Sierra Daily: September 2011
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31 posts from September 2011

Sep 22, 2011

The Corporate Climate

Carbon disclosure The New York Times’ Green blog points us to the most recent report of the corporate-sponsored Carbon Disclosure Project, a UK-based environmental analysis of  “339 of the largest US corporations by market capitalization.” For the first time since the project began, “a majority of the S&P 500 disclosing companies now integrate climate change into core business strategy.”

According to the report, the number of corporate respondents with senior executive or board oversight of their company’s climate change programs rose from 68 percent in 2010 to 87 percent this year. Additionally, 64 percent of respondents are setting greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, up from 51 percent in 2010 and 32 percent  in 2008.

The Times points out some missing players: “Consumers may care to know that some big companies they probably do business with, including Apple, Amazon and DirectTV, are still refusing to respond to the carbon disclosure survey.”

-- Reed McManus

Image: Carbon Disclosure Project

Bike Commuting Catching On Big


The League of American Bicyclists has new data out today, via the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, with some great stats on bicycle commuting. As of 2010, the country had 731,286 bicycle commuters, 39% more than in 2000. Communities were ranked by their percentages of folks who biked to work: 3.6% in Seattle, WA; 5.6% in Iowa City, IA (!); 6% in Gainesville, FL and Portland, OR; 8.3% in Eugene, OR; 9.9% in Boulder, CO, and an astonishing 22.1% in Davis, CA, bicycling capital of the country. You can see how your community rates here.

Just imagine how much cycling could grow if federal funding for bicycle paths were not held up by anti-cycling politicians like Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, who singlehandedly tried to block a transportation bill that mandated states use at least 10% of federal transportation funds for pedestrian and bike improvements. "We shouldn't be spending our money on bicycle paths for our own leisure and comfort and exercise when we have bridges that are falling down." Last Friday, Coburn finally relented, but not before extracting a promise from Congressional leaders that a large highway funding bill coming up next year would have no such mandate.

--Paul Rauber

--Photo by iStock

Sep 21, 2011

Solar Smackdown

Grasshopper ee022 Solar powered gadgets aren’t new (solar powered tie, anyone?) but with the news that Apple has a handful of patents in hand or in the works related to solar power, the possibility looms that solar power could take the computerized-device world in a way that the solar Frightened Grasshopper (shown at left) just couldn’t seem to muster. Apple, of course has clout: Some analysts say it could sell 30 million iPhones in the final quarter of 2011 alone. “Apple sees solar as a way to enable its gadgets to be charged in locations where there is no grid available and also as a way to generally extend the battery life of a device,” writes Katie Fehrenbacher at the technology Web site GigaOm. “In an increasingly mobile life, the plug is one of the last true barriers to mobility.” Apple already has competition in the Samsung NC215S, a 10-inch solar powered Netbook.

All this cordless gadgetry also gives you another way to look at some of the better publicized recent failures in the solar industry. Fehrenbacher continues: “One of the barriers to solar gadgets has been slowly getting solved: the price of solar cells. As you can see if you’ve been following the recent spate of bankruptcies in the solar industry (Solyndra, SpectraWatt, Evergreen Solar), the price of solar panels and cells has dropped dramatically in recent months and years, which is bad for some of the solar tech companies but good for the overall solar market and solar consumers. The price of solar is pretty much the lowest it’s been in history.”

-- Reed McManus

Image: Elenco Electronics

U.S., Saudis Top Oil Guzzlers

Oil consumption 
Here's a meaty (albeit annoyingly colored) graph from Stuart Saniford on world oil consumption (click for larger view). For the most part the world is trundling along in the 5-barrel-per-person-per-year range. Next come the more developed nations, with gradually declining use since the 1970s. (One of Saniford's commenters points out that this is largely due to Europeans finding other ways to produce electricity than burning oil. There was also the small matter of the 1973 OPEC oil embargo.) Flying high above all the others are the Saudis (who use large amounts for power generation and desalination, let alone driving around the desert in Hummers) and the United States. Since a previous Saniford graph established that "Peak Oil" happened some time ago, we are, he argues, merely reallocating the world supply:

Broadly speaking then, the developed countries have been cutting per-capita oil consumption and will be doing so further, in order to make room for consumption in the more rapidly growing economies of the developing world.  There are two ways for these cuts in consumption to happen: use oil more efficiently in the economy, or have less economy. Since 2005, in the US, we are mainly taking the second approach.

Ouch! There's another way, of course: We could get Beyond Oil.

--Paul Rauber

Petitioners Aim at Snapperfest

Snapping turtle For more than a decade, Indiana’s Campshore Campground has hosted Snapperfest, an event that invites contestants to violently grapple with snapping turtles. Now, groups are petitioning to stop what they cite as “ritual abuse of turtles.” You can find petitions here and here.

The late August shindig drew an explosion of attention from activists and media, and videos of the “festivities” abound on YouTube. In one scene, a bare-chested man in overalls pins a turtle to the ground, pries its neck from its shell, and jostles the animal in the air while eager onlookers snap photos. Another shows teenage boys pumping their fists and shouting with florid faces as the turtle wrangler thrusts his diminutive opponent skyward like a Heisman trophy.

Chris Probst, co-owner of the campground, is confident that Snapperfest is harmless and legal. He told Indiana’s Eagle County Radio that contestants “do not kill turtles” and that “you can’t pull the head off a turtle.”

But experts disagree. Kate Siena of Kawartha Turtle Trauma Center says, “Snapping turtles can sustain severe spinal injuries from being picked up by the tail. These injuries would remain unnoticed by the participants of the event and these seemingly ‘healthy’ turtles would then be released back in to the water to eventually succumb to their injuries.”

There's also the issue of what kinds of values Snapperfest is imparting on local youth. “The event no doubt teaches attending children and the wider community that handling wildlife is nothing but a brutal and frivolous game, with no regard to the suffering endured by these animals,” said Anne Sterling, Indiana State Director of the Humane Society of the United States.

Campshore Campground refused to comment when we contacted them for an interview.

--Jake Abrahamson

Sep 19, 2011

Canada's Choice: Clean Geothermal or Dirty Tar Sands

Canada geothermal 
On top of rescuing the economy and shoring up his position with his base, President Obama is mulling whether to OK the leaking, disastrous Keystone XL pipeline, which would transect the United States to bring dirty Canadian tarsands oil from Alberta to refineries in Texas. Our aggressively nice neighbors to the North, it turns out, did not have to go this route. A new study by the Geological Survey of Canada reveals that the country has enormous amounts of untapped geothermal power--a million times more, in fact, than Canada's current electrical consumption.

The map above (click for larger version) illustrates the widespread nature of this resource (specifically here, geothermal energy at a depth of 6-to-7 kilometers). The report finds that geothermal power is "broadly distributed across Canada," that the environmental impacts of its development would be relatively minor compared to other energy sources, and that its "high capacity factor" (i.e., its ability to produce consistent levels of energy over time) "makes geothermal energy particularly attractive as a renewable base load energy supply."

At present, Canada has no geothermal electricity production, so there's nowhere to go but up. Canada has a choice: It could be a world leader in clean energy, or the world's chief global warmer. If you'd like to have a say in whether the Keystone XL pipeline gets built, the State Department is holding nine public hearings across the country starting September 26; see the schedule here.   

--Paul Rauber

Sep 16, 2011

Split Decision on Loggerhead Turtles

Loggerhead_turtle_noaa.jpg 2 Today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration upgraded the status of five populations of loggerhead turtles from “threatened” to “endangered.” Those populations (North Pacific Ocean, South Pacific Ocean, North Indian Ocean, Northeast Atlantic, Mediterranean Sea, and South Atlantic Ocean) will now benefit from stronger protections and more conservation dollars spent. The agencies chose not to beef up the status of the Northwest Atlantic Ocean population, which includes Florida turtles, even though the number of loggerhead nests in Florida dropped 40 percent between 1989 and 2008. According to the Orlando Sentinel, “nest counts over the last three years have been slowly increasing, and federal officials said they believe the population may be stabilizing.”

The marine conservation group Oceana called the decision “bittersweet.” “Sea turtles are disappearing right before this generation’s eyes,” said Whit Sheard, Pacific counsel and senior advisor for Oceana in a press release. “While today’s designation gives new hope for North Pacific loggerheads, it leaves the fate of the species in the Atlantic at risk.”

-- Reed McManus

Image: NOAA

Build a Better Lightbulb

While the House GOP continues its war on energy-efficient lightbulbs and environmentalists debate the merits of compact fluorescents vs. LEDs, this amazingly clever project in the Philippines has done them all one better. Just watch: Betcha won't guess where it's going. . .


--Paul Rauber

Solyndra In Perspective

How do you get people to change their minds about anything? According to Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth and Jason Reifler of Gerogia State University, there are two key ingredients: Making them feel better about themselves, and present the information in a clear, compelling, graphic way. (Good discussion by Chris Mooney here.) Now given how self-satisfied many Fox News viewers seem to be it's hard to imagine how we might get them to feel better about themselves, but as for the clear, compelling graph, zealous Tweeter Philip Bump (@pbump) has done the world a great service with this perspective on the bankruptcy of the solar firm Solyndra:

--Paul Rauber

Sep 15, 2011

Go Big Red!

Corn h.3 jpg Courtesy of Think Progress comes the news that The University of Nebraska-Lincoln athletic department is ending its sponsorship agreement with TransCanada, the energy company that has proposed building the controversial 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline to carry oil from Alberta tar sands to Texas refineries.

Let’s turn to the play-by-play from the Lincoln Journal Star: 


For Allen Schreiber, oil and Husker football don't mix.

The Lincoln man spent the Sept. 3-4 weekend protesting the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline in front of the White House. On Saturday, he joined thousands of fellow Husker fans inside Memorial Stadium cheering their team to victory over Fresno State.

Then the cheering stopped.

A highlights video for the Huskers' 1978 conference championship football team appeared on the giant HuskerVision screen inside the stadium. When the logo for the video's sponsor appeared at the beginning and end, people in the stands began booing.

"To me, that was just a real strong gut punch as a Nebraskan," Schreiber said.

To him and others who saw the video titled the "Husker Pipeline," it appeared to be an advertisement for sponsor TransCanada.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln athletic department ended the sponsorship agreement Wednesday after fans and others complained.


One does not mess with Cornhusker fans. Adds the Journal Star: “Those who oppose the Keystone XL pipeline say the video attempted to draw connections between the Huskers' tradition of strong offensive lines and TransCanada.”

Starting on September 26, the U.S. State Department is holding public hearings in the six states directly affected by the proposed pipeline and in Washington, D.C. The hearing in Lincoln on September 27 should be particularly festive.

-- Reed McManus

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