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Sierra Daily: May 2012
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16 posts from May 2012

May 11, 2012

Dumping Diesel

Cook islands iStock_000015062132XSmallIsland nations are trying to get off oil and keep their ankles above water as quickly as they can. At a recent meeting convened by the U.N. Development Program and the Barbados government, “small island states” committed to dropping diesel imports and investing in renewable energy to address climate change. 

According to AFP, the Cook Islands and Tuvalu aim to get all their electricity from renewable sources by 2020, while St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean is aiming for 60 percent from renewables by 2020. Using coconut biofuel and solar panels, Tokelau -- three islands between New Zealand and Hawaii -- plans to become self-sufficient in energy this year. 

"Somewhere in our makeup we are environmentally conscious people, because we have learned to live off the land and off the sea,” said Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna. “That is our heritage, that is our tradition and we are just tapping into that again."

The cost of keeping the lights on in these remote places is also an incentive. About 15 percent of the Cook Islands’ GDP is spent on importing oil. U.N. studies show that the figure runs as high as 30 percent in some Pacific countries. Meanwhile, oil imports account for just under 3 percent of GDP in the U.S. and the European Union.

The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has long recognized the threat of rising seas to island nations caused by climate change, and the Security Council and the Pentagon have already considered the potential need for “green peacemaking” in an era of climate refugees.

Photo by iStock/brians101

HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked at the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term.  For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.” 

May 09, 2012

Anti-Wind Farm "Subversion"

Windfarm

At present, most Americans would look at the picture of a windfarm in California's Tehachapi Mountains and think "Cool! About time we were getting more power from the wind."

If right-wing anti-wind activists get their way, soon you'll be thinking, "Eeewww! Corporate welfare!" As detailed in a memo obtained by the Checks and Balances and posted by ClimateProgress, the wheels are turning to

Cause subversion  in message of industry so that it effectively becomes so bad no one wants to admit in public they are for it (much like wind has done to coal, by turning green to black and clean to dirty).

In February, John Droz, Jr., a fellow at the super-right-wing American Tradition Institute, and Illinois anti-wind lawyer Rich Porter convened a meeting of wind hatersfrom around the country to plot a nationwide PR campaign. Among the tactics considered was forming an alliance with right-wing outfits like the Competitive Enterprise, Manhattan, and Cato institutes, as well as Heartland, the Koch Brothers-financed "thinktank" that put up the short-lived billboardin Chicago the other day with a picture of the Unabomber and the text "I still believe in global warming. Do you?"

More suggested tactics:

Setup a dummy business that will go into communities considering wind development, proposing to build 400 foot billboards. [The idea, apparently, is to cast wind farms as visual blight.]

Take zoning boards to court to rezone as industrial land to create chilling effect on signing contracts.

The [group's anti-wind] message is also repeated in Wash[ington] Times, WSJ, Fox and other sources.  

To all of which I say: Good luck with that. Wind energy already enjoys vast public support; a March poll by Pew found that an astonishing 78 percent of the public supports increased funding for wind and other forms of alternative energy. It's hard to imagine a campaign as described in this memo making a serious dent in that support. The real game now is before Congress, which needs to pass the Production Tax Credit to provide tax incentives to wind companies, to level the field with heavily subsidized fossil fuels. But if you do hear in coming months an effort to rechristen wind energy as "puff power" (I'm not making this up) you'll know where it comes from.

 Image: Wind Farm at Tehachapi Pass, California by iStock/PatrickPoendl

HS_PaulRauberFINAL (1)

PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber.

 

Solitude, Simplicity, and Video Games?

Walden pond iStock_000002389651XSmallPlaying a video game based on Henry David Thoreau’s life and writings from Walden Pond? Isn’t that the polar opposite of going “to the woods…to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life”?

The recent news that a team at the University of Southern California’s Game Innovation Lab was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to develop a game in which “the player will inhabit an open, three-dimensional game world which will simulate the geography and environment of Walden Woods” raised some eyebrows. “A video game about a 19th-century philosopher living in a shack, where there’s only one character and nothing happens?,”  chuckled Time. “Sign us up!” Grist suggested that the out-in-the-woods simulation “promises to be extremely ironic.” A Guardian (U.K.) reader gasped from his or her keyboard (with no apparent irony): “Thoreau would be spinning in his grave knowing that people were about to commit the ultimate in abstraction and try to connect with the natural world through completely mediated means!”

Nevertheless, the game developers “anticipate a rich simulation of the woods, filled with the kind of detail that Thoreau so carefully noted in his writings," as USC Associate Professor Tracy Fullerton told Time. “Of course everyone should spend time in nature; but not all of us are able to set aside our lives for the time it would take to conduct an experiment like Thoreau’s. The game is not a replacement for direct experience, just as the book is not.”

And any Walden fan knows that while plenty of Thoreau’s observations were site-specific (“A lake is the landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature. It is Earth's eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.") the transcendentalist rose above his woodsy cabin, just as a high-schooler can mentally escape the confines of her family’s basement rec room, with peer-pressure-bucking insights like "I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion."

Then, of course, there is the fact that Walden Pond itself isn’t what it was in 1847. Commuter-rail tracks pass its western shore, the four-lane Concord Turnpike borders the 335-acre Walden Pond State Reservation, and the pond’s parking lot fills to capacity on warm summer days with beachgoers.

Photo by iStock/jstroffoleno

Blog photo   HS_ReedMcManus (1)Reed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked at the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term.  For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”

May 04, 2012

Circling the Earth with Solar

Solaplanet monaco 2 img_9801On Friday, the solar-powered Turanor PlanetSolar finished its 19-month journey around the globe, returning to its home port of Monaco. The world’s largest solar-powered boat embarked in September, 2010, powered by 703 solar panels that charge lithium-ion batteries that power the vessel’s engine.

Along the way, insurance-carrier-mandated backup diesel engines were never used, and the biggest technical problem the vessel encountered was bird droppings on the photovoltaic panels near the Galapagos Islands.

For tech-fact geeks, thanks to Scientific American: “The carbon-fiber boat, 31 meters long and 15 meters wide, has a flat deck that is plastered with solar panels made by SunPower. Flaps can fold out to expose additional panels, creating a total solar area of 537 square meters (5,700 square feet). The panels, which average 18.8 percent efficiency—among the highest for commercial products—charge six banks of lithium-ion batteries that can generate up to 93.5 kilowatts of power (about 127 horsepower) and keep the catamaran going for three days with no sun. Top speed: 27.3 kilometers per hour (17 mph, 15 knots). The hull and outriggers are designed to minimize air and water resistance.”

For everyone else: “We have shown that we have the technologies as well as the knowledge to become sustainable and safeguard our blue planet,” said Swiss engineer and expedition leader Raphael Domjan.

Photo by PlanetSolar.

Blog photo   HS_ReedMcManus (1)Reed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked at the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term.  For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”

 

May 03, 2012

Oil Spill in the Great Bear Rainforest

Great-Bear-Rainforest-Oil-Spill-576x1024An oil spill 200 feet wide and 2 to 5 miles long is staining Hartley Bay, British Columbia, very near the proposed tanker route for the proposed Enbridge Gateway pipeline, which would carry tar-sands oil from Alberta to markets in Asia. The spill was reported by the Gitga’at Nation, the First Nations residents of the area who are fierce opponents of the Enbridge project, which they fear would damage the commercial fishing and tourism jobs upon which they depend.

“If this spill is as big as the pilots are reporting, then we’re looking at serious environmental impacts, including threats to our traditional shellfish harvesting areas,” says Arnold Clifton, Chief Councillor of the Gitga’at Nation. “We need an immediate and full clean-up response from the federal government ASAP.”

The current spill is apparently an upwelling of bunker fuel from Brigadier General M.G. Zalinski, a U.S. troop transport that sank in the area in 1946 and has never been satisfactorily cleaned up. Threats to the Great Bear Rainforest are explored in "Sound Off," a feature in the current issue of Sierra, by writer/photographer Aaron Teasdale. The Sierra Club and B.C. First Nations fear that sending 200 giant oil tankers annually through the same area would guarantee even more catastrophic spills in the future. As Teasdale reports,

The Sierra Club BC has joined the region's First Nations peoples and other local environmental groups in pointing out that an Exxon Valdez-style accident would decimate not only hundreds of miles of habitat but also the livelihoods of many coastal communities. "The clams, the cockles, the mussels, the crab, the urchins and cucumber, halibut, cod—all that I enjoy will be wiped away if there ever is an oil spill," Clifford Smith, a chief of the Haisla Nation, testified at a federal hearing in Kitimat in January.

For much more on this beautiful temperate rainforest, read Aaron's story.

Photo courtesy of the Gitga'at Nation

HS_PaulRauberFINAL (1)

PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber.

 

May 01, 2012

Cool Koalas

Koala iStock_000014837591XSmallThis writer is as wary as anyone about human propensity to fawn over cuddly creatures to the exclusion of the rest of the planet’s worthy plants and animals. (See earlier post “Survival of the Cutest.”) Despite such pragmatic tendencies, I draw the line at koalas. Awww, cute, cuddly koalas.

Now comes news that the Australian government has listed that country’s iconic marsupial as a threatened species in Queensland, New South Wales, and the Australian Capital Territory. According to the Australian Koala Foundation, there could be fewer than 80,000 remaining today, and possibly as few as 43,000. The government puts the figure at around 200,000.

The species is unique to its continent, but the dangers are familiar: “Koalas in some regions face increasing threats from urban expansion, disease, habitat loss, vehicle strike, and predation by dogs, and from their susceptibility to drought and climate change,” according  to Australia’s Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.

Says Environment Minister Tony Burke: “We're talking about a species that is not only iconic in Australia, but is known worldwide, a species that has taken a massive hit over the last 20 years and we can't wait any longer before we turn the corner when the scientists are telling us the evidence is in."

Photo by iStock/eeqmcc

Blog photo   HS_ReedMcManus (1)Reed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked at the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term.  For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas Ever Thus.”

 


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