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[1THING] Blog: Archive for January, 2013

[ Water Demand for Energy to Double by 2035 ]

Water consumption for power and transportation will soar due to expanding coal power and biofuel production, the International Energy Agency says.


[ Biochar Cookstoves Boost Health for People and Crops ]

Innovative nonprofits are taking clean cookstoves a step further by designing them to produce biochar, a byproduct with the potential to fortify soil and fight climate change.


[ What We Can Learn From Love Canal ]

What We Can
Learn From Love Canal


Cleaning Up Love Canal / Photo: EPA


Guest post by Lois Gibbs, Executive Director of EarthShare member
charity Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ)

This year, 2013, marks a very
significant date – the 35th anniversary of the Love Canal crisis. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long.
Entire generations have been born since who may know little or nothing about
Love Canal and how the environmental health and justice movement began. It was
in 1978 when we started the Love Canal Homeowners Association to respond to the
industrial waste dump that was poisoning our community in New York State. Our
work eventually led to the creation of the Superfund program in 1980.

We need to find ways to tell the
Love Canal story so that we don’t repeat our mistakes. One key lesson is that a
blue collar community with few resources can win its fight for justice and open
the eyes of the nation and the world to the serious problems of environmental
chemicals and their effects on public health.

Thanks to Mark Kitchell, an Oscar
nominated filmmaker (Berkeley in the
), there’s now a compelling film that tells the story of Love Canal
and the history of the environmental movement: A Fierce Green Fire. The film will engage younger viewers who may
have never heard of Love Canal and re-engage those who have spent decades fighting for a
healthy planet. What’s exciting about this film, which includes a prominent segment on Love Canal, is that it demonstrates
that change really can happen when people get involved.

“The main difference between my
film and a lot of other environmental films is that instead of it being focused
on the issues, ours is focused on the movement and activism,” said Mark
Kitchell in an interview. “I feel that telling stories of activists, taking up
the battle and fighting, is the best way to explicate the issues. And that was
my main handle on the environmental subject, doing the movement story”. The
film is narrated by Robert Redford, Meryl Streep and Ashley Judd among others.

(Lois Gibbs speaking about Love Canal in A Fierce Green Fire)

As CHEJ moves forward this coming
year, we are partnering with groups across the country who would like to show
the film in their communities and learn how to win environmental
and environmental health and justice battles. Partnering with these groups, we
hope to also bring media attention to local environmental concerns across the country
and raise funds to address these issues. It’s a plan that’s hard to pass up.

If your
group is interested in hosting a local viewing of A Fierce Green Fire, please contact CHEJ. Together we can inspire people to take
action to protect our health and the planet.


Mini_lois-150x150Lois Gibbs
raising her family in Love Canal, near Niagara Falls in upstate New York, when,
in 1978, she discovered that her home and those of her neighbors were sitting
next to 20,000 tons of toxic chemicals.

That shocking
discovery spurred Lois to lead her neighbors in a three year struggle to
protect their families from the hazardous waste buried in their backyards. In
that fight, Lois discovered that no local, state or national organization
existed to provide communities with strategic advice, guidance, training and
technical assistance.

Lois with her neighbors on their own, by
trial and error, developed the strategies and methods to educate and organize
their neighbors, assess the impacts of toxic wastes on their health, and
challenge corporate and government policies on the dumping of hazardous
materials. Her leadership led to the relocation of 833 Love Canal households


[ Obama and Keystone XL: The Moment of Truth? ]

President Obama will soon have to decide whether he will be the “all of the above” president or the “respond to climate change” president.

In Pursuit of Hydrocarbons

Last year on the campaign stump, Obama presented himself as the “all of the above” guy on energy. Here’s an example from a speech delivered at Prince George’s Community College in Maryland:

“We need an energy strategy for the future — an all-of-the-above strategy for the 21st century that develops every source of American-made energy.”
(President Obama, March 15, 2012)

The operative words are “every source.” Sure, he touts and has funded the development of green energy, but he has also favored a ramp-up in production of domestic hydrocarbons — specifically oil and natural gas. At any number of occasions last year Obama trotted out the fact that under his watch domestic drilling and production were up, imports were down. Similar boasts appear on WhiteHouse.gov as well:

“Domestic oil and natural gas production has increased every year President Obama has been in office. In 2011, American oil production reached the highest level in nearly a decade and natural gas production reached an all-time high.”

The Climate Change Pledge

While energy was a campaign issue, it was obvious (painfully so for many) that climate change was not. No major policy speeches by either candidate and not a single question in the debates.

But after the election climate change re-entered the president’s ambit. First came his acceptance speech on election night:

“We want our children to live in an America … that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”

Then came an inaugural address that got the environmental community all atwitter — climate change receiving more attention than any other single issue? Could it be that Obama was positioning himself to go after climate change in a big way?

You Can’t Have ‘All of the Above’ and Address Climate Change

But here’s the problem: an “all of the above” energy policy that encourages the development and production of oil and gas flies in the face of a “climate change” pledge to “respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”

And the stakes are too high to ignore. Greenhouse gas emissions and atmospheric greenhouse gases are at an all-time high. Nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001. And there is increasing concern that we may be seeing an uptick in extreme weather events as a result of global warming.

Responding to climate change requires that production and use of hydrocarbon fuels be ramped down, not up.

So sooner or later the Obama administration will face a moment of truth — a choice between following an “all of the above” path or responding to “the threat of climate change.” And that moment could be just down the road.

The Looming Keystone XL Decision

The Keystone XL project would put into place a pipeline system that would allow oil imports to flow from the Canadian tar sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast. (For more, see my post here, this NYT explainer, and this Washington Post Keystone XL interactive graphic.)

It’s been a rallying cry for both the “drill, baby drill” crowd and the environmentally minded, albeit from different positions. For the pro-drillers the pipeline is a no-brainer — a job-creating project that will bring a new, unconventional, (almost) domestic source of oil to American refineries.

For many environmentalists, stopping the pipeline is also a no-brainer — it’s a landscape-decimating proposition whose oil is among the most carbon-intensive out there. (More here, here and here.)

There’s also the issue of the pipeline itself. The initial plan had routed it through highly sensitive lands in Nebraska’s Sand Hills, which sit above the all-important Ogallala aquifer — a critical source of drinking water and irrigation for a huge swath of the United States. The potential risk to the aquifer was so grave that Dave Heineman, the Republican governor of Nebraska, urged Obama to deny TransCanada (the pipeline company) the greenlight for the project.

And finally there is the climate concern. While there is still some debate about how the size of the Alberta resource — and how much carbon dioxide would be released if it were completely exploited (see here and here) — there is little argument that on a BTU-to-BTU basis, tar sands oil is about as dirty and carbon-intensive as it comes. And so sure, if you’re an “all of the above” president, you might approve the pipeline. But if you’re a “respond to climate” one? I don’t think so.

Decision Day Approaches

The Keystone XL project has had its ups and downs, its starts and stops. (See timeline.) Because the pipeline would cross an international border, the project must be reviewed by the State Department and approved by the president. In January 2012, the State Department rejected TransCanada’s application because of concerns about environmental impacts but invited the company to re-apply with a new route that would avoid environmentally sensitive areas.

TransCanada has now submitted a new proposal whose newly proffered path for the pipeline avoids some — but not all — of the ecologically sensitive areas in Nebraska and its surrounds: It still passes over the Ogallala but avoids the Sand Hills.

Gov. Heineman has approved the new plan, with the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality finding that the pipeline’s construction and operation along the new route would result in “minimal environmental impacts” and that any oil released “should be localized and Keystone would be responsible for any cleanup.”

So now it’s up to Obama and his administration.

The State Department is said to be studying the new plan and a decision is expected this spring. So what will they do? Just-confirmed Secretary of State John Kerry was cagey and non-committal on the subject during his confirmation hearings last week, promising only to make “appropriate decisions.” (Hey, at least he didn’t say he would decide for it then against it.)

Ultimately, though, the decision is in the hands of President Obama. That decision will be revealing indeed.


End Note

* Oil sands produce bitumen, a thick tarry hydrocarbon that is either “upgraded” into a synthetic blend or diluted so it flows like oil.


[ Crowd-Sourced App Rates Walkability of Streets ]

The free Web- and Android-friendly Walkonomics app ostensibly scores streets in eight categories — including how pretty, how steep, how dangerous, and even whether a sidewalk exists — based on open data from governments and ratings by app users.

Essentially, though, Walkonomics’s mobile, crowd-sourced cartography recognizes walking as a means and an end.

The streets between our Point As and Bs make up small stories written as we go, where wearing high heels or holding hands with a toddler, not just distance, can inform the journey. Tourists might look for the easily navigable streets; for joggers, streets with crosswalks; for everyone, streets with restaurants, parks, or stores.

Studying and facilitating walking is Walkonomics founder Adam Davies’s vocation. He blogs about walking’s effect on the environment, society and individuals, and vice versa. He tweets walking stats and stories almost daily. To Davies, simply walking could solve so much. Purchasing has its power, but getting out the door is among the greenest things we can do.

“Things like rising fuel prices and the growing obesity crisis and Generation Y, my own age group, who long to live in urban areas and not have to own a car because it’s better for the environment … All of these different things feed into getting more people walking,” Davies said. “There’s no downside to making cities and streets more walkable.”

Swelling interest from the streets up could make walkability a high priority for local governments and businesses.

“Places like Los Angeles and Houston, some of those big, sprawling cities — as normal people abandon cars or hire cars like Zipcar, cities like that are going to have to change to attract people to live,” Davies said.

So far, Walkonomics covers every street in San Francisco, New York City, and all of England. Davies used “open data sets” — with info on streets’ cleanliness, for instance — released by governments in the past three years as well as app-users’ ratings. The latter could grow Walkonomics’s coverage exponentially.

“You can add a totally new street onto the system and start rating it yourself,” Davies said. “We’re still building the community. Once the crowd sourcing is working, it will be self-policing.”

Think eBay seller ratings, where mass feedback shapes appeal. With one out of five stars — do want to go down that road?

Davies expects Walkonomics for the iPhone to be available for download in a couple weeks

Source:  The Sierra Club


[ Hybrid Tops Annual “Greenest” Vehicle List ]

The Toyota Prius C topped the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s (ACEEE) fifteenth annual “Greenest” car ratings in a list released on January 16. The compact, which debuted in the U.S. market last year, had a “Green Score” of 58 in the ACEEE measure of comprehensive eco-performance, which reflects the vehicle’s rating of 53 miles per gallon (MPG) in the city and 46 MPG highway. Overall, the list was dominated by hybrid-electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, and electric vehicles (EV).

Rounding out the top five were the Honda FIT, Prius 1.8 liter, Prius plug-in hybrid, and the Honda Civic hybrid. The Ford Focus with a lithium-ion battery ranked tenth. The Scion IQ and the Mercedes-Benz Smart ForTwo coupe were the only non-hybrid, non-plug-in vehicles on the list.

Fuel economy for EVs is provided in miles per kilowatt-hour, while the rating for plug-in hybrids is provided in MPG for gasoline operation and in miles per kilowatt-hour for electric operation. ACEEE is a nonprofit organization that acts as a catalyst to advance energy efficiency policies, programs, technologies, investments, and behaviors. See the ACEEE press release and the full “Greenest” car list.


[ Biodiesel Production Tops 1 Billion Gallons in 2012 ]

The U.S. biodiesel industry broke the billion-gallon mark in 2012 for the second consecutive year, according to year-end production figures from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The National Biodiesel Board (NBB) noted that the total volume of nearly 1.1 billion gallons exceeded the 2011 production by 6 million gallons.

December production totaled just 59 million gallons, the lowest monthly volume of the year. The National Biodiesel Board attributed the production drop to uncertainty over the biodiesel tax incentive. Congress renewed the $1-per-gallon incentive on New Year’s Day as part of the so-called “fiscal cliff” legislation. Biodiesel production is reported under the EPA’s Biomass-based Diesel category in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The fuel is made from a mix of resources, such as recycled cooking oil, soybean oil, and animal fats. See the NBB press release and the EPA’s RFS Web page.


[ Energy Department Offers $12 Million to Accelerate Solar Cell Efficiency ]

The Energy Department on January 25 announced a new $12 million funding opportunity to develop innovative, ultra-efficient solar devices that will help close the gap with the theoretical efficiency limit. That limit is defined as the highest potential percentage of sunlight that can be converted directly into electricity. Currently, a sizable gap still exists between the efficiency of laboratory and commercial-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) cells and the predicted maximum efficiencies of different solar cell materials. Accelerating breakthroughs in solar cell conversion efficiency will help continue to lower the overall cost of solar power.

The new initiative—the Foundational Program to Advance Cell Efficiency II (FPACE II)—aims to accelerate record-breaking conversion efficiencies that will close the gap with this theoretical limit for a variety of PV cells, including silicon-based technologies and thin-film materials such as cadmium telluride and copper indium gallium diselenide. The new funding opportunity builds on the SunShot Initiative’s FPACE I projects, awarded in September 2011, which are aimed at eliminating the gap between the efficiencies of best prototype cells achieved in the laboratory and the efficiencies of typical cells produced on manufacturing lines.

In the current solicitation, FPACE II seeks proposals from collaborative teams of researchers from national laboratories, universities, and industry that can develop materials model systems and fabricate prototype devices that achieve efficiencies near the theoretical limit. See the Energy Department Progress Alert and the Funding Opportunity Announcement.


[ DEP Reminds Consumers about New Electronics Recycling Law ]

The Department of Environmental Protection is reminding consumers and businesses they are no longer able to throw away their electronic devices with their trash.

Passed in 2010, the Pennsylvania Covered Device Recycling Act (CDRA) requires that consumers and businesses not dispose of covered devices, such as computers, laptops, computer monitors, televisions and tablets with their trash. This means that trash haulers will no longer take covered devices unless the municipality has a curbside electronics collection program that ultimately sends the devices to an electronics recycler.

“This law is an important step toward further reducing the amount of waste disposed in our landfills,” DEP Secretary Mike Krancer said. “There will be a host of positive impacts from this law, such as deriving economic benefits from precious metals found in electronics, eliminating heavy metals in the environment and encouraging environmental stewardship.”

Under CDRA, the covered devices and their components must be properly recycled and may not be taken to, or accepted by, landfills or other solid waste disposal facilities for disposal.

The law also requires that manufacturers of the covered devices provide for the collection, transportation and recycling of these devices by establishing one-day events, permanent collection programs or mail-back programs for consumers. This is offered to consumers at no cost. Manufacturers must work with an electronics recycler that is properly permitted and certified to handle and process electronic waste.

Manufacturers must register their covered device brands with DEP and attach brand labels to those devices. Additionally, retailers who sell electronic covered devices may only sell devices with a manufacturer’s brand that is registered with DEP.

Consumers can also continue to recycle their electronics through a county or municipal electronic recycling program, if one is available. It is recommended that before taking any electronics to collection points or drop-off locations, consumers should first contact that location to see what types of electronics they accept.

Consumers can find more information on registered manufacturers and where to recycle their covered devices at www.dep.state.pa.us, keyword: Electronics Recycling.

Additional recycling information is available from county recycling coordinators, whose contact information can be found on DEP’s website, keyword: recycle, or through the Recycling Hotline at 1-800-346-4242.


[ Earth Day Network Healthy and Sustainable School Food Journalism Awards ]

The Healthy and Sustainable School Food Journalism Competition is designed to bring the hard facts about school food to entire school communities – in the students’ own words.

What could I win?

First prize: $1,500. Second prize: $1,000. Third prize $500. Fourth Prize (x3): $300

…Plus, $200 for your journalism class and the opportunity to have your work publicized on Earth Day Network websites and through their extensive networks.

What is it?

A competition for student journalists. Articles submitted for consideration must be about the need for healthy, sustainable school food and must have been published in a school newspaper.

Who can enter?

U.S. high school students ages 13 to 18.

Who’s judging?

Best-selling author and food activist Michael Pollan will judge the finalists and select the winners!

Contest ends February 28, 2013. Winners will be announced on Earth Day – April 22, 2013.


Learn more about the competition and find out how to enter at http://www.earthday.org/journalismaward