Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ice thins, big section breaks off Arctic shelf

(Image of thinning ice in Arctic from Flickr and NASA/pingnews)

News Update 1: A 7-square-mile section of the Ward Hunt Shelf, the largest remaining ice shelf in the Arctic, broke off last week. The ice shelf is now just 11% of its previous size. “Once you unleash this process by cracking the ice shelf in multiple spots, of course you’re going to see this continuing,” said Derek Mueller, an expert on the ice shelf who found the first crack in 2002. The shelf began getting thinner in the ‘50s and by the ‘90s had cut its thickness by half. The Arctic coastline also decreased substantially in the past century, from about 3,500 square miles to about 400 square miles. The largest ice break was in 2005. Scientists attribute much of the problem to warming temperatures and summer ice is on track to disappear completely. “They’re breaking away so rapidly that there’s no hope of regeneration,” Mueller told the Toronto Globe and Mail this week. (Sources: Greenwire, AP, The Daily Green, Toronto Globe and Mail.

Levee weakness, rising seas could put Washington under water if major storm hits

(Photo of Jefferson Memorial from Flickr and photographer ktylerconk/Kathleen Conklin)

News Update 2: I recently read a futuristic novel about global warming, in which a rising Potomac River caused a Katrina-like flood to inundate Washington, D.C. So I was struck when I saw this story on The Daily Green this week: Officials are saying a 70-year-old levee system in the capital is at risk of failing in a major storm. If the levee system fails, downtown Washington could be under 10 feet of water, officials said. Built on reclaimed swamp, national monuments, museums and office buildings are at increasing risk as global warming increases sea levels, development causes more storm run-off and heavier rains threaten. Three of the levees, inconspicuous because they’re covered by grassy berms, are deficient, according to the Army Corps of Engineers, and the District of Columbia has committed $2.5 million to repair them. On several occasions sandbags have been put out on the National Mall to protect monuments and in 2006 heavy rain damaged several downtown buildings and closed the Justice Department. (Sources: The Daily Green, Associated Press)

Texas utilities to put up $2 billion to expand electric power grid to carry wind energy

(Photo of high-tension power lines from Flickr and Meridian Productions Inc.)

News Update 3: A group of electric utilities in Texas will invest $2 billion in 1,000 miles of much-needed high voltage power lines, according to regulatory filings. The consortium will put up about 40% of what regulators recently authorized to carry new wind power in the state. The utilities are owned by large investors like Goldman Sachs Capital and Berkshire Hathaway. Expansion of the antiquated power grid is essential to making use of renewable energy in this country. (Source: Reuters)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Draining wetlands could double greenhouse gases

(Photo of Bolsa Chica wetlands restoration in California from Flickr and and photographer Mollivan Jon)

Weekly Angst: Add wetlands to the list if things that can cause global warming. Swamps and marshes are great carbon sinks, storing about 20% of the carbon and methane on the Earth’s land surface.

But as wetlands dry up from climate change, or are drained for development or agriculture, those greenhouse gases have the potential to do as much damage as industrial emissions. This was a topic of discussion and concern for 700 experts from 28 countries who met at last week’s 8th International Wetlands Conference in Brazil.

Wetlands hold some 770 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases, equal to what's now in the atmosphere. And emissions from wetland have the potential to negate all other steps to stop global warming if we don’t act to preserve these places so essential to the planet’s health.

Bad image
Wetlands get little respect. They have long been seen as useless and yucky, interfering with development, farming and other civilized things. So about 60% of wetlands across the world have been destroyed in the last century. Europe drained 90% of its wetlands for farming, the U.S. has drained more than half of its, and the California coastal region destroyed about 95%.

We know wetlands serve as a habitat for wildlife. We also know that in coastal areas they can buffer against hurricanes. We learned that when Katrina devastated New Orleans. If only the wetlands had been left in place, the impact of the storm wouldn’t have been as great.

Wetlands serve as natural “horizontal levees,” that can prevent flooding by storing floodwater. The recent floods in the Midwest reminded scientists that the Mississippi River once could store 60 days of floodwater in its wetlands, where now it can only store 12 days’ worth.

Wetlands – which include marshes, swamps, river deltas, peat bogs, mangroves and river flood plains – produce 25% of the world’s food, purify water and recharge aquifers.

Some thawing of the Arctic wetlands permafrost is probably inevitable at this point, so efforts to stop draining wetlands in more temperate and tropical climates is essential – not to mention restoration.

Some restoration projects are under way – in the Everglades and on the Louisiana coast, with each one costing upwards of $5 billion. But it’s much cheaper to preserve the existing wetlands than have to rebuild them, scientists remind us.

In Southern California, the recently restored Bolsa Chica wetlands are now bursting with birds and fish. The project cost $147 million and culminated 40 years of struggle between environmentalists and developers. Part of the problem was a duck blind constructed by hunters. Now the wetlands connect to the Pacific Ocean basin, as they should.

(Sources: ClimateWire, Greenwire, Reuters )

Friday, July 25, 2008

Oil profit announcements next week may give Dems edge in spat over offshore drilling

(Photo of ConocoPhillips gas station from Flickr and photographer Alec Ananian)

Washington Report 1: Three major oil companies will announce their earnings next week, possibly giving Democrats an advantage in the political fight over energy. Dems today failed 50-43 to pass a bill calling for more regulation of commodity traders, blaming high gas prices on speculators. Republicans, on the other hand, are calling for more domestic exploration, especially offshore and in shale. Dems say the oil companies should drill in the 68 million acres they already have under lease rather than offshore, and tried unsuccessfully to pass a bill to that effect. One big oil company, ConocoPhillips, announced its second-quarter earnings last week, revealing a $5.4 billion profit, up 13% from the same period last year. Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Chicago) criticized the oil companies for using too much of their record profits for stock buy-backs and not enough for drilling. ConocoPhillips used $2.5 billion to buy back stocks. Exxon, Chevron and BP will all announce their earnings next week. Dem leaders are expecting record profits from all, at a time when people are hurting because of the price of gas. They think that will give them an election-campaign advantage, while Republicans think they have a winning message with their call for more offshore drilling. If you want to take action in opposition to offshore drilling, go to the Sierra Club Web site and write an effective letter to the editor. (Sources: Greenwire, E&E Daily)

Senate may try again next week to extend renewable energy tax credits

(Photo of solar panels on Florida beach house from Flickr and photographer John Tracy)

Washington Report 2: Senate Finance Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is likely to try one more time next week to get renewable energy tax incentives extended beyond December. In an effort to win a few more GOP votes, he has added some sweeteners to the tax package (which contains more than renewable credits). Additions include money for the highway trust fund, disaster relief and mental health parity, and an alternative minimum tax fix. Extending the credits for wind, solar, biomass, geothermal and efficiency are not at issue. Rather there is disagreement about how to pay for them. Congress leaves soon for its August break and Dem leaders would like to see the credits extended before then, to provide stability for clean energy businesses. (Source: E&E Daily)

House cafeteria cutting greenhouse gases – and making $$ at it

(Photo of salad from Flickr and photographer roboppy/Robyn Lee)

Washington Report 3: House members and staff are eating green and making green, and the Senate likely will soon follow suit. In December, Restaurant Associates took over House restaurants and food services and made them more environmentally friendly. Among other things, they:
• abolished Styrofoam
• used local produce in salad bars
• switched to organic coffee
• started composting much of the waste.
And it’s profitable. The greener cafeterias are expected to bring in $1 million annually. Why? Because more people are staying on The Hill to eat their meals, now that they are healthier and better. The Senate, which has had taxpayer-subsidized food services running at a loss ($1.3 million last year), is expected to sign a contract with Restaurant Services this week. Building on its success, the company also started a farmer’s market in the Cannon House Office Building, selling government types fresh fruits and vegetables from farms within 150 miles, (Source: E&E Daily)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

New York City rolls out hybrid taxi cabs; Chicago does what???

(Photo of hybrid taxi in New York at night from Flickr and and photographer Tim Shey)

News Update 1: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced last week that his city will roll out 300 new hybrid taxis every month. There already are 1,300 hybrids on the street and each one saves its driver $6,500 a year in fuel, the mayor said. No word yet on a Chicago alderman’s plan to convert his city’s taxi fleet to hybrids, but the Chicago Police Department announced the purchase of 165 new SUV squad cars. The Chevy Tahoes will get 14 mpg, a fleet spokeswoman said, the same as the Crown Victorias that make up most of the fleet. The new (former FBI man) police chief apparently wants SUVs. So why not the Ford Escape? It’s an SUV hybrid that gets about 30 mpg. This is supposed to be Chicago, the Green City, right? So where are the bicycle rentals? Where are the hybrid taxis? And what has become on the vaunted Chicago Climate Action Plan due out last winter? (Sources: Chicago Sun-Times, Greenwire,

Smart cars now all the rage 'cause they're cute

(Photo of Smart car from Flickr and photographer caribb)

News Update 2: The hottest car in auto dealers’ show rooms is the new Smart fortwo micro car , made by DaimlerChrysler. Because it gets good gas mileage (33 in the city, 41 on the highway), it’s a green statement. Its real easy to park too. But the biggest appeal seems to be its “cuteness.” Since Smart went on sale in the U.S. in January, more than 11,000 have been sold, with 30,000 more on order. Smart has been a hit in Europe for years. Some buyers are concerned about the safety of their 8.8-foot car, so are keeping the SUV on hand too. But Smart reportedly passed crash testing. Maybe the name has something to do with the appeal too. (Sources: The Washington Post,

Texas OKs transmission lines to take wind power to cities …

(Photo of transmission lines in Texas from Flickr and photographer S.J. Alexander)

News Update 3: The Texas Pubic Utility Commission last week OKd a plan to attract $5 billion in investment for new power lines to move 18,500 megawatts of electricity from windy West Texas to the state’s largest cities. The electricity carried would more than double the nation’s current wind power capability. Texas leads the nation in wind, with 5,000MW now, expected to grow to 9,000MW by year’s end. Customers could see a $4/month increase in their bills over the next several years, according to the consumer group Public Citizen. The increase in transmission lines addresses perhaps the biggest roadblock to wind power here. For more on that see the June 28 post on EarthlingAngst. (Source: PlanetArk, Greenwire, Huffington Post)

… as oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens plans largest wind farm ever

(Photo of Texas wind farm from Flickr and and photographer fieldsbh)

News Update 4:
Texas mogul T. Boone Pickens is expecting a windfall. As you no doubt have seen, he plans to construct the world’s largest wind farm, in the Texas Panhandle, and make a(nother) fortune while cutting U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Pickens’ much publicized Pickens Plan is to put up 2,700 wind turbines over the next 4 years and generate enough electricity to power more than 1 million homes. The 80-year-old Pickens has convinced neighboring ranchers to put the turbines on their land for $10,000-$20,000 each. He, himself, isn’t going to have any – saying they’re ugly – but he’s worth $3 billion and doesn’t need the money. The Texas conservative hopes to pressure Congress to do more about clean energy. Oil peaked in Texas in 1973, so now he’s on to something new. He says it’s ridiculous for the U.S. to import 70% of its oil at a cost of $700 billion a year. His plan is to use wind and solar for power, and then shift natural gas to replace gasoline for fuel. No doubt he’ll make some money at that end too. While environmentalists love his big push for wind, most don’t like the natural gas bit, since it’s only about 30% lower in carbon than gasoline. (Sources: The Guardian, Huffington Post,

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Deforestation: inevitable as population surges?

(Photo of deforestation in Brazil from Flickr and photographer [cas]/Sotto)

Weekly Angst: World population growth, up from 6 billion to 9 billion (that’s 50%) in the first half of this century will likely lead to cutting down forests to provide more food, fuel and timber, two new reports say. The Rights and Resources Initiative, a global coalition of environmental and conservation NGOs (non-governmental organizations) expects land the size of 12 Germanys will to be cleared between now and 2030.

“Arguably we are on the verge of the last great global land grab,” said Andy White, co-author of one of the reports, called “Seeing People Through the Trees.” And this is going to cause conflict, as well as global warming.

Governments still own most of the forests, said the second report, “From Exclusion to Ownership,” but have been unable to prevent industrial incursions. In Brazil, soy and sugar cane for biofuels are likely to take another 247 million acres from the Amazon rainforest by 2020.

There are several problems intersecting here.

Population growth and economics

First is the rapid and relentless growth of population on the Earth. In 1950 the population stood at just 2.5 billion. By 2000 it was 6 billion, more than double. This week it is 6.7 billion and by 2050, the UN estimates, the number will reach close to 9 billion (8.9B if you want to be exact).

So not only are developing countries trying to lift their people out of poverty with their own industrial revolutions, but there are increasingly more people to lift. More food, more fuel, more plastics, more cars and more electricity will be needed. (China, by the way, points out that without its one-child policy its population would be far bigger than it is.)

Then there’s the difficulty of maintaining forest in its natural state when money is to be made from clearing it to plant crops, grow cattle and sell timber. Most of the forest likely to be cleared is in developing countries, the reports said.

The Amazon rainforest

The Amazon rainforest is a case in point. The largest in the world, it is often called “the lungs of the world” because it consumes CO2 and produces 20% of the Earth’s oxygen. It contains 1/10 of the carbon dioxide stored in land ecosystems on the planet.

After 3 years of declining deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon (due to enforcement and the low price of soybeans), the tide turned last summer, and an estimated 1,096 square miles were lost in May alone.

Brazil is No. 4 in emission of greenhouse gases, not because of fossil fuel plants, but mainly (70%) because of deforestation.

Brazilian officials, under world scrutiny, say outsiders, including NGOs, are grabbing their land, stealing medicinal plants, spying and logging illegally. They say they fear the outside world is after their considerable resources.

Other forests at risk
The Amazon isn’t the only place forest is disappearing. Parts of Asia are losing more than 10,000 square miles of forest every year.

And Canada is logging its boreal forests (mainly evergreens) at such a rate that, combined with permafrost melt, it could produce a “carbon bomb,” according to Greenpeace. A report by the University of Toronto, “Turning up the Heat,” said a 1993 study showed Canada’s large swath of boreal forests stored 186 billion metric tons of carbon (27 times what the world emits from fossil fuels in a year), two-thirds of it stored in the soil. When trees are destroyed, not only is carbon released from them, but also from the soil that is exposed.

The province of Ontario last week promised to preserve 55 million acres, or at least half, of its pristine boreal forests from future development, keeping it as an undisturbed ecosystem and carbon sink. What about the other half? Chainsaw massacre?

More research, more regulation
The interaction between forests and climate change is complex. Droughts can damage forests and so can wildfires and pests brought on by warmer temperatures. The Amazon is threatened by increasingly frequent droughts. A Smithsonian research study going on now on an island in the Panama Canal suggests that as temperatures rise, trees slow their growth and absorb less CO2. There also is the issue that trees, as they get old, reach a point where they don’t take in as much carbon.

Clearly there needs to be more research, and a worldwide agreement to save or replace the forests we have – and not lose more. World officials meeting in Bali last December agreed credits should be given for saving rainforest, a step in the right direction. The details need to be worked out between now and 2012, when a post-Kyoto agreement would begin. And likely the wealthy nations are going to have to pony up.
(Sources: Thomson Reuters, PlanetArk, Greenwire, ClimateWire, State of the Planet 2006-2007, U.S. Census Bureau)

Friday, July 18, 2008

EPA regulation of GHG would harm Bush legacy, Cheney, oil interests thought: report

Washington Report 1:
President Bush dumped an EPA plan to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, refiners and autos at the urging of White House insiders, who feared it would hurt the president's legacy, a former EPA official told a congressional committee this week. The administration's efforts to respond to the Supreme Court's April 2007 decision, calling on EPA to regulate heat-trapping emissions, were outlined by Jason Burnett, a former adviser to Administrator Stephen Johnson, who spoke to the House Select Committee on Energy and Global Warming. Committee Chair Ed Markey (D-Mass.) concluded, in a report that combines Burnett's closed-door testimony with documents obtained by subpoena, that the president backed down after hearing arguments from the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, the Office of Management and Budget, the Transportation Department, Exxon Mobil Corp. and others in the oil industry. (Source: E&E Daily)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Dems’ Drill Bill in House comes up dry as parties spar over lifting offshore drilling ban

(Photo of Texas oil rig from Flickr and photographer Lizzie Vengeance/Lizzie Phillips )

Washington Report: House Democrats tried Thursday to pass a bill that urges oil companies to speed up exploration where they have current leases. Despite support from 26 Republicans, the bill failed to get the two-thirds vote it needed under expedited rules – 11 oil patch Dems voted against it. This bill was the Dem response to GOP efforts in both chambers to relax the ban on offshore drilling and paint Democrats as blocking oil exploration here, hence keeping gas prices high. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has introduced a bill, supported by several dozens fellow Republicans, to let states decide whether to lease in federal waters and then get a cut of the take. But it looks like they won’t be able to muster the votes in either house to end the ban on offshore drilling. A vote of the Congress is needed to end the ban, despite President Bush’s announcement. (Source: E&E News PM)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Hawaii’s gov signs slew of renewable energy bills

(Photo of Hawaiian beach from Flickr and and photographer Michael Bina)

News Update 1: Blue Hawaii is now Green Hawaii. Gov. Linda Lingle (R) has signed a number of bills aimed at increasing renewable energy and reducing dependence on foreign oil. The state has a goal of 20% renewables by 2020 and 70% by 2030. The new laws:
• Mandate that all new homes have solar water heaters.
• Plan for $1.5 million in revenue bonds to be invested in 3 alternative energy facilities, 1 solar, 1 tidal and 1 hydrogen.
• Give rebates for photovoltaic systems.
• Make it easier for solar energy facilities and biofuels producers to lease land.
Support is bi-partisan. Some of the bills were introduced by the governor, the rest by legislators on both sides of the aisle. Hawaii has a lot to lose (literally) if the seas rise due to melting of Greenland and Antarctica. (Source: ClimateWire)

Super potent greenhouse gas used in flat screen TVs poses global warming threat

(Photo of flat screen TVs at Wal-Mart from Flickr and and photographer Adam G)

News Update 2:
A chemical used in making flat screen TVs is 17,000 times as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2. Researchers at the University of California-Irvine are seeking to measure the synthetic chemical, NF3, in the atmosphere, because of its huge potential impact on global warming. The chemical, nitrogen trifluoride, is used in the manufacture of computers and flat screen TVs, despite the knowledge that it could add significantly to global warming. Industry leaders say only about 2% escapes into the atmosphere, but scientists have not yet verified that. NF3 lasts in the atmosphere 550 years, compared with 100 years for CO2 and 12 years for methane. It has not yet been registered as a greenhouse gas and was not included in the Kyoto treaty. The research at Cal-Irvine may well lead to its inclusion in future climate change treaties. This points up the risk that new chemicals can undo much of the good done to curb emissions and they need to be regulated. (Source: Greenwire)

India’s climate plan includes renewable energy, efficiency, but no emissions target

(Photo of solar energy in rural India from Flickr and and the barefoot photographers of Tilinia)

News Update 3: India, whose economy is growing 8-9% a year, has unveiled its National Action Plan to deal with global warming. It will focus on renewable energy, efficiency and research on green technology. More specifically, the plan covers solar energy, water conservation and energy efficiency, as well as sustainable agriculture, the Himalayan ecosystem and habitat. But it does not set a target for curbing greenhouse gas emissions. India says it has a right to lift its people out of poverty, as industrial nations did while they poured GHG into the atmosphere -- and that it has low per-capita carbon emissions, at 1.2 tons, compared with the United States’ 20.6 tons (2004 data). India’s power is 60% generated by coal, with plans for new plants in the next 5 years that will generate 70,000 more megawatts. Emissions have been growing about 2-3% a year, though the country is responsible for only 4% of the world’s GHG. (Source: Thomson Reuters)

With gas prices high, California picks route for high-speed train from LA to San Francisco

(Photo showing alternate plans for high-speed rail from Flickr and photographer lazy Tom/ Marcel Marchon)

News Update 4: A high-speed train line that has languished on the drawing boards for years has gotten a push from the rising price of gasoline, which is about $5 a gallon in California. In a unanimous vote, the state’s High Speed Rail Authority has selected a route for the 700-mile, 2½-hour trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Next comes a place on the November ballot for voters to OK a $40 billion bond issue and a state law to assure that’s legal. There is some environmental opposition to the route, Pacheco Pass (blue in picture) which goes through some undeveloped land. The California Air Resources Board said a high-speed train line would cut greenhouse gases by 1 million metric tons a year. (Source: ClimateWire, Greenwire, Environmental Law & Policy Center)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Trash talk: Zero waste would end landfills, incinerators and help curb GHG emissions

(Photo of trash in landfill from Flickr and photographer Zen/Zen Sutherland)

Weekly Angst: When you first started recycling, maybe 2 decades ago, little did you know one of the benefits would be to cut the greenhouse gas emissions that threaten catastrophic climate change. Now you have an additional reason to reduce, reuse, recycle -- and compost.

We are drowning in trash and, despite recycling, it’s adding at least 7% to emissions that cause global warming. Incinerators and landfills both emit GHG. And worse than that, every item that is destroyed needs to be replaced – which means more emissions from extraction, processing, manufacturing and transportation.

The Sierra Club’s new report Stop Trashing the Climate recommends phasing out all municipal waste incinerators and building no new incinerators or landfills.

The report sets a goal of zero waste by 2040, which could be accomplished by reducing consumption, recycling most products, re-using paper, plastic, glass and many other materials, and composting food and lawn scraps. Zero waste would reduce greenhouse gas emissions the same as if 20% of our coal-fired power plants were closed down. Under the Urban Environmental Accords, 103 mayors worldwide have agreed to send no waste to incinerators or landfills by 2040. More than 2 dozen American cities or states have a zero waste goal.

Too much consumption
The term “consumer” – if you’ve thought about it – is related to “consume” which means “use up.” And that’s exactly what we consumers are doing. Using up the world’s natural resources at a record pace.

The United States, with just 5% of the world’s population, is using up 30% of the world’s resources, producing 30% of the waste and emitting 22% of the planet’s greenhouse gases.

Think about what would happen if the rest of the world caught up with us on consumption. We’d need several planets to supply everyone. What we’re going to have to do is scale back so our consumption isn’t so far out of line with everyone else’s.

Manufacturers will have to take responsibility for producing less waste, especially the products and packaging that make up more than 72% of our trash.

Reuse, recycle and compost
Americans destroy nearly 170 million tons of paper, metals, plastics food scraps, etc., a years, and we have the ability to reuse, recycle or compost 90% of what we waste. Composting avoids significant methane emissions and increases carbon storage in soil to improve plant growth.

The damage landfills do
In addition to destruction of goods and using up of natural resources, landfills are the largest anthropogenic (human-caused) source of methane, which is 75% more potent a heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. Although some landfills capture methane to use for power, only 20% is captured, and non-recycled organic materials should instead be composted or anaerobically digested, the report said.

The damage incinerators do
Incinerators emit more carbon dioxide per megawatt hour than coal, gas or oil power plants. They produce CO2 and nitrous oxide, which is 300 times more potent than CO2. Many require fossil fuels to operate.

Other recommendations
• Implement federal, state and municipal zero waste targets.
• Levy a per-ton surcharge for taking waste to incinerators or landfills, as many European countries do.
• End “renewable energy” subsidies for landfills and incinerators.
• Charge by volume and weight for trash collection.
• Regulate paper packaging and junk mail and significantly increase paper recycling.

Toronto’s solution
The city of Toronto removes about 1/3 of its garbage before it can get to a landfill. It goes to a plant where microscopic bugs digest garbage and turn it into compost. The Toronto plant has a system that can separate out plastic bags, batteries, bones and other non-biodegradable objects in a huge tank that spins to break the bags and let them float to the top, then separates out hard and heavy objects, which do go to a landfill.

What remains is methane and compost. The latter is given free to residents to enrich soil or taken to city parks and gardens.

The plant, which processes 50,000 tons of organic waste (double what was originally expected) handles trash from a half-million single-family homes, with another half-million apartments expected online soon. There are plans to build another composting plant by 2010, which will capture and use the methane for power, and then to expand and retrofit the current plant by 2012.

Toronto’s goal is to divert 75% of its waste from landfills by 2010. The city also has a significant recycling program.

One of the features that helps its popularity is the ability of the bugs to gobble up the odors usually emitted by such a program.

Many European cities have organic composting plants, but in North America Toronto is the only one doing it on this scale. Other cities starting more slowly are San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Oakland and Alameda County, Calif.

These cities have shown what can be done. Now we just need the will to do it.

(Sources: Sierra Club’s “Stop Trashing The Planet,” Greenwire.)

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Two polls: High gas prices spark shift in opinions on more domestic oil exploration

(Photo of offshore drilling in Galveston from Flickr and photographer absolutwade/Beau Wade)
News Update 1: Two new polls are discouraging. They show growing numbers of voters favoring oil exploration in the U.S. and offshore. In Florida, specifically, a Rasmussen polls shows 59% of voters favoring offshore drilling. Breaking it out by party, 83% of Republicans, 38% of Dems and 54% of Independent are OK with offshore drilling in Florida, a substantial change since 2004. The same poll showed John McCain, who favors offshore drilling, leading Barack Obama, who doesn’t, 48-41. In a Pew Research national poll, 47% of the population wants to expand domestic drilling and open new power plants, compared with just 35% 5 months ago. There was a 10-point drop in those seeing conservation as the most important step on energy. Liberals’ favorables for oil exploration doubled from 22% to 45%. Half the people survey agreed with drilling in ANWR. The price at the pump trumps all. (Source: Greenwire)

Florida sees surge of solar plants, passing up other states as FP&L unveils plans for 3 sites

(Photo of solar panels at Cape Kennedy from Flickr and photographer Marcin Wichary)

News Update 2: The Sunshine State is beginning to take advantage of its best-known natural resource. Florida Power and Light has unveiled plans for 110 megawatts of solar energy in the state, enough to power 35,000 homes, which will help Florida pass up Arizona, Nevada and other states in producing solar energy. The utility wants 3 installations, one to produce 10MW at a photovoltaic plant at Kennedy Space Center, another 25 MW in DeSoto County, and a third to make 75MW from solar thermal in Martin County. Regulators still have to approve the plans but FPL expects the plants to be up and running next year. FPL also operates the world’s largest solar thermal field, in California’s Mojave Desert. FPL’s CEO told Reuters the price of solar is coming down and is more competitive with conventional power pants. FPL also produces wind and has a wind goal of 8,000-10,000MW by 2012. The state of Florida has set a target for public utilities to produce 20% of its power from renewable sources by 2020. FPL may sell some of its new solar power to other utilities to help them meet their goals. Others are doing their part as well. The Orlando Utilities Commission is installing solar photovoltaic panels on the Orange County Convention Center, which will produce 1,500MW hours of power a year. Many credit new Republican Gov. Charlie Crist with spurring renewable activity in the state by setting goals. (Sources: Reuters PlanetArk, Greenwire)

Feds backs down on 2-year moratorium on new solar plants for public land

News Update 3: The Bureau of Land Management reversed itself Wednesday on its plan to block any solar installations on public land while it assessed the environmental impact, apparently bowing to public pressure. New projects would have been blocked for 2 years while the study took place. This is the same Bureau of Land Management that has allowed drilling for oil and gas in thousands of spots and wants to permit uranium mining by the Grand Canyon. There are, of course, environmental concerns, especially with large projects. Impact on wildlife, water use and land reclamation after the life of the installation need to be considered. But many environmental groups agreed with the fledgling solar industry that there is a strong need to move forward more quickly on solar energy, a clean alternative to coal. There are no solar installations on federal land to date, but 125 applications are awaiting action. Much of the 119 million acres of federally managed land in the West is ideal for solar – flat, sunny desert. There are 9 utility-scale solar plants operational on private land that can produce 425 megawatts of power. At the opening of a plant in Nevada this week Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid had vowed to overturn the moratorium. AP/Newsday, New York Times, Greenwire)

Mayors pledge to increase energy efficiency, avoid tar sands to meet climate change challenge

(Photo of Indiana refinery processing tar sands oil from Flickr and The Rainforest Network)

News Update 4: The U.S. Conference of Mayors has attacked global warming by endorsing an increase in energy efficiency, seeking guidelines to avoid high-emission unconventional fuels and phasing out plastic water bottles. At its meeting in Miami in late June, the conference:
• Unanimously supported a 30% increase in energy efficiency in new residential buildings and called for a dramatic improvement in the national model energy building code that guides state and local governments. Code officials will meet in September to finalize the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), the first update since 2006.
• Challenged high-carbon fuels from tar sands, liquid coal and oil shale, asking for guidelines and purchasing standards to help mayors understand lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from fuels. These unconventional and synthetic fuels can emit 2-5 times the greenhouse gases during extraction and production.
• Agreed to phase out bottled water in favor of the public water supply. It takes 1.5 million barrels of oil each year to manufacture the bottles, most of which end up in landfills. (Sources: Sierra Club Cool Cities,