Sierra Daily: April 2011
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16 posts from April 2011

Apr 18, 2011

Happy Fossil-Fuel Subsidy Day!

While you're sweating out the value of those old shoes you donated to Goodwill for your itemized deductions, spend a moment to consider that Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, Valero, and ConocoPhillips paid no federal taxes last year, and all received substantial refunds or rebates. But rebates are just the froth on the bubbly for Dirty Energy. Here's the ugly picture of how taxpayers subsidize the fossil-fuel industry, courtesy of the Environmental Law Institute:

Yeah, you read that right: For the period from 2002 to 2008, Dirty Energy scarfed up $53.9 billion in tax breaks, with total federal subsidies totaling $70.2 billion.

Don't forget to postmark by midnight!

--Paul Rauber

Apr 15, 2011

Survive an Avalanche

In 2010's March/April issue of Sierra we published a "Survive" column about an extremely lucky backcountry skier who survived an avalanche by riding a big chunk of snow to safety. Since hoping for luck is a notoriously unreliable survival strategy, we recommended a few technical measures that might save your life in a similar situation--including a backpack-contained inflatable airbag. Today, via Adventure Journal, the entertaining blog by Sierra's gear guy, Steve Casimiro, comes this remarkable video of such an airbag in action. The video's pretty long but all the action is in the first couple of minutes. You don't actually see the airbag deploy, although you can see its shadow once skier Jeff Wyshynski comes to rest.


--Paul Rauber





Apr 11, 2011

Oh, Frack...

And you thought the biggest problem from the ever-popular method of retrieving natural gas from shale formations by hydraulic fracturing was water pollution? Cornell University researchers report that "fracking" produces more global warming per unit of energy than coal.

For more, go here

--Reed McManus

Distant Admirers

At long last, new rules from NOAA Fisheries have been issued to protect Puget Sound's famous but troubled orca population, profiled in Sierra by Thayer Walker in "Empty Sound." Starting next month, whale watchers on the Sound will have to stay twice as far away from the whales--200 yards, compared to the current 100-yard limit. Orcas are also troubled by water pollution and a shortage of their dish of choice, the Chinook salmon. Happily, West Coast salmon are experiencing a bumper year--great news for orcas and orca-watchers as well.

--Paul Rauber

Apr 06, 2011

A History of Clean Energy -- And Its Future

"The prairie is fairly alive with them." So reported the Kansas City Star of the thousands of windmills that dotted Kansas. Wind power had become the key to success on the Great Plains. That was in the 1800s.

Powering The Dream Clean energy is not exactly new. That's the argument of Alexis Madrigal in his book Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. Americans were experimenting with solar power as early as 1841, and wind power was a key to western expansion in the late 1800s.

Madrigal's main aim in writing his history is to show the "uncertainties and triumphs of innovation, the mysterious process by which ideas are made into product." Such a history is much needed, since the average American knows little about our energy history -- and that lack of knowledge results in many assuming that we've been using oil and coal simply because they were the best products at the time. Madrigal reminds us that "random events have major impacts [on energy development] and people take bad paths." By studying the mistakes of the past, we can better forge a clean-energy future.

Although most of his book is focused on this fascinating "unknown" history, Madrigal ends his story by looking at one of the most important debates in the environmental movement today: solar development in the Mojave.

Continue reading "A History of Clean Energy -- And Its Future" »

Apr 04, 2011

Caught "Red" Handed on Amtrak


Back in February, fussy conservative columnist George Will opined that "the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism."

On Sunday, eagle-eyed liberal columnist Paul Krugman blogged: "It is my civic duty to report that yesterday, as I got off Amtrak 161 from Trenton to Washington — having spent 2 1/2 hours being made more amenable to collectivism, not to mention finishing another chapter for 3rd edition — I saw George Will leaving the business class car."

Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that "Amtrak is seeking $1.3 billion in federal funds for major improvements to the heavily traveled Northeast rail corridor, including $450 million to make Philadelphia-to-New-York trains the fastest in the country." The move was prompted by Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott's decision in February to reject federal money for high-speed rail in the Sunshine State.

To the bar car for a Stoli, comrades!

--Reed McManus

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