Dec 31, 2011

Fat people and fuel economy: A weighty connection | MNN - Mother Nature Network

It’s simple math: If the car loses 30 pounds, but the driver gains the same amount, we’re left with a wash in terms of fuel economy. With two big and talls in the car, you’re losing ground.

The auto industry’s focus on losing weight is a welcome change. According to Christopher Knittel of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis, “From 1980 to 2004, the average fuel economy of the U.S. new passenger automobile increased by less than 6.5 percent. During this time, the average horsepower of new passenger cars increased by 80 percent, while the average curb weight increased by 12 percent.” That’s awful. And, he adds, “[I]f weight, horsepower and torque were held at their 1980 levels, fuel economy for both passenger cars and light trucks could have increased by nearly 50 percent from 1980 to 2006; this is in stark contrast to the 15 percent by which fuel economy actually increased.”
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Is Twitter Aiding and Abetting Terrorism? - Slashdot

"the director of the Shurat HaDin Israel Law Center, sent a letter to Twitter on Thursday asserting that the company is violating U.S. law by allowing groups such as Hezbollah and al Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab to use its popular online network. ... In her letter, Darshan-Leitner noted that Hezbollah and al-Shabaab are officially designated as terrorist organizations under U.S. law. She also cited a 2010 Supreme Court case — Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project — which upheld a key provision of the Patriot Act prohibiting material support to groups designated as terrorist outfits."
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Bugs may now be resistant to genetically modified crops...

One of the nation’s most widely planted crops — a genetically engineered corn plant that makes its own insecticide — may be losing its effectiveness because a major pest appears to be developing resistance more quickly than scientists expected.

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All Those Damn Poor Kids Have Cell Phones Though, Don’t They? | Teach4Real

Teach4Real- Have you ever met a poor person? 

Seriously. They don’t have s*%t. My students have four outfits they wear to school every week, which means they have to wear one outfit twice. In order to space it out you can bet they wear it Monday and Friday hoping nobody will notice. Our school offers ¾ of our students free breakfast and lunch because their parents can’t afford to feed them. They come to school cold and shivering, and before I ask them “Where’s your sweater?” I have to bite the question off when I remember they don’t own one. Or they’ve worn the one they do have twelve days in a row and are trying to switch it up.

The really broke kids don’t have cell phones. Sorry to burst anyone’s bubble, but if you thought they did, you must not be in touch with how 50% of this country now lives.

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Economic Quantum Mechanics... Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

Groundwater Dropping Globally - Science News

Science News - Groundwater levels have dropped in many places across the globe over the past nine years, a pair of gravity-monitoring satellites finds. This trend raises concerns that farmers are pumping too much water out of the ground in dry regions.

Water has been disappearing beneath southern Argentina, western Australia and stretches of the United States. The decline is especially pronounced in parts of California, India, the Middle East and China, where expanding agriculture has increased water demand.

California’s “Flexible Purpose Corporation” Law Requires Environmental Accountability.

BrandChannel- A revolutionary model for corporations to "do good" better was recently signed into law by California Governor Jerry Brown. Assembly Bill 361 creates two new classes of corporations that are legally required to pursue a positive impact on society and the environment: Benefit Corporations and Flexible Purpose Corporations. The new legal structures widen traditional corporate shareholder value to include stakeholder value, extending to environmental and social responsibility and increased transparency and accountability. California is the first state to pass the Flexible Purpose Corporation model but the sixth state to approve the Benefit Corporation classification. California joins New Jersey, Virginia, Hawaii, Vermont and Maryland that officially allow Benefit Corporations. 

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Incandescent bulb phaseout begins Jan. 1 – - The congressionally mandated efficiency standards gradually phase out Thomas Edison's 131-year-old creation in favor of other light bulbs that use at least 25% less energy. The first to go, beginning Sunday, is the traditional 100-watt, followed in January 2013 with the 75-watt version and in January 2014 with the 40-watt and 60-watt bulbs.

Yet even Edison's 100-watt bulb will still be available for a while. The bipartisan law mandating the phaseout, whichPresident George W. Bush signed in 2007, says the bulbs can't be manufactured or imported after Jan. 1 but lets stores sell them until stock runs out.

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It's 2012--It's Just Absurd That We're Still Addicted To Middle-Eastern Oil

So, to reiterate:

• We're highly dependent on a finite fuel source controlled by crazy people who hate us

• We've done next to nothing about this problem for four decades

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US EIA reminder: Strait of Hormuz world’s most important oil chokepoint; almost 20% of oil traded wo

With Iran’s current threat to close the Strait of Hormuz in response to sanctions as a backdrop, the US Energy Information Agency issued an update to its “World Oil Transit Chokepoint” brief (earlier post), noting that “Hormuz is the world’s most important oil chokepoint due to its daily oil flow of almost 17 million barrels in 2011, up from between 15.5-16.0 million bbl/d in 2009-2010. Flows through the Strait in 2011 were roughly 35 percent of all seaborne traded oil, or almost 20 percent of oil traded worldwide.

Chokepoints are narrow channels along widely used global sea routes, some so narrow that restrictions are placed on the size of vessel that can navigate through them. They are a critical part of global energy security due to the high volume of oil traded through their narrow straits.

More than 85% of the crude oil exports flowing through the Strait went to Asian markets, with Japan, India, South Korea, and China representing the largest destinations, EIA said.

The Strait is located between Oman and Iran, and connects the Persian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. At its narrowest point, the Strait is 21 miles wide, but the width of the shipping lane in either direction is only two miles, separated by a two-mile buffer zone.

The Strait is deep and wide enough to handle the largest crude oil tankers, with about two-thirds of oil shipments carried by tankers in excess of 150,000 deadweight tons.

The Strait of Hormuz and alternate routes (pipelines). Source: EIA. Click to enlarge.

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L.A.'s Dirty Coal Addiction Is Killing Arizona | Water | AlterNet

... California as a whole has no active coal mines and only a handful of small coal-fired power plants. L.A.'s infamous smog isn't generated from dirty coal plants nearby, nor is the pollution that hugs up against the San Gabriel Mountains the result of burning coal. Nonetheless, a large percentage of the power Angelenos depend on to run their air conditioners and light their buildings comes from coal plants -- plants that spew their filth hundreds of miles away, across state lines in Indian country. This filth is all out of sight and out of mind for most who call L.A. home.  

While California is often cited as one of the most energy efficient states in the country, coal still plays a large role in producing energy for the state. When in-state generation, (some 461 MW) is added to out-of-state coal-based electricity (approximately 3,500 MW) California ranks 28th in the United States in coal-fired power generation. Nearly all of this electricity generated by coal ends up in the southern half of the state.  

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Our Weather On Steroids: The Mind-Boggling Climate Disasters Of 2011 | ThinkProgress

Haase - 2012 is expected to bring continued hard conditions...2011 brought the most billion-dollar climate disasters to the United States ever, piling history-making events on top of each other to catastrophic results...Nationwide, more than 6,000 heat records were broken this year. On average, the U.S. has three or four events every year that are considered major natural disasters. But, this year, there were at least fourteen billion-dollar disasters. Damages are expected to exceed $53 billion.

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Massive solar storm 'could knock out radio signals' over next three days, warn scientists -- Fire in the Sky --

It's coming this way: The CME, seen by Nasa's STEREO-B spacecraft, can be seen blasting out from the Sun on the right-hand side (circled)
Skywatchers will be hoping for clear skies from today because particles from a recent solar storm will slam into Earth and produce amazing Northern Lights, or auroras. 

On the downside, experts expect radio blackouts for a few days, caused by the radiation from the flare - or coronal mass ejection (CME) - causing magnetic storms. 

The flare is part of a larger increase in activity in the Sun, which runs in 11-year cycles. It is expected to peak around 2013. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center wrote: 'Category G1 (Minor) geomagnetic storms are expected 28 and 29 December due to multiple coronal mass ejection arrivals. R1 (Minor) radio blackouts are expected until 31 December.' 

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How Does Meat in the Diet Take an Environmental Toll?: Scientific American meat consumption habits take a serious toll on the environment... the production, processing and distribution of meat requires huge outlays of pesticides, fertilizer, fuel, feed and water while releasing greenhouse gases, manure and a range of toxic chemicals into our air and water. A lifecycle analysis conducted by EWG that took into account the production and distribution of 20 common agricultural products found that red meat such as beef and lamb is responsible for 10 to 40 times as many greenhouse gas emissions as common vegetables and grains.

Livestock are typically fed corn, soybean meal and other grains which have to first be grown using large amounts of fertilizer, fuel, pesticides, water and land. EWG estimates that growing livestock feed in the U.S. alone requires 167 million pounds of pesticides and 17 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer each year across some 149 million acres of cropland. The process generates copious amounts of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide, while the output of methane—another potent greenhouse gas—from cattle is estimated to generate some 20 percent of overall U.S. methane emissions.

“If all the grain currently fed to livestock in the United States were consumed directly by people, the number of people who could be fed would be nearly 800 million,” reports ecologist David Pimentel of Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He adds that the seven billion livestock in the U.S. consume five times as much grain as is consumed directly by the entire U.S. population.

Our meat consumption habits also cause other environmental problems. A 2009 study found that four-fifths of the deforestation across the Amazon rainforest could be linked to cattle ranching. And the water pollution from factory farms (also called concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFOs)—whereby pigs and other livestock are contained in tight quarters—can produce as much sewage waste as a small city, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Further, the widespread use of antibiotics to keep livestock healthy on those overcrowded CAFOs has led to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria that threaten human health and the environment in their own right.

Eating too much meat is no good for our health, with overindulgence linked to increasing rates of heart diseasecancer and obesity. Worldwide, between 1971 and 2010, production of meat tripled to around 600 billion pounds while global population grew by 81 percent, meaning that we are eating a lot more meat than our grandparents. Researchers extrapolate that global meat production will double by 2050 to about 1.2 trillion pounds a year, putting further pressure on the environment and human health.

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Questions About Organic Produce and Sustainability -

.. even as more Americans buy foods with the organic label, the products are increasingly removed from the traditional organic ideal: produce that is not only free of chemicals and pesticides but also grown locally on small farms in a way that protects the environment.

The explosive growth in the commercial cultivation of organic tomatoes here, for example, is putting stress on the water table. In some areas, wells have run dry this year, meaning that small subsistence farmers cannot grow crops. And the organic tomatoes end up in an energy-intensive global distribution chain that takes them as far as New York and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, producing significant emissions...From now until spring, farms from Mexico to Chile to Argentina that grow organic food for the United States market are enjoying their busiest season.

“People are now buying from a global commodity market, and they have to be skeptical even when the label says ‘organic’ — that doesn’t tell people all they need to know,” said Frederick L. Kirschenmann, a distinguished fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. He said some large farms that have qualified as organic employed environmentally damaging practices, like planting only one crop, which is bad for soil health, or overtaxing local freshwater supplies.

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The Number One Catastrophic Event That Americans Worry About: Economic Collapse

...the number one catastrophic event that Americans worry about is actually "economic collapse".  At least that is what a recent survey conducted by Leiflin Inc. for the EcoHealth Alliance found.  But this goes along with what so many other polls have found over the past few years.  Over and over again, opinion polls have found that the number one issue that American voters are concerned about is the economy.  The truth is that average Americans are deeply, deeply concerned about unemployment, debt, the housing crash and the steady decline in the standard of living.  It has been years since the U.S. economy has operated at a "normal" level, and many Americans are afraid that things could soon get a whole lot worse.

In the new survey mentioned above, those contacted were asked to select the top three potential catastrophes that worry them the most.

The following results come directly from the survey....

Economic Collapse: 63%
Natural Disaster: 46%
Terrorist Attack: 44%
Global Disease Outbreak: 33%
Global War: 27%
Nuclear Accident: 25%
Global Warming: 22%
Fuel Shortage: 15%
Cyber War: 8%
Famine: 8%
Oil Spill: 6%
Industrial Accident: 5%

As you can see, "economic collapse" was the winner by a wide margin.

So are there good reasons for the American people to be concerned about an economic collapse?

Of course there are...

Back in 2008, a financial crisis that began on Wall Street was felt in the farthest corners of the globe.

This time, ground zero for the financial crisis is going to be in Europe.  As I have written about previously, the European financial system is rapidly coming apart at the seams.  The euro continues to drop like a rock, and banking stocks continue their long-term decline.

Many people expect a "financial collapse" to happen on a particular day.  But that is not how it happens usually.  Instead, it is often like a snowball that starts rolling downhill very slowly at first but that eventually become a huge avalanche.

Right now, we are seeing the financial world come apart in slow motion.  A recent article posted on Automatic Earth included a list of the year-to-date performance of some of the most prominent global banking stocks.  These numbers are absolutely staggering....

  • BofA: -60.38%
  • Citi: -44.76%
  • Goldman Sachs: -46.41%
  • JPMorgan: -23.03%
  • Morgan Stanley: -45.24%
  • RBS: -50%
  • Barclays: -34.32%
  • Lloyds: -63.02%
  • UBS: -29.33%
  • Deutsche Bank: -28,55%
  • Crédit Agricole: -56.04%
  • BNP Paribas: -37.67%
  • Société Générale: -59.57%

But because these numbers happened over the course of a year and not on a single day it doesn't feel quite as much like a "collapse".

Unfortunately, things are about to get a whole lot worse.  ...The federal government cannot pile up a trillion dollars of additional debt every year indefinitely.

We cannot afford to see an average of 23 manufacturing facilities a day in the United States shut down.  Eventually there won't be anymore factories to shut down.

We cannot afford to keep putting millions more Americans on welfare.  At this point the government is feeding 46 million Americans a month.  Will the government eventually be feeding most of us?

The U.S. economy is getting weaker and weaker and weaker.  All of the long-term trends are absolutely nightmarish.  We are accumulating debt faster than ever, and our ability to produce wealth is diminishing faster than ever.

There is no way that things are going to be okay if we stay on the path that we are currently on.

So the truth is that Americans should be very concerned about an economic collapse...

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Finding power in coffee waste | SmartPlanet

Researchers at the Energy & Environmental Research Center at the University of North Dakota once worked on technology to convert waste from a space station and future Martian bases into heat and power. Now they’re testing their tech on more earthly applications. Like turning coffee waste into power.

The project will use a mostly renewable and bio-based waste and convert it into electricity for the coffee industry, Deputy Associate Director for Research Chris Zygarlicke said in the statement this week. The waste stream that will be used includes coffee residues, plastic packaging, paper, cloth or burlap and plastic cups.

Researchers will first try to demonstrate they can gasify the complex mixture of waste and produce clean synthetic gas, or syngas, by using the EERC’s advanced fixed-bed gasifier. The syngas would then be used in an internal combustion engine (or a fuel cell) to produce electricity and heat; or it will be converted to biofuels or chemicals....

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Dec 30, 2011

Some Drought Economics from Environmental and Urban Economics

The NY Times recently reviewed two books that go on at length that the U.S Southwest is an unsustainable hellhole that will soon suffer greatly because of climate change and drought.  What is striking about the article is that it never mentions the price of water in Phoenix, Las Vegas or other Southwest cities.  The Econ 101 solution to this real challenge is ignored.  

Here is a quote from the review about one of the books;

"In his hands, it is a sweeping story, encompassing global weather patterns, the mysterious histories and farming practices of the native people whose settlements rose and vanished in the desert, and the firefighters, biologists, anthropologists, water administrators and others who deal with increasing dryness today and seek to plan for an even drier tomorrow.
In interviews in their offices and in the field, they tell him they fear the story will play out — in forest fires, invasions of insects that prey on trees weakened by drought and heat, die-offs of native grasses, and prolonged dryness and thirst. Rains, when they come, will fall less often in the gentle, soaking precipitation Native Americans call “female rain” and instead will be its “male” counterpart — short, sharp downpours that flood the arroyos, erode the canyons and run off before they can do much to recharge underground water supplies already burdened by overuse."
So what is the price of a gallon of water in Phoenix today?  According to this official website, the average Phoenix household consumes 136,000 gallons of water each year and pays $58.5*12 for it. So, this works out to a 1/2 cent per gallon.   May I propose a solution to drought in Phoenix?  Let the price rise to 2 cents a gallon and there won't be any more drought.  Demand will decline as the green grass will go and households will substitute along a variety of margins so that supply and demand are in balance again.
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Greg Mankiw's: The Burden of the Debt

Greg Mankiw - Paul Krugman has several posts discussing the burden of the national debt.  Some readers have asked me for my take on the topic.  Let me refer them to this old paper Greg Mankiw wrote with Larry Ball.  It provides a nontechnical overview.  Even though it is 16 years old, I think it holds up pretty well.

Brand New Smoking Island Rises Out of the Red Sea - Inhabitat

red sea, how islands are formed, new islands, volcanic island, oceanic island, yemen, global warming, climate change, earth architecture, red sea islands, islands in the red sea, volcanic eruption, volcano

As island nations around the world look for solutions to stem rising sea levels due to climate change, a new land mass has spontaneously popped out of the Red Sea. The smoking hot island is acting as a real-time geographical lesson in how volcanic oceanic islands are formed — it is bubbling above the surface due to a recently active volcano. NASA captured the rising island (shown above) from their Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) – check out an image of the spot before the volcanic eruption after the jump.

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Fuel Fix » All eyes on German renewable energy efforts

... this month in Berlin, officials unveiled a prototype of a self-sustaining, energy-efficient home, built from recycled materials and complete with electric vehicles that can be charged in its garage.

The aim of the prototype home is to produce twice as much energy as is used by a family of four — chosen from a willing pool of volunteers who will be selected to live in the home for 15 months — through a combination of solar photovoltaics and energy management technology, in order to show the technology already exists to allow people to be energy self-sufficient.

“We want to show people that already today it is possible to live completely from renewable energy,” said German Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer as the project, dubbed “Efficiency House Plus,” was unveiled. The house is part of a wider €1.2 million ($1.57 million) project investing in energy-efficient buildings.

“The Efficiency House Plus will set standards that can be adopted by the majority in the short term,” Ramsauer told The Associated Press. “The basic principle is that the house produces more energy than needed to live. The extra energy is then used to charge electric-powered cars and bicycles or sold back to the public grid.”

Germany’s four leading car makers are also participating in the project with BMW AG, Daimler AG, Volkswagen AG and Opel, which is part of Buick’s parent company, General Motors Co., each making an E-car for use by in the home.

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Fracking: Is there really 100 years’ worth of natural gas beneath the United States? - Slate Magazine

Haase: short answer "yes",  Long answer "no"... comparably modest estimate of 11 years’ supply may be optimistic

SLATE - The recent press about the potential of shale gas would have you believe that America is now sitting on a 100-year supply of natural gas. It's a "game-changer." A "golden age of gas" awaits, one in which the United States will be energy independent, even exporting gas to the rest of the world, upending our current energy-importing situation.

The data, however, tell a very different story. Between the demonstrable gas reserves, and the potential resources blared in the headlines, lies an enormous gulf of uncertainty.

The claim of a 100-year supply originated with a report released in April 2011 by the Potential Gas Committee, an organization of petroleum engineers and geoscientists...Its website consists of a single press release announcing the April report, with a link to a brief summary slide deck. A more detailed slide deck issued by the committee presents some optimistic estimates of potential resources, including a "future gas supply" estimate of 2,170 trillion cubic feet (tcf). At the 2010 rate of American consumption—about 24 tcf per year—that would be a 95-year supply of gas, which apparently has been rounded up to 100 years.

But what is that estimate based upon? 

Those details haven’t been made freely available to the public, but their summary breaks it down as follows here and in the graph below: 273 tcf are "proved reserves," meaning that it is believed to exist, and to be commercially producible at a 10 percent discount rate. That conforms with the data of the U.S. Energy Information Administration. An additional 536.6 tcf are classified as "probable" from existing fields, meaning that they have some expectation that the gas exists in known formations, but it has not been proven to exist and is not certain to be technically recoverable. An additional 687.7 tcf is "possible" from new fields, meaning that the gas might exist in new fields that have not yet been discovered. A further 518.3 tcf are "speculative," which means exactly that. A final 176 tcf are claimed for coalbed gas, which is gas trapped in coal formations. (Note: The PGC reports the total for probable, possible, and speculative coalbed gas as 158.6 tcf, but adding up their numbers for each category, we find the correct total is 157.7 tcf. We haven't been able to reach the PGC to discuss the discrepancy. Adding the 18.6 tcf of proved coalbed gas reserves reported by the EIA in 2009—the most recent data it offers—to the 157.7 gives a total of 176.3 tcf for all categories of coalbed gas.


By the same logic, you can claim to be a multibillionaire, including all your "probable, possible, and speculative resources."

Assuming that the United States continues to use about 24 tcf per annum, then, only an 11-year supply of natural gas is certain. The other 89 years' worth has not yet been shown to exist or to be recoverable.

Even that comparably modest estimate of 11 years’ supply may be optimistic. Those 273 tcf are located in reserves that are undrilled, but are adjacent to drilled tracts where gas has been produced. Due to large lateral differences in the geology of shale plays, production can vary considerably from adjacent wells...Please read more from:

Dominion to charge fee to heavy users of solar power | PilotOnline

State regulators approved a controversial Dominion Virginia Power plan on Wednesday that adds a charge for larger home users of solar energy.

Dominion plans to impose a monthly "standby" charge, starting in April, on residential customers with solar systems that generate between 10 and 20 kilowatts. Today, that fee would apply to only one customer, according to Dominion.

Most homeowners' solar systems produce about 3 or 4 kilowatts, so they wouldn't see the standby charge. But they - and companies that sell and install solar equipment - fear that Dominion will seek to expand the fee to all solar users in the future and stymie the budding development of residential renewable energy.

"When I go out to somebody's house, it is already tough enough" to sell the cost benefits of solar without the standby charge, said Richard Good, president of Solar Services Inc., an installation company based in Virginia Beach. "That's a pretty big disincentive."

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Solar Paint Research Is Sun Believable At College | EarthTechling


“Sun-Believable” is what the Notre Dame chemists call their invention. What they’ve made is a paste consisting of quantum dots – nano-particles of semiconductors – of titanium dioxide coated in either cadmium sulfide or cadmium selenide and suspended in a water-alcohol mixture. Brushed onto a transparent conducting material and exposed to light, this stuff produced electricity.

“The best light-to-energy conversion efficiency we’ve reached so far is 1 percent, which is well behind the usual 10 to 15 percent efficiency of commercial silicon solar cells,” Prashant Kamat, who’s leading the research at Notre Dame’s Center for Nano Science and Technology, said in a statement. “But this paint can be made cheaply and in large quantities. If we can improve the efficiency somewhat, we may be able to make a real difference in meeting energy needs in the future.”

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Hawaii Wind Farm Gets Battery Backup | EarthTechling

A123 Systems, a Massachusetts-based developer and manufacturer of advanced lithium-ion batteries, has announced that it will supply a 11-megawatt (MW) Grid Battery System to Sempra Generation for use at its Auwahi Wind project in Maui, Hawaii. Power from the 21-megawatt (MW) Auwahi Wind project will be purchased by Maui Electric Company under a 20-year power purchase agreement.

The energy storage solution, which is capable of delivering up to 11 MW of power in milliseconds, will help Maui Electric Company maintain the stability of Maui’s electric grid by smoothing the variable generation of wind power at the facility, A123 said. This announcement follows soon on the heels of the installation of 32 MW of battery storage at awind power plant in West Virginia. That system was developed by AES Energy Storage.

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4 Ways The Military Is Saving Energy | EarthTechling

After nine long years, the war in Iraq is finally drawing to a close. As the last U.S. troops leave Iraq, we’ve learned a lot of lessons — and one of them is how important it is to reduce our dependence on oil and other fossil fuels.

But here’s some other important news: The U.S. military is pursuing cutting-edge programs to reduce its own fossil fuel dependence and invest in clean energy. From oil transported across oceans to solar energy that keeps the Marines connected to their families back home, energy use dominates almost everything the military does. But investment in clean energy doesn’t just benefit the military — it moves the conversation forward and encourages innovation in the private sector.

green military

image via U.S. Marine Corps/Gunnery Sgt. William Price

Check out these four innovative and climate-friendly ways the Pentagon is using clean energy at

Asbestos Canada’s latest sin -

India ranks as the world’s largest importer of asbestos, most of which goes into making corrugated roofing sheets for slum dwellings, like these in Mumbai.

India ranks as the world’s largest importer of asbestos, most of which goes into making corrugated roofing sheets for slum dwellings, like these in Mumbai.

Photograph by: Adeel Halim, Bloomberg News has become Canada’s new sin, tarred as an evil at home and abroad.

In just three years, asbestos went from being one of the country’s great exports, supported by all political parties at the House of Commons, to being vilified by politicians of all stripes, including some Conservatives.

“We’ve reached a tipping point in our attitude toward asbestos and so has the world. Canada’s boy-scout image is being tarnished,” said New Democrat MP Pat Martin, who has been fighting to ban asbestos mining since he was first elected in 1997.

“In many circles, we’ve become an international pariah. Clubbing baby seals, dumping asbestos in the Third World and tarsands are probably the three biggest embarrassments for Canada on the international stage,” Martin said.

...In a news release, the members of parliament expressed concerns about the “serious harm to the health of workers mining asbestos, the processing and use of which is already banned in the EU.”

In November, Australia’s Upper House passed a motion urging the government to press Canada to stop producing and exporting asbestos – an insulating mineral used in construction that is linked to deadly lung diseases, including cancer.

Activists in Asian countries, notably in India, are increasingly holding demonstrations to protest against asbestos exports, which they say are causing harm to workers.

Mohit Gupta, coordinator of the Occupational and Environmental Health Network of India, called Canada’s plan to eliminate tariffs on asbestos exports to India “an appalling travesty of all ethical codes of human behaviour.”

“All of this is giving Canada an enormous black eye around the world. People can’t believe that Canada is acting as a rogue country and that Canada is the biggest public-health obstacle internationally to making any progress on the asbestos issue,” said Kathleen Ruff, a prominent anti-asbestos campaigner.

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UK switch to low-carbon energy 'no dearer than doing nothing' | Environment | The Guardian

Prediction using unique calculator challenges view that sustainable energy means higher costs...Prof David MacKay
Prof David MacKay, who developed the 2050 pathways calculator, said the tool could play a major role in assessing the feasibility of different energy choices. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

Every person in Britain will need to pay about £5,000 a year between now and 2050 on rebuilding and using the nation's entire energy system, according to government figures. But the cost of developing clean and sustainable electricity, heating and transport will be very similar to replacing today's ageing and polluting power stations, the analysis finds.

The forecasts come from a unique open-source analysis package, called the 2050 pathways calculator, which was created by Professor David MacKay, chief scientific adviser to the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

The predictions challenge suggestions that the costs of embracing low-carbon energy and meeting the UK's legally binding commitments to tackle global warming will be higher than the bill would be for using traditional energy sources. They are also supported by a major EU project that found developing renewable energy was no more expensive than alternatives.

"The calculator takes the poison out of the debate," MacKay told the Guardian. "The key thing is that any scenario you choose has to add up." He said the tool, constructed with the help of hundreds of experts and a thorough literature review, is used to enable "open source policy making", where anyone can see and challenge the assumptions made and the data used. "You can play at being secretary of state, and you have to make a plan which is not too unpopular."

The calculator was used to create the three scenarios set out in the government's official carbon plan, which shows how the UK could meet its emissions targets by 2050 while keeping the lights on, and to test a "cost-optimised" scenario, ie the cheapest.

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Debris from the Japan's tsunami could reach the United States soon

Debris from the tsunami that devastated Japan in March could reach the United States as early as this winter, according to predictions by NOAA scientists. However, they warn there is still a large amount of uncertainty over exactly what is still floating, where it's located, where it will go, and when it will arrive. Responders now have a challenging, if not impossible situation on their hands: How do you deal with debris that could now impact U.S. shores, but is difficult to find?

Federal Agencies Join Forces

To learn more about the tsunami debris, NOAA researchers have been working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other partners to coordinate data collection activities.

NOAA and its partners are also coordinating an interagency assessment and response plan to address the wide-range of potential scenarios and threats posed by the debris.

“We’re preparing for the best and worst case scenarios — and everything in between,” says Nancy Wallace, director for NOAA’s Marine Debris Program.

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Criminal Charges Are Prepared in BP Spill -

U.S. prosecutors are preparing what would be the first criminal charges against BP PLC employees stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident, which killed 11 workers and caused the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, said people familiar with the matter.

Prosecutors are focused on several Houston-based engineers and at least one of their supervisors at the British oil company, though the breadth of the investigation isn't known. The prosecutors assert the employees may have provided false information to regulators about the risks associated with the Gulf of Mexico well while its drilling was in progress, these people said.

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Alaska volcano sends ash plume into sky – USATODAY

Excerpt - The Alaska Volcano Observatory said satellite images showed Cleveland Volcano had spewed ash 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) into the air in a cloud that moved east-southeast. U.S. Geological Survey scientist-in-chargeJohn Power called it a small explosion.

"It's not expected to cause a disruption to big international air carriers," he said.

But the event drew strong interest from air carriers.

"Any time you put an ash cloud up into the atmosphere, the airlines, the air carriers, air freight companies — it's a major concern," Power said.

Soil Capital: A Ground-Level Investing Opportunity - Investing in America....

What would it be like to invest in—not just eat from—the veggie farmers, cheese artisans and ranchers at the local farmers’ market?

When Woody Tasch published his book, Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms and Fertility Mattered, and launched Slow Money ( to catalyze the flow of capital to enterprises that support soil fertility and local communities, he captured a collective imagination. But while “voting with your fork” is one thing, actually figuring out how to invest in the local food economy is downright challenging. Small-scale farming is not exactly a high profit venture, nor is it what a fiduciary like a pension fund would consider “prudent.”

Yet last autumn, an Albuquerque, N.M.-based food co-op called La Montanita launched a microfinance fund for local farmers. The fund is already being emulated in Bellingham, Wash., and is being studied elsewhere. Its structure could well become a model nationwide. Not only does the fund’s mechanism cut the cost of loans to farmers, it reduces risk for investors and establishes incentives for the entire to community to collaborate. And unlike most pro-active, do-good “impact investments” (see, this effort relies on grassroots investors. 

“We wanted everybody to be able to invest in the local food system,” says Robin Seydel, manager of La Montanita Fund. “We didn’t want just the large accredited investor.” 

The focus on grassroots and non-accredited investors could be key to raising the funds necessary to restore the nation’s soil––a key to our survival, warns MacArthur Fellow and University of Washington professor David Montgomery in his groundbreaking book, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations

Richard Heinberg, senior fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute and author of Peak Everything, has warned that rising fuel prices virtually guarantee higher food prices and food shortages—something that suggests that investment in local foodsheds (food that can be produced in a certain bioregion) will be vital.

The money for grassroots-level investing is out there to be tapped. According to “Money for Good,” a provocative study conducted by Hope Consulting ( based on in-depth focus groups of affluent individuals (with incomes of $80,000-plus,) there is $120 billion available from individuals for impact investing. Even the wealthy, however, preferred to invest in amounts of $10,000 or less.

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California's low-carbon fuels mandate blocked - CBC News

AP - A federal judge moved Thursday to block California from enforcing its first-in-the-nation mandate for cleaner, low-carbon fuels, saying the rules favor biofuels produced in the state.

The lawsuit challenging the state regulations, which were adopted as part of the state's landmark 2006 global warming law, was filed in federal court last year by a coalition including the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association and the Consumer Energy Alliance.

Fresno-based U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence O'Neill's written ruling Thursday said the low-carbon fuel rules violated the U.S. Constitution's commerce clause by discriminating against crude oil and biofuels producers located outside California.

Out-of-state fuels producers hailed the decision as a win for California drivers.

"Today's decision ... struck down a misguided policy that would have resulted in even higher fuel costs for Californian consumers while increasing the cost of business throughout the state," said Consumer Energy Alliance Executive Vice President Michael Whatley.

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Dec 29, 2011

Never Mind Solyndra: Fuel Cell Industry Growing with Government Support - Forbes

In 2010, several countries invested in fuel cells and hydrogen. The United Kingdom and the United States topped the list, with the U.K. investing $15.3 million and the U.S. investing $13.7 million, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (PDF).

report from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (PDF) earlier this year found that government support for fuel cells has led to cost reductions in the United States and other countries. The report found:

  • The United States, Japan, Germany, South Korea, and other countries have publicly funded R&D and market transformation programs to develop domestic fuel cell industries. In the United States, that industry is supported by the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and California’s Self‐Generation‐Incentive‐Program as well as ARRA.
  • Manufacturers have achieved cost reductions over the past two-to-five years on the order of 50 percent. However, costs must be further reduced by 40 percent to 50 percent to compete successfully in the market.
  • Manufacturers expect continued cost reductions though economies of scale and supply chain cost reductions. Doubling output would reduce costs by 20 to 30 percent, they estimated. Technological advances would play a smaller role than in the past.

While a June report from Black & Veatch reported that utilities believed fuel cells to have among the least significant impact on the industry among several other green technologies...

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Non-profits will be fighting for scraps...

The head of a large nonprofit that has been serving children and families since the 19th century and that gets most of its funding from state and local government recently told us: “We have never had the chance to sit down across the table from government and discuss line-by-line what it takes to do the work. They call the terms, they put the dollars on the table, they give the staffing patterns, and you can take it or leave it.”

This is a problem, and it’s only going to get worse. Indeed, for decades now, government has been outsourcing the delivery of human services to nonprofits
. Helping homeless youth come in from the streets, bringing meals to the elderly, providing after-school programs for at-risk children—these are among the hundreds of essential services nonprofit organizations are providing every day. The Urban Institute reports that in 2009, US nonprofits received more than $100 billion from government agencies via contracts and grants for the delivery of human services. For these nonprofits, government funding represented 65 percent of their total revenue.1 Roughly two-thirds of this funding originates at the state and local level. And increasingly, government agencies not only are outsourcing the financing of these services, they are also reimbursing nonprofits considerably less than what it costs to deliver them. These organizations are left to cobble together their own resources from other funding sources to make up the difference.

The long-term outlook for human services funding is bleak. The federal government is facing record budget deficits and interest payments to service its rapidly accumulating debt, the rising cost of health care, and the demographic challenge of paying for entitlement benefits for retiring baby boomers. Given that roughly one quarter of state government funding and one third of local government funding come from Washington, D.C., the federal budget squeeze in turn will impinge on human services budgets at these levels. Moreover, state and local governments have their own demographic time bomb to address, in the form of an estimated $1 trillion to $3 trillion in unfunded pension and retirement liabilities for current employees and retirees.

This brings us to the questions we take up in this article: How can nonprofits that rely on government funding navigate this increasingly powerful undertow? How can they stay afloat? And can they even hope to make progress? The hard truth is that only a different turn in the political debate over what we owe the most vulnerable members of our society along with a reversal of our nation’s fiscal fortunes can change this tide—and both appear unlikely in the foreseeable future. The sobering reality is that nonprofits will have to be even more entrepreneurial in their funding models, efficient in deploying their resources, and vigilant in serving their mission to make headway....Faced with deteriorating conditions, why don’t nonprofit service providers simply walk away? The harsh truth is that they can’t. Nonprofits are prepared to accept poor contract prices and endure readjustments in prices and terms and even badly delayed payments—simply to keep their missions afloat. The CEO of a successful multistate nonprofit bluntly observed of his government counterparties: “They know we are fighting for scraps, so everyone will just jump in to try to get that contract.”

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Firefighter PPE: Understanding limitations of government regulations

We are all affected by government regulations. The fire service is no exception. There are a number of regulations from both the federal government and state governments that affect firefighter personal protective equipment.

Included in these regulations are general requirements for fire departments (employers) to provide PPE for their firefighter employees. These requirements extend to not only providing the PPE but also caring and maintaining it, and providing training on the use and limitations of protective clothing and equipment.

These regulations are found in OSHA 29 CFR Part 1910.132. The regulations, sometimes also known as a "general duty clause" or Subpart I, further prescribe fire departments conduct hazard assessments and select the appropriate personal tech equipment based on the identification of hazards....Please contiune reading at:

Developers seek to build large wind farm in western Wisconsin

Wisconsin State Journal: Developers have applied to the Public Service Commission for a permit to build a large wind farm in western Wisconsin, the first application of its kind in more than two years. Emerging Energies applied this month to build Highland Wind Farm, a 41-turbine, 102.5-megawatt project in the St. Croix County towns of Forest and Cylon, about 25 miles east of the Minnesota border. The application comes as new wind siting rules remain in limbo in the PSC, with officials trying to broker a deal between...Please contiune reading at:

Small leak forces shutdown of Entergy nuke plant - Yahoo! News

Associated Press: Entergy Corp.'s Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth, Mass. has been shut down after what officials said was a small leak of radioactive steam in a safety relief valve. Entergy spokesman Rob Williams said the leak discovered on Monday was contained within the plant's piping and was never a threat to workers or the general public. Williams said the incident required the reactor to be shut down and cooled within 24 hours. He says the shutdown was completed at 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday...Please contiune reading at:

Washing machines spew plastic into the oceans | TG Daily

The oceans and their beaches are now home to vast numbers of tiny pieces of plastic - and the source may be your washing machine, researchers say.

Mark Anthony Browne of the University College Dublin says that so-called microplastic - bits of polyester and acrylic smaller than the head of a pin - contain potentially harmful ingredients which are consumed by animals and could be transferred to people who eat shellfish and fish.

"Ingested microplastic can transfer and persist in their cells for months," he says.

Using forensic techniques, his team examined 18 coasts around the world. They found more microplastic on shores in densely populated areas - and identified an important source as the wastewater from household washing machines.

Apaprently, more than 1,900 fibers can rinse off of a single garment during a wash cycle - it's amazing we don't all look threadbare - and Browne says these fibers are of exactly the same type as the microplastic debris found on shorelines.

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New technique removes even trace amounts of heavy metals from water

A new process has been developed for removing trace amounts of heavy metals from water (Ph...

Once released into the environment from industrial sources, trace amounts of heavy metals can remain present in waterways for decades, or even centuries, in concentrations that are still high enough to pose a health risk. While processes do exist for removing larger amounts of heavy metals from water, these do not work on smaller quantities. Now, however, scientists from Rhode Island’s Brown University have combined two existing methods, to create a new one that removes even trace amounts of heavy metal from water... Continue Reading New technique removes even trace amounts of heavy metals from water