests that in the current environment, “having a backup plan does make a lot of sense.”
The problem is that the history of geoengineering is inextricably linked with the military dimensions that Caldeira fears. One idea that Mooney advocates exploring is the “Infusion of the stratosphere with sulfate aerosol particles, which will reflect sunlight and cause global cooling.” This would mean “basically declaring war on the stratosphere,” James R. Flemming wrote for the Wilson Quarterly. Should DARPA chose to go ahead with any such plans, it would be the latest in a long history of ill-fated attempts by militaristic forces to control the environment.
Sources: ScienceInsider, Science Progress, Wilson Quarterly
3/19/2009 11:36:13 AM
Have you heard? In 2007 a record-breaking number of U.S. babies—nearly 40 percent—were born to single mothers. But the stat that’s not making headlines, writes Julia Whitty for Mother Jones, is the one we ought to heed: 2007 also holds the title for most babies born annually in the United States ever, period. That’s 4,317,119 bundles of joy.
According to a study published in Global Environmental Change, which Whitty cites, every American baby “costs” six times a parent’s own carbon emissions. “The bottom line is that absolutely nothing else you can do—driving a more fuel efficient car, driving less, installing energy-efficient windows, replacing lightbulbs, replacing refrigerators, recycling—comes even close to simply not having that child,” she writes.
Assuming perpetuation of the standard U.S. lifestyle, true indeed. But Whitty mitigates her argument with a final stat: “In comparison, under current Bangladeshi conditions, each child adds 56 metric tons of CO2 to the carbon legacy of the average female.”
And in a snap, we’re back where we began. Our spiraling global population is part of the climate equation, no doubt. But sitting heavy on the scales is a disparity in consumption so vast that a single U.S. newborn can be charged with 169 times the environmental havoc as a Bangladeshi infant. So much for the innocence of youth.
Plainly speaking, there’s got to be a way to combine consideration for how many people with how much each individual consumes—before nudging the door open to preposterous scenarios where the childfree American can consume with impunity, or carbon-light countries encourage their populations to boom without concern.
As Utne Reader’s publisher Bryan Welch writes in our Jan.-Feb. 2009 issue: “Conservation alone cannot save us from ourselves. With the right combination of imagination and common sense, though, we can begin to address a hard reality: that although the world can always get better, it’s not going to get any bigger.”
Sources: Mother Jones, Global Environmental Change
Image by normanack, licensed under Creative Commons.
3/13/2009 6:01:44 PM
Perhaps you’ve heard the buzz about environmentally friendly wines made with organic or biodynamic growing methods. But what about the containers that vino comes in? A few pioneers are trying to green up the wine bottle manufacturing business.
Sustainable Industries reports on Cameron Family Glass, a new glass factory in southwestern Washington that is carving out a niche as a local supplier of sustainably produced wine bottles. Most wineries use bottles imported from Mexico or France, but Cameron aims to supply 5 percent of the total number of bottles used by Washington, Oregon, and California wineries, thus reducing shipping emissions. It also plans to run its new factory on “98 percent” hydropower and wind power, says president and CEO Jim Cameron.
One of Cameron’s buyers, Heather Staten of Phelps Creek Vineyards in Hood Rood, Oregon, tells Sustainable Industries that there’s been an unsustainable arms race of sorts among high-end winemakers, saying that “very heavy bottles have become synonymous with quality” to the consumer.
The New York Times’ Green Inc. blog recently focused on the wine bottle weight issue, citing a column in the Napa Valley Register that noted that wine bottles appeared to have added more than a pound in recent decades, often in the base of the bottle.
Green Inc. reports that some winemakers such as California’s Fetzer Vineyards have bucked this trend and moved toward lighter bottles—and that more and more of the glass going into wine and other bottles is recycled. The Glass Packaging Institute is shooting for 50 percent recycled glass by 2013.
In the meantime, don’t fall for marketing gimmicks: The heavier the bottler, the more of an environmental lightweight the winemaker.
Sources: Sustainable Industries, Green Inc.
3/11/2009 3:30:09 PM
Writing for New Internationalist, climate activist Danny Chivers delivers an accessible roundup of several major climate change proposals on the table for the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this December. (A longer version of the story is available on his blog.) His article focuses on climate justice, rating each framework on its fairness, effectiveness, and current level of support among world leaders. Cheeky analogies cut through the wonk to illustrate each option for addressing climate change.
The proposal with the most support is the grandfathering of Kyoto targets, which would require industrialized countries to reduce emissions to a certain percentage below their 1990 levels. According to Chivers, “It’s a bit like a group of wealthy tourists and destitute refugees have survived a plane crash and are stranded on a mountain. They decide to ration out the food based on how much each person ate in the week before the crash—the more you ate per day back then, the more food you get now.”
Chivers prefers Greenhouse Development Rights (GDRs). Under this method, carbon targets for each country would be set based on how much money its citizens make and how much greenhouse gas they produce. In Chivers’ analogy, “It’s a bit like a city is razed to the ground by alien invaders. The people who escaped unscathed because they lived in solid houses built from money they stole from the aliens (thus provoking the attack) are expected to take on most of the rebuilding work. The people who had left the aliens alone, stayed poor, and lived in rickety houses that collapsed on them during the attack are allowed to recover in hospital before joining in the work.”
As for carbon credits: “It’s a bit like handing control of the Earth’s vital natural systems over to a bunch of grinning Wall Street traders. Oh no, wait: it’s exactly like that.”
3/11/2009 1:11:23 PM
High upon a forested mountain that was a stronghold of FMLN guerrillas during El Salvador’s epic civil war, the president of a committee of local residents and former guerrillas shows Inter Press Service reporter Raúl Gutiérrez down into one of the notorious tunnels used for strategic advantage during the fighting.
“The first thing tourists ask about is where are the ‘tatús’,” says the guide, referring to the vast network of tunnels and underground shelters.
describes these damp tunnels: They are “slightly over one metre wide, two metres high and several metres long. The tunnels are connected to small chambers and to breathing holes, which during the war were covered by vegetation.”
The reporter is not on some special media tour of the war zone. Locals hope to draw ecotourists to their particularily lush part of the world—then teach them something about their war.
“Half a kilometre away,” Gutiérrez writes, is “‘el hospitalito’ (the little hospital), another underground site where up to 20 wounded could be held temporarily.
“The idea is to offer the tourist something simple but authentic, to show what happened in the war, while we bring in funds to maintain the forest, through a sustainable management program that benefits the people of Chalatenango,” says Francisco Mejía, the treasurer of the Representative Committee of Beneficiaries of La Montañona.
explains that “the group obtained ownership of the 300 hectares after the January 1992 peace agreement put an end to the war that left 75,000 dead, at least 6,000 forcibly disappeared and some 40,000 disabled.
Source: Inter Press Service
3/11/2009 12:37:02 PM
Green buildings are needed to move the country toward sustainability, but if the buildings aren’t beautiful, they won’t be green for long. Architecture professor James Vines asked Kriston Capps in the American Prospect, “If it isn't art, it's not sustainable, because who's going to keep ugly buildings around?”
Green building design isn’t advancing as quickly as green technology, according to Capps, in part because the top-tier architects like Frank Gehry aren’t trying. Some just don’t like working in local or sustainable materials. Instead, green buildings are often built by younger architects with fewer resources. So far, the great design hasn’t been forthcoming.
Image by Payton Chung, licensed under Creative Commons.
Source: The American Prospect
3/11/2009 12:22:57 PM
What does nuclear energy mean to you? Fission Kitchen wants to know. This new web space features an engrossing mixture of essays, photos, and news articles gleaned from other sources, original poetry, and commentary, which explores the world of nuclear energy with intellectual depth and artistic vision. Additionally, there is an interactive survey that asks readers what nuclear energy means to them.
“In the fission kitchen, I share my latest research, and invite you to contribute your ideas and opinions on nuclear power,” says site creator Colleen McCarthy. “From bombs to bulbs, from light to might, this is the obsession.”
Source: Fission Kitchen
Image by PhotoD.ude, licensed under Creative Commons
3/11/2009 12:02:26 PM
“Obesity and numerous chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes are more prevalent in low-income than higher income neighborhoods,” Shannon N. Zenk told Health Day. One reason could be that poor neighborhoods lack access to healthy foods. Even in a big city like Baltimore, research reported by Health Day has found a wide disparity in access to health foods between rich and poor neighborhoods, and between predominantly black and predominantly white areas.
The author of the study Dr. Manuel Franco told Health Day, “If you live in a neighborhood with no healthy options, it'll be tough for you to change your diet.”
3/11/2009 9:56:30 AM
Like a cap-and-trade system for fishing, individual fishing quotas (IFQs) are an innovative way that ocean conservationists are fighting overfishing.
Current fishing seasons tend to encourage a zero-sum view of fishing, where fishermen try to catch as much as they can in the shortest time possible. This depletes fish stocks, and threatens biodiversity. In an IFQ system, the government would regulate how much fish—including the nasty bycatch of unwanted animals—that fishermen could haul in. The latest issue of Earth Island Journal explores the strategy, and finds that IFQs give fishermen a stake in the long-term sustainability of fish, because the more fish there are in the sea, the more wealth there is for everyone.
Image by Philippe Gabriel, licensed under Creative Commons.
: Earth Island Journal
3/9/2009 5:51:27 PM
In a move certain to irritate uncompromising libertarians, oil executives, and muscle-car enthusiasts, New York City has made it illegal to let your vehicle engine idle for more than a minute in a school zone. With the new ordinance, the city joins several other cities and states in going after idling engines as a pollution source and health hazard.
Minneapolis, the home of Utne Reader’s editorial offices, is among the enlightened cities with recently passed or amended anti-idling ordinances on the books. The city even has a printable mock ticket/informational brochure on its website that vigilant citizens can use to remind violators of the law.
How bad is idling, and how unnecessary is it? Let us count the ways:
It spews greenhouse gases. In Sierra magazine’s March-April issue, advice peddler Mr. Green fields a question about the global-warming impact of that American institution, the drive-through. Crunching the numbers, Mr. Green concludes that idling cars and trucks emit about 58 million tons of carbon dioxide each year, and U.S. fast-food drive-throughs cause customers to burn an extra 50 million gallons of gas annually. At Sustainablog, Robin Shreves notes that you don’t even have to give up drive-throughs to green up your act: Just shut off your engine when you’re in line at the bank or the burger joint.
It’s a health threat. As Minneapolis’ ticket/brochure points out, “Exhaust is hazardous to human health, especially children’s; studies have linked air pollution to increased rates of cancer, heart and lung disease, asthma and allergies.” If you have any doubts, go suck on a tailpipe. The Environmental Defense Fund notes that children, the elderly and those with asthma and other chronic health problems are especially vulnerable to the health dangers of exhaust.
Your car doesn’t need it. If you think you need to warm up your car before driving to avoid mechanical problems, think again. Slate’s own advice columnist, the Green Lantern, tackled several engine-idling myths last May and concluded that for modern fuel-injected engines, there’s simply no good mechanical reason to warm up a car for more than 30 seconds. (For those who see Car Talk’s Click and Clack as the final word on auto advice, they concur.) As a Minnesotan, I’ll add just one caveat to the discussion: When it’s really cold—and I’m talking near or below zero—make sure your defroster is warm enough to clear the windshield before traveling at highway speed, or the glass might cloud up.
You don’t need it. Now that you know your mechanical explanation doesn’t cut it, you might have to address a touchier subject: your personal comfort. In cold weather, I can attest that many Minnesotans like to get their automobile microclimate nice ’n’ toasty before climbing inside, so as not to shock their gentle derrieres. I have several neighbors who dash out to their cars 10, 20, even 30 (!) minutes before actually departing for work to warm up their vehicles. (One guy even turns his headlights on for extra measure.) I’m a daily, year-round bike commuter who avoids using my personal virtue as a cudgel, but I’ve got to tell you, people: Toughen up or find a less wasteful way to warm your bum, whether it’s long johns or a thermal cushion. That’s me out there on the street, huffing your unoccupied car’s exhaust cloud as I ride past. Know how I warm up my vehicle? I get on and start pedaling. Neighbors, your tickets are on their way!
Sources: City of Minneapolis, Sierra, Sustainablog, Environmental Defense Fund, Slate, Car Talk
3/2/2009 2:11:16 PM
There’s an ironic tragedy involved in eating at a Red Lobster in the Gulf Coast: Patrons, just a short distance from some of the best fishing grounds in the world, are likely eating imported shrimp from China, Indonesia, or South America. This situation hurts local fishermen and destroys the environment, but still, many people do it.
Just one acre of shrimp farm can produce from 6,000 to 18,000 pounds of shrimp in 3 to 6 months, according to Jim Carrier in Orion. That extreme output drives down the price of seafood, making it more difficult for local fishermen to make a living. Mangroves and local environments are destroyed to make way for the farms, which are heavily treated with antibiotics and chemicals to keep that many animals alive in the same place.
“If you get cheap shrimp now, it's from a turbid, pesticide-infested pond somewhere in the developing world,” Taras Grescoe told Salon.com last year, “and it's guaranteed you're contributing to the misery of all humans by buying that stuff.” Grescoe, whose book Bottomfeeder was excerpted in Utne Reader, still believes that ethical seafood is possible. For tips on how to find seafood that’s both ethical and sustainable, visit Utne Reader’s sustainable seafood project.
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3/2/2009 1:43:38 PM
A coaltion of people's movements have united against large-scale mining in Ecuador, reports Daniel Denvir for In These Times, in the form of a multi-billion dollar lawsuit, massive highway blockades, and even a possible political alliance in the next election.
Indigenous groups and campesinos, or peasant farmers, are protesting President Rafael Correa’s recent call to expand mineral exploitation by citing the new constitution that Correa’s own Alianza País supported this past September. Among other things, this document extends legal rights to the natural environment and claims access to water as a human right. However, in January Correa seemed to backtrack on this language by moving to open Ecuador up for further mining by Canadian companies Kinross, Iamgold Inc., and Corriente Resources Inc. In response the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) mobilized thousands of protestors, who went so far as to physically block mining routes along the Panamerican Highway.
Additionally, the Amazon Defense Front, which represents indigenous and campesino movements, has initiated a lawsuit against oil mammoth Texaco, whose practices have wreaked environmental havoc and widespread illness in local populations. Denvir further reports that indigenous and campesino leaders are discussing the possibility of challenging Correa in the April elections, with the aim of gaining seats in the National Assembly.
Sources: In These Times, Upside Down World
image by hyperscholar, licensed under Creative Commons
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