Sierra Daily: December 2012
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14 posts from December 2012

Dec 10, 2012

Oops! Mapping Error Threatens Canadian Flathead

Flathead coalLast year Sierra published "Flathead Guardians," an adventure tale in which writer/photographer Aaron Teasdale (at right) explored British Columbia's Flathead Valley by mountain bike and packraft. Drama was provided in the form of the threat of a major mountaintop-removal coal mine on the very peak Teasdale is standing on.

Coal was everywhere. In open piles at our feet, in exposed seams in the rock. Had [the] mining plan gone through, these mountains, the forest we'd just ridden through, the spring we'd drunk from, all the porcupine's protectorate would be a vast open pit.

Happily, however, we were able to report that "Under intense pressure from conservationists in the run-up to the [2010 Winter Olympics], the B.C. government surprised everyone by announcing a temporary ban on all mining and oil and gas development in the Flathead."

Now, however, Canadian conservationists have discovered that a nearly 15,000-acre parcel of the Flathead headwaters is not covered by the B.C. ban, because is is part of the "Dominion Coal Blocks," a parcel given by the provincial government to the Canadian federal government more than a century ago to help underwrite construction of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. They are said to contain 8.6 billion tons of coal, in addition to huge amounts of coalbed methane. Natural Resources Canada has posted maps of the coalbed methane potential of the area on its Web site, leading conservationists to fear "that interest in the Blocks' development potential is current and active." 

"Coal mining is hot in B.C. right now," says Sarah Cox, spokesperson for Sierra Club B.C. "There are already five coal mines in the adjacent Elk Valley, and plans for a new Chinese-owned mine in part of our proposed wildlife management area." The Flathead Valley is currently a refuge for grizzly, wolverine, and bighorn sheep; conservationists have pressed the B.C. provincial government for years to agree to a new national park in the southeastern portion of the valley. They've now fallen back, however, on urging the federal government to respect B.C.'s mining moratorium for the area. "In the meantime," says Cox, "that area is not legally covered by the ban."   

Photo of proposed mining site in Flathead Valley courtesy of Aaron Teasdale.

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.

Dec 07, 2012

Greener TV

Rabbit-ears tvAnd you thought that sitting at home watching Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, while not particularly good for your psyche, wasn’t doing any damage to the environment, right? Well, it turns out that your set-top cable box is an energy hog, since it runs constantly. Last year, the Natural Resources Defense Council published a report that found that “in 2010 set-top boxes in the United States consumed approximately 27 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, which is the equivalent to the annual output of nine average (500 MW) coal-fired power plants.” Two-thirds of the energy used by a set-top box is consumed when it’s not in use, the group found. 

This week there’s a bit of good news for eco-couch-potatoes: According to a voluntary agreement by cable TV operators and appliance manufacturers that will go into effect January 1, at least 90 percent of all new set-top boxes purchased and put into use after 2013 will meet EPA Energy Star 3.0 efficiency levels. Under those standards, the boxes would use 30 percent less energy than the boxes in homes today. And the coalition says it will immediately download “light sleep” capability into 10 million digital video recorders that are already in homes. Under “light sleep,” you can’t watch or record, but your box remains connected to the network so it can offer “instant on” capability. 

NRDC says the industry can go further. It notes that the EPA is already planning to unveil Energy Star 4.0 levels in July. Those rules encourage the use of “deep sleep” mode, which would reduce a cable box’s energy consumption when not in use to less than 15 percent of the energy it consumes when you’re watching or recording your favorite reality show. As used by Sky Broadcasting in Europe, when not in use, a “deep sleep” box wakes briefly every half hour to check for scheduled activity, but is otherwise dormant, saving heaps of electricity. The downside: customers must endure a 90-second wait before watching Hawaii Five-O.

“It’s good that cable and satellite companies recognize the need to provide consumers with set-top boxes that waste less energy,” NRDC senior scientist Noah Horowitz said in a statement. “Unfortunately, their proposal is a far cry from what is needed to significantly decrease the $2 billion worth of electricity these devices waste each year.”

What to do in the low-tech meantime? Cut your power drain by plugging all your media devices into a power strip and turning it off when not in use. (But that means you won’t be able to record lost episodes while you sleep.)

Image by iStock/mgkaya.

HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on 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.”

Dec 06, 2012

Jay-Z, Public Transit Hero

Jay-ZVia Gawker, we learn how Jay-Z Rides the Subway, Adorably Explains Who He Is to an Adorable Old Lady. OK, we know who he is, but who is that "adorable old lady"? Several Gawkerati quickly pegged her as talented artist and sculptor Ellen Grossman, whose fascination with moiré patterns and the "flows, folds, ripples and crosscurrents . . .common to water currents, the wind, geologic change and biological life" apparently leave her insufficient time to become familiar with hip-hop royalty.

One element of the encounter that caught our attention here at the Sierra Club was how pleased Grossman was to find a famous musician such as Jay-Z riding public transit. Sure enough, a little investigation revealed that she was, indeed, a Sierra Club supporter and (sadly lapsed) member. "I have not renewed my Sierra club membership recently but I do support environmental causes," she writes.

Friends! Don't let this happen to you! You never know when you might find yourself sitting next to a famous hip-hop artist on the subway, the bus, or the train. And when you do, you'll want to make sure your Sierra Club membership is current. You can take care of that right here.  

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.

Dec 04, 2012

Charts, Graphs, Cough

Coal plant The weekly journal Nature offers an illuminating interactive graphic that shows which countries were using the greatest amounts of coal, oil, gas, nuclear power, and hydropower/renewable energy in 2011.  Few surprises here: The fossil-fuel waste-off in coal and oil is a contest between the U.S., China, and India. (In gas use, the U.S. outpaces Russia and Iran.)

China’s 2011 coal consumption was startling: a massive 1839 million tons of “oil equivalent,” according to Nature. That’s more than three times what the U.S. used. According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2012 (whose data Nature used for its interactive graphic), world energy consumption is up 2.5 percent, China’s energy use is up 71 percent, and China has surpassed the U.S. as the world’s largest power generator. Such profligacy has led to contentious discussions at United Nations climate talks now under way in Qatar over the responsibility that rapidly industrializing like China and India should bear in reducing global carbon emissions.

On the less depressing side of the ledger: Leaders in hydropower and renewables were China, the U.S., and Brazil.

Image by iStock/hh5800.

HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on 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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