This week’s environmental story roundup

Supreme Court to Hear Climate Change Case

As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued a decision that many new or upgraded factories, power plants or other facilities will have to get a permit under the Clean Air Act to emit carbon dioxide, methane or other greenhouse gases (Source: NY Times), the United States Supreme Court has decided to hear the case of American Electric Power Co., Inc. v. Connecticut. The SCOTUS blog says at issue is “Whether federal law allows states and private parties to sue utilities for contributing to global warming.”

Wired.com says, “The case was filed before the Environmental Protection Agency’s right to regulate greenhouse gases was established, and represents an attempt by citizens to control greenhouse gases in the absence of federal mandates.” You might remember, the Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the EPA could regulate greenhouse gases, a process scheduled to begin early next year. But, Wired.com notes, “A New York court ruled against the states in 2005, saying the suit raised a “political question” beyond judicial scope. An appeals court  reversed that decision last year, noting that the link between greenhouse gas pollution and climate change is not a political question. As justification, they even cited Georgia v. Tennessee Copper Co., an obscure Supreme Court decision in which the high court supported Georgia’s right to sue two copper companies responsible for crop-destroying pollution.” It’s the appeal that the SCOTUS will hear.

Carbon Auction Yields $16.9 Million more for New York

While the Chicago Carbon Exchange (CCX) has pretty much shut down with a ton of CO2 trading for a nickel, the NY Times reports the state of New York “made $16.9 million in the latest auction of carbon dioxide credits, held this week under the cap-and-trade system known as Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative…New York has so far collected $282 million from RGGI (pronounced “reggie”), the most of any of the 10 participating Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states.” The Times article notes, “Under the program, the 10 states agreed to cap carbon dioxide emissions  from electric power plants and charge the plants for the emissions they produce. As an incentive for the plants to pollute less, the states allow those that cut their emissions below the cap level to sell or trade their excess carbon allowances through online auctions four times a year.”

Cancun shindig ends with a semblance of an agreement

Politico reports, “A year after U.N.-led talks all but collapsed in Copenhagen, delegates from countries large and small signed off on a package of low-hanging fruit that includes establishing a program to keep tropical rainforests standing, sharing low-carbon energy technologies and preparing a $100 billion fund to help the world’s most vulnerable cope with a changing climate…diplomats scarred by the chaos in Copenhagen accepted a deal that fails to ratchet down greenhouse gas emissions anywhere close to scientific recommendations [and] fails to establish a firm date for negotiators to reach a conclusion on a new climate treaty.

The World Resources Institute jubilantly reported the Cancun climate talks concluded on 11 December 2010 with countries “agreeing by consensus to move ahead with an international agreement on climate change that includes “targets and actions, increased transparency, the creation of a climate fund, and other important mechanisms to support developing countries. Delegations also recognized the urgency of keeping global average temperature below 2 degrees Celsius, with the ability to strengthen the response in the coming years.”

Not everyone was quite so thrilled, Ronald Bailey at Reason.com said, “It would be cynical to call it a bribe, but the Cancun agreements were largely reached because the rich countries continued their vague promises to hand over $100 billion in climate aid annually to poor countries beginning in 2020. Basically the deal on emissions is that countries will agree to agree on cuts at the next climate change conference in Durban.” While Christopher Monckton wrote on the CFact blog, “The governing class in what was once proudly known as the Free World is silently, casually letting go of liberty, prosperity, and even democracy itself…The 33-page Note (FCCC/AWGLCA/2010/CRP.2) by the Chairman of the ‘Ad-Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Co-operative Action under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’, entitled Possible elements of the outcome, reveals all. Or, rather, it reveals nothing, unless one understands what the complex, obscure jargon means…Western countries will jointly provide $100 billion a year by 2020 to an unnamed new UN Fund. To keep this sum up with GDP growth, the West may commit itself to pay 1.5% of GDP to the UN each year. That is more than twice the 0.7% of GDP that the UN has recommended the West to pay in foreign aid for the past half century. Several hundred of the provisions in the Chairman’s note will impose huge financial costs on the nations of the West…Hundreds of new interlocking bureaucracies answerable to the world-government Secretariat will vastly extend its power and reach.”

Mountain Gorillas on the Increase

A gorilla census in the 180 sq mi Virunga Massif of Rwanda reveals a 26.3 percent increase of the mountain gorilla over the last seven years. (source: allafrica.com) A story in the New York Times notes that increased economic standards in the area had led to a decrease in poaching. “Many of these communities now keep bees to make honey or make handicrafts for tourists — they don’t need to poach,” Martha Robbins, a primatologist with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, told the BBC.

Californian Green Scene

Scientists: NASA’s arsenic bacterium paper “Should Not Have Been Published”

The Week: Last week’s much-heralded discovery of a new form of life is already being dismissed by independent scientists who call NASA’s research “sloppy”

“With great fanfare, NASA announced last week that it had discovered a new form of microbial life that can live on arsenic in a lake in California. Even if the discovery left some underwhelmed, it was generally greeted as a breakthrough, a paradigm shift in how we should think about life itself.” (Source: The WeekRRResearch, A research blog run by Rosie Redfield has received lots of play for her criticism of the paper, “Bottom line: Lots of flim-flam, but very little reliable information.  The mass spec measurements may be very well done (I lack expertise here), but their value is severely compromised by the poor quality of the inputs.  If this data was presented by a PhD student at their committee meeting, I’d send them back to the bench to do more cleanup and controls.” Slate.com asks, “But how could the bacteria be using phosphate when they weren’t getting any in the lab? That was the point of the experiment, after all. It turns out the NASA scientists were feeding the bacteria salts which they freely admit were contaminated with a tiny amount of phosphate. It’s possible, the critics argue, that the bacteria eked out a living on that scarce supply. As [one researcher questioned by slate] notes, the Sargasso Sea supports plenty of microbes while containing 300 times less phosphate than was present in the lab cultures.”

DWP quietly scales back LA Mayor’s renewable energy goal

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has great plans for LA to make 40% of its power from renewable resources by 2020. The LA Times reports that Los Angeles’s Department of Water and Power (DWP) has begun groundwork to dial that figure back.

Villaraigosa set the 40% renewable target during his second-term inaugural address, part of his bid to make Los Angeles “the greenest big city in America.” But [First Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner] has dismissed that figure as “arbitrary,” and the DWP, faced with resistance to the higher electricity rates needed to obtain cleaner power, is looking to scale back the target, according to a draft plan being circulated by the utility.

Century-old oaks may make way — for a silt dump

An eleven-acre grove of oaks and sycamores in the city of Arcadia is the planned site to dump silt dredged from Santa Anita reservoir in the San Gabriel mountains. The LA Times reports, if an agreement with conservationists cannot be reached, a contractor in January will begin clearing the grove at the bottom of a wash abutting the handsome foothill subdivisions. “This is not something we take lightly,” said Bob Spencer, spokesman for the county Public Works Department. The county, he said, will sit down with residents and environmental groups to explore alternatives.

2 More Rare Red Foxes Confirmed in Sierra Nevada

Federal wildlife biologists have confirmed sightings of two more Sierra Nevada red foxes that once were thought to be extinct. Scientists say DNA samples show enough diversity in the Sierra Nevada red foxes to suggest a “fairly strong population” of the animals may secretly be doing quite well in the rugged mountains about 90 miles south of Reno. The first confirmed sighting of the subspecies in two decades came in August. (Source: CBS News)

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The Week’s Environmental Story Roundup

Stories of environmental interest this week:

International and National:

Monsanto appeals judge’s order to uproot genetically modified sugar beets; Obama administration reverses offshore oil-exploration plans; 4200 sq miles reclosed in gulf of Mexico following find of oil tainted shrimp; Walking to stores ‘damages planet more than going by car’; Waste-pickers demand first dibs on rubbish; When life gives you hydrocarbons, make energy, Kyoto CO2 limits not to be extended this year.

California News:

HSU professor scales redwoods for clues to global warming; Kettleman City toxic waste facility fined for violations; Jerry Brown’s Hobson’s choice; new study criticizes high-speed rail effort.

Monsanto appeals judge’s order to uproot genetically modified sugar beets

Monsanto has appealed Tuesday’s ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey S. White, in San Francisco to rip out 256 acres of genetically modified sugar beets in Oregon and Arizona. The sugar beets had been be used for the 2012 crop seed production. The planting of sugar beet seedlings, or stecklings, that was authorized in September under permits issued by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

“With due respect, we believe the court’s action overlooked the factual evidence presented that no harm would be caused by these plantings,  and is plainly inconsistent with the established law as recently announced by the U.S. Supreme Court,” said David Snively, general counsel for Monsanto. “We intend to seek an immediate stay of this ruling and appeal to the Court of Appeals.”

Roundup Ready sugar beets have been planted in North America for the past four years.  After careful review, USDA issued permits for this additional seed production in accordance with the June, 2010 Supreme Court ruling that clearly authorizes such actions.  The District Court’s decision would impose unnecessary costs on the seed producers when there has been no demonstrated harm to plaintiffs or risk to the environment associated with the seed production in the multiple years that the crop has been successfully planted and harvested.

More than 1 million acres of Roundup Ready sugar beet varieties have been planted in 10 U.S. states and in two Canadian provinces.  In North America, roughly 95 percent of the 2010 sugar beet acreage was safely planted with Roundup Ready varieties. Sugar beet growers have confirmed that Roundup Ready sugar beets reduce impacts on the environment and make their operations more efficient and productive.  Alternative technologies require more applications of pesticides, with greater impacts on the environment and lower productivity on farms.

Using herbicide resistant crops reduces tillage, which reduces soil erosion and nutrient erosion.

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Obama administration reverses offshore oil-exploration plans

Citing the lessons of the BP oil spill, the Obama administration has decided not to allow  oil and gas exploration in the eastern Gulf of Mexico or off the eastern Gulf of Mexico and portions of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts as part of their next five-year drilling plan.

“We are adjusting our strategy in areas where there are no active leases,” the Washington Post quotes Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar as telling reporters in a phone call, adding that the administration has decided “not expand to new areas at this time” and instead “focus and expand our critical resources on areas that are currently active” when it comes to oil and gas drilling.

The Obama Administration had already walked back some of the GW Bush Administration’s oil and gas exploration plans, as explained in this backgrounder.

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4200 sq miles reclosed in gulf of Mexico following find of oil tainted shrimp

Citing an “abundance of caution,” federal officials shut down more than 4,213 square miles of Gulf of Mexico federal waters off Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama to royal red shrimpingafter a commercial shrimper, having hauled in his catch of the deep water shrimp, discovered tar balls in his net. Fishing for royal red shrimp is conducted by pulling fishing nets across the bottom of the ocean floor. The tar balls found in the catch may have been entrained in the net as it was dragged along the seafloor.

“We are taking this situation seriously. This fishery is the only trawl fishery that operates at the deep depths where the tar balls were found and we have not received reports of any other gear or fishery interactions with tar balls.” said Roy Crabtree, assistant NOAA administrator for NOAA’s Fisheries Service southeast region. “Our primary concerns are public safety and ensuring the integrity of the Gulf’s seafood supply.

Other fishing at shallower depths in this area has not turned up any tar balls and is thus not impacted by this closure. The fisherman who reported this catch had trawled for brown shrimp in shallow waters in a different portion of the area to be closed earlier in the day without seeing tar balls.

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Walking to stores ‘damages planet more than going by car’

What will Ed Begley Jr. make of this one? The man bites dog aspect of the story comes from the greater amount of fuel needed to grow our food today. Chris Goodall, author of How to Live a Low-Carbon Life, did the math and says “Driving a typical UK car for 3 miles [4.8km] adds about 0.9 kg [2lb] of CO2 to the atmosphere. If you walked instead, it would use about 180 calories. You’d need about 100g of beef to replace those calories, resulting in 3.6kg of emissions, or four times as much as driving.” Mr Goodall is no Chicago school economist; he is a Green Party parliamentary candidate for Oxford West & Abingdon.

Yes! Finally, mathematical proof that being a couch potato is good for the environment.

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At climate summit in Cancún, waste-pickers demand first dibs on rubbish

We humans dump more than 2,100,000,000 metric tons of unwanted waste each year. Once dumped, the options of what to do with it are limited; it can be: burned, buried, or reclaimed through recycling or reuse.

Many throughout the world make their livelihoods reclaiming trash. Some trash-gleaners went to climate change summit in Cancún to lobby for priority over burning waste. John Vidal at Britain’s Guardian newspaper said trash-pickers from ten countries unfurled banners near the press area that read, ‘¡Paran la incineration!’ (Stop incineration!). Shouting (in Spanish) “‘If you mess with me, you mess with all of us.’ They accused incinerator companies of wasting energy, destroying millions of jobs around the world, increasing emissions, undermining recycling and causing the death and injury of workers.”

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When life gives you hydrocarbons, make energy

A pair of Ugandan men collect trash, including plastic bags, and turn it into fuel for those needing cheap gas. “Fred Kyagulanyi and James Sendikwanawa used to get up in the dark to dump bags of rubbish in Kampala‘s suburbs,” says the story in Britain’s Guardian. The two friends, have “honed a technique to produce what Kyagulanyi calls ‘non-fossil fuel,’ made from refuse such as plastic bottles, polythene bags and organic waste…’We use all types of waste from plants, plastic bottles, shoe soles and all different types of organic waste,’ Kyagulanyi says. ‘We use all that waste to make fuel that runs petrol engines,’ adds Sendikwanawa, who is known as ‘engineer’ in Ndegye Township due to his day job: fixing biogas digesters on pit latrines.”

Source(s):

Guardian, Ugandans turn Kampala’s uncollected garbage into versatile fuel

Kyoto CO2 limits not to be extended this year

The United Nations envoy leading climate talks ruled out extending greenhouse gas limits in the Kyoto Protocol this year, leaving in place doubts about the future of a $2.7 billion a year part of the carbon market.

Source(s):

News from the California Republic

HSU professor scales redwoods for clues to global warming

Professor of Forestry at Humboldt State University, Stephen Sillett wants to learn the affects of global warming on redwoods. And, he climbs the giant to find out. To begin getting answers on how redwoods react to changing conditions, scientists are carefully measuring and implanting hundreds of high-tech sensors among coast redwoods at 16 sites ranging from Jedediah Smith State Park northeast of Crescent City to the Sierras to Big Sur. The research project is funded by Save the Redwoods, a San Francisco-based conservation group founded in 1918, with support from Ken Fisher, a billionaire money manager and redwoods advocate who graduated from Humboldt State University.

“What we’re seeing is that the bigger the tree is, the more it grows,” said Sillett, a pioneer in research high in the redwood forest canopy. “The bigger and older the tree, the more wood production there is. So pound for pound, you are going to get more carbon sequestered.”

The $2.5 million Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative has allowed Sillett and other specialists from Humboldt State and UC Berkeley to set up shop in some of California’s last remaining old-growth redwood groves. The researchers are climbing, poking, prodding, measuring and testing everything, including molecules of coast redwood and giant sequoia trees on 16 research plots throughout the ancient trees’ geographic range.

Not everyone is impressed with the findings, pointing out that nurserymen have for years pumped carbon dioxide into warm greenhouses to increase plant growth.

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EPA fines Kettleman City toxic waste facility $302,000 for violations

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency levied a $302,100 fine Tuesday against Chemical Waste Management Inc., whichoperates  a toxic waste dump near a Central California farming community beset by unexplained birth defects, saying the company failed to properly manage carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. EPA tests at the landfill showed PCB concentrations of 440 parts per million, nearly nine times the level allowed under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

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Arsenic: It’s what’s for dinner

Researchers conducting tests in the harsh environment of Mono Lake in California have discovered the first known microorganism on Earth able to thrive and reproduce using the toxic chemical arsenic. The microorganism substitutes arsenic for phosphorus in its cell components.

“The definition of life has just expanded,” said Ed Weiler, NASA’s associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “As we pursue our efforts to seek signs of life in the solar system, we have to think more broadly, more diversely and consider life as we do not know it.”

Phosphorus is a central component of the energy-carrying molecule in all cells (adenosine triphosphate) and also the phospholipids that form all cell membranes. Arsenic, which is chemically similar to phosphorus, is poisonous for most life on Earth. Arsenic disrupts metabolic pathways because chemically it behaves similarly to phosphate.

“We know that some microbes can breathe arsenic, but what we’ve found is a microbe doing something new — building parts of itself out of arsenic,” said Felisa Wolfe-Simon, a NASA Astrobiology Research Fellow in residence at the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif., and the research team’s lead scientist. “If something here on Earth can do something so unexpected, what else can life do that we haven’t seen yet?”

The team chose to explore Mono Lake because of its unusual chemistry, especially its high salinity, high alkalinity, and high levels of arsenic. This chemistry is in part a result of Mono Lake’s isolation from its sources of fresh water for 50 years.

The results of this study will inform ongoing research in many areas, including the study of Earth’s evolution, organic chemistry, biogeochemical cycles, disease mitigation and Earth system research. These findings also will open up new frontiers in microbiology and other areas of research.

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The little high-speed engine that couldn’t

This week, as the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) was approving the first segment for construction near Fresno – and receiving more criticism from advocates of other regions – it was also being hammered by a “peer review group” of transportation experts.

The ad hoc group of experts, organized by the Legislature and headed by Will Kempton, the former state director of transportation, said in a report that the project needs “a thorough reassessment of a number of critical engineering, financial, economic and managerial issues.”

No wonder says Tim Cavanaugh at Reason.com, “The California High Speed Rail Authority is committed to breaking ground on a leg of the train that will serve passengers between the unincorporated town of Borden and the half-incarcerated town of Corcoran.

“Whether you call it the train from nowhere or the train to nowhere, nobody will be riding it even when it’s done. That’s not libertarian cant: The actual plan for the $4.15 billion leg is that upon completion it will sit idle until other sections of track are completed.”

It gets worse Cavanaugh points out, “Geography buffs are invited to try and make any sense out of the CHSRA’s proposed alignment. Not only does the authority plan to incur all the financial and public relations costs of driving a 150-mph train down the heavily populated and extremely wealthy San Francisco-to-San Jose corridor; but it then plans to sacrifice the only goal that could possibly make that trouble worthwhile:” a direct San Francisco to Los Angeles run.

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In other golden-state green-jobs news

Governor-elect Jerry Brown campaigned on new investments in solar and wind power.  The Los Angeles Times story said Brown envisions, “building large-scale power plants that run on renewable resources and placing solar panels on parking-lot roofs, school buildings and along the banks of state highways. Although advocates of renewable energy tout the long-term savings of going green, billions of dollars would be required to reach the governor-elect’s green-energy goals.

“Nobody knows if the program would produce the ‘more than half a million green jobs’ Brown promised during the campaign, but many experts agree that it could lead to sharply higher utility rates.”

“Staff at the commission, which regulates Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric and a handful of smaller utilities and sets rates for most Californians, estimates the cost of the plan at roughly $60 billion over the next decade. That is more than state taxpayers will spend on the University of California and California State University systems combined over the same period.”

Source(s):

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The Week’s Environmental Story Roundup

Seventeen stories in this week’s roundup.

1. Cancún Climate Change Conference expectations: more hot air

The United Nations Climate Change Conference is to be held in Cancún, Mexico, from 29 November to 10 December 2010. What is it supposed to do?

According to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) website, the conference ” encompasses the sixteenth Conference of the Parties (COP) and the sixth Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP), as well as the thirty-third sessions of both the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), and the fifteenth session of the AWG-KP and thirteenth session of the AWG-LCA. To discuss future commitments for industrialized countries under the Kyoto Protocol, the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP) established a working group in December 2005 called the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP). In Copenhagen, at its fifth session, the CMP requested the AWG-KP to deliver the results of its work for adoption by CMP 6 in Cancun.”

Got that? Well according to the UNFCC’s fact sheet, “Over a decade ago, most countries joined an international treaty — the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) — to begin to consider what can be done to reduce global warming and to cope with whatever temperature increases are inevitable. More recently, a number of nations approved an addition to the treaty: the Kyoto Protocol [the US congress did not ratify it] , which has more powerful (and legally binding) measures. The UNFCCC secretariat supports all institutions involved in the climate change process, particularly the COP, the subsidiary bodies and their Bureau.”

“The negotiating process on climate change revolves around the sessions of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP), which meets every year to review the implementation of the Convention. The COP adopts decisions and resolutions, published in reports of the COP.  Successive decisions taken by the COP make up a detailed set of rules for practical and effective implementation of the Convention.”

“Thousands of participants including government representatives and observer organizations have attended previous climate change conferences.  The sessions in Bali attracted over 10,000 participants, including some 3,500 government officials, over 5,800 representatives of UN bodies and agencies, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, and nearly 1,500 accredited members of the media.”

2. World mayors sign climate change pact

Considering the expectation of more than 10,000 people from all over the world to travel to Cancún, “mayors from many of the world’s largest cities met in Mexico City over the weekend,” writes the New York Times, “and declared, ‘What about us?’ Shut out at the Copenhagen conference last year, big-city mayors have been arguing for a place at the table.”

Why do they care? “There are also financial interests at stake, as the host, Mayor Marcelo
Ebrard of Mexico City, made clear. ‘Mayors believe that if financial
resources become available through transfers from developed to
developing countries, a significant portion of these monies should be
passed through to cities and local governments to implement local
climate programs,’ he said.”

3. Global warming expected to lower temperature-related death rate

Finally, a lowering of the rhetoric temperature.

In a peer reviewed study, researchers found that while “during the hottest portion of the year, warming led to increases in death rates…the coldest portion of the year it lead to decreases in death rates…for a lives-saved to life-lost ratio of 29.4 (when no adaptation is used)…And when adaptation was included in the analysis, as was the case in the data they analyzed, they found there were only 0.7 death per million people per year due to warming in the hottest part of the year, but a decrease of fully 85 deaths per million people per year due to warming in the coldest part of the year, for a phenomenal lives-saved to life-lost ratio of 121.4.”

Reference: Christidis, N., Donaldson, G.C. and Stott, P.A. 2010. Causes for the recent changes in cold- and heat-related mortality in England and Wales. Climatic Change 102: 539-553.

4. Gore admits ethanol was good for politics and bad for economy, environment

“It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for (U.S.) first generation ethanol,” said Gore, speaking at a green energy business conference in Athens sponsored by Marfin Popular Bank. (Source: Reuters.com, U.S. corn ethanol “was not a good policy”-Gore)

Of course, that is not what candidate Gore told the Iowa farmers when he ran for president in 2000. “One of the reasons I made that mistake is that I paid
particular attention to the farmers in my home state of
Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the
state of Iowa because I was about to run for president.”

Matt Hartwig, writing at the E-xchange site for the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) says,”I’ll take Gore’s word for his own motivations. But he’s wrong on every
other count. As the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported in 2008,
ethanol produces about 2.3 BTU of energy for every 1 BTU of inputs.” And he says, ethanol production soes not compete with the food supply. “Using virtually the
same acres as two generations ago, America’s corn farmers produced the
highest corn crop on record in 2009 -– 13.2 billion bushels. About 4.2
billion bushels were used to produce a record 11.75 billion gallons of
ethanol and 33 million metric tons of feed…And while “Gore bemoans ‘the lobbies that keep it [ethanol] going.’

“What about Big Oil lobbying for ever-more costly and risky offshore
drilling? Gore should stop apologizing for having supported ethanol. He had it right the first time.”

On the topic of ethanol and subsidies:
Ronald Bailey at Reason magazine noted,
“It’s a very rare occasion when a free marketeer like me agrees with
the green fanatics over at Friends of the Earth, but they are right
about one thing: It’s time to let ethanol subsidies die. In 2004, the
government started offering a tax credit worth 51 cents for each gallon
of gasoline containing 10 percent ethanol. The 2008 farm bill lowered
that credit slightly to 45 cents per gallon, but kept it going for
another two years. Meanwhile, diverting grain to ethanol production
caused corn prices to soar, lining the pockets of corn growers and
refiners while increasing food costs for humans and feed costs for
animals. The good news is that unless Congress acts, the $5 billion in
annual subsidies to corn ethanol will expire at the end of the year. The
bad news is that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) exacerbated
the situation last month when it decided to raise the amount of ethanol
that can be blended with gasoline from 10 percent to 15 percent for
fueling late model cars.”

5. Macedonia plants 7 million trees to revive its forests

Zeenews reports that, “Macedonians took a day off work on Friday to plant seven million trees as part of a project started in 2008 to revive fire-ravaged forests in the landlocked Balkan country…Since [2008] more than 20 million trees have been planted in planting days held twice a year, in March and in November.”

6. Electric Sportscar Completes Alaska-Argentina Trip

“An electric sportscar finished a remarkable road trip Tuesday on the Panamerican Highway,” ABC News reports, “traveling from near the Arctic Circle in Alaska to the world’s southernmost city” without emitting anything through a tailpipe. It was no “clunky science project — all that horsepower [400 horsepower from lithium iron phosphate batteries powering two electric motors] enabled the car to reach 60 mph (96 kph) in just seven seconds and reach top controlled speeds of 124 mph (200 kph), the team said.”

Where they were when they drove at 124 mph was not reported.

For more on the car and crew see: http://www.racinggreenendurance.com/blog/

7. United Nations Human Development Report 2010 released

Most developing countries have made dramatic yet often underestimated progress in health, education and basic living standards in recent decades, with many of the poorest countries posting the greatest gains, reveals a detailed new analysis of long-term Human Development Index (HDI) trends in the 2010 Human Development Report. The patterns of achievement vary greatly, with some countries losing ground since 1970, the 2010 Human Development Report shows. The Report documents wide inequalities within and among countries, deep disparities between women and men on a wide range of development indicators, and the prevalence of extreme multidimensional poverty in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Gregg Easterbook says on Reuters.com, this report is not hot air, “the report is candid, factual and rational, because it’s written at the United Nations Development Programme, which functions independent of the General Assembly and Security Council. United Nations population forecasts and agricultural analysis have high standing among experts. So, too, does the Human Development Report…the 2010 Human Development Report is mainly optimistic about the developing world. It paints, in fact, a far more sanguine picture of most of the human family than is found in the mainstream media. When the United Nations says something depressing, coverage is always assured. Today, the United Nations says something hopeful – will the world pay notice?”

8. A cold wind blows in Cape Cod

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today launched a ‘Smart from the Start’ wind energy initiative for the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf to facilitate siting, leasing and construction of new projects, spurring the rapid and responsible development of this abundant renewable resource.

“The Cape Wind lease is an historic milestone in America’s renewable energy future, but to fully harness the economic and energy benefits of our nation’s vast Atlantic wind potential we need to implement a smart permitting process that is efficient, thorough, and unburdened by needless red tape,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

“Our ‘Smart from the Start” Initiative for Atlantic wind will allow us to identify priority Wind Energy Areas for potential development, improve our coordination with local, state, and federal partners, and accelerate the leasing process,” Salazar noted. “If we are wise with our planning, we can help build a robust and environmentally responsible offshore renewable energy program that creates jobs here at home.” The accelerated leasing process is being simplified through a regulatory change, enabling leases to be issued in 2011 and 2012.This offshore wind initiative is the latest in a series of Administration actions to spur renewable energy development on the Outer Continental Shelf. In early 2009, Salazar expedited the long-delayed process for approving the final rules for offshore wind development, establishing a regulatory framework that encourages responsible development. He then established the Atlantic Wind Consortium and announced the creation of an offshore wind coordinating office to expedite Interior’s collaborative efforts with the states.

According to a story in the New York Times, “Massachusetts utility regulators on Monday approved a contract under which a utility will buy half the electricity produced by Cape Wind, the proposed wind farm to be built in Nantucket Sound off the coast of Cape Cod…It calls for an initial price of 18.7 cents a kilowatt-hour for electricity produced by the wind farm, far above the wholesale prices that have prevailed recently.”

This may not be what the country needs. It certainly is not good energy policy according to energy expert, Robert Bryce who wrote in an August 23, 2010  Wall Street Journal editorial, “Because wind blows intermittently, electric utilities must either keep their conventional power plants running all the time to make sure the lights don’t go dark, or continually ramp up and down the output from conventional coal- or gas-fired generators (called “cycling”). But coal-fired and gas-fired generators are designed to run continuously, and if they don’t, fuel consumption and emissions generally increase. A car analogy helps explain: An automobile that operates at a constant speed—say, 55 miles per hour—will have better fuel efficiency, and emit less pollution per mile traveled, than one that is stuck in stop-and-go traffic.

Case in point: consider Texas “If Texas were an independent country, it would rank 6th in the world in terms of total wind power production capacity,” writes Bryce. “But, wind’s ‘hype exceeds the reality. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the operator of the state’s huge electric grid, has considered the ‘capacity factor’ of wind — the ability of the generators to produce power at 100% of their maximum rated output – and placed wind’s reliability at less than 9%…The punchline for the wind power business in Texas is that despite all the hype, the reality is that the Lone Star State will continue to rely on the same fuels that it has relied upon for decades: natural gas, coal, and nuclear. ”

Wind turbines are expensive writes Ronald Bailey, “[A]ccording to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA), if one includes all the capital, operating, and fuel costs, electricity from wind still costs about 50 percent more than conventional coal and 100 percent more than natural gas. Proponents point out that the costs of turbines are coming down, but the costs for the considerable infrastructure needed to manage wind are still daunting.

“The wind, even at as favorable a site as Judith Gap, doesn’t always blow, so the facility produces power at about 38 percent of its actual capacity, or roughly about 51 megawatt-hours of electricity on average. This is actually well above the industry average. Fickle winds make supply management challenging. For example, according to NorthWestern Energy, the Judith Gap facility has ramped up from zero to 131 megawatts in 10 minutes and has ramped down from 121 megawatts to zero in a similar time period.”

The wind turbines could cause health problems. Bryce wrote in a March 2, 2010 Wall Street Journal editorial, “The Obama administration has made the increased use of wind power to generate electricity a top priority. In 2009 alone, U.S. wind generation capacity increased by 39%. But more wind power means more giant turbines closer to more people. And if current trends continue, that spells trouble…Doctors and acoustics experts from the U.S. to Australia report a raft of symptoms that they blame on wind turbine noise, including sleep disturbance, headaches and vertigo.”

Toss in rare earth needs [such as neodymium] for the magnets, “The mining and refining of neodymium is so dirty (involving repeated boiling in acid, with radioactive thorium as a waste product),” writes science author Matt Ridley, that only one country does it: China,” and the policy does not “smart from the start.”

10. Chad’s capital city says no to plastic bags

IRIN, humanitarian and news analysis, reports that “N’djamena is a rarity in the region – the trees lining the Chad capital are not scarred by plastic bags. Buy something in a supermarket and it is left on the counter for the customer to take away, often in reusable bags on offer everywhere in the markets. When Marie Thérèse Mbailemdana became mayor of N’djamena in January 2010, she was determined to apply a 1992 law prohibiting the importation of plastic bags (known by the Arabic word ‘léda’); until then the law had not been strictly enforced.”

Since becoming mayor Ms Mbailemdana has been relentless. “This plastic polluted the city – you saw plastic hanging on walls, on trees. And it destroys our environment. Plastic remains in the ground for centuries. No trees or plants will grow where plastic is in the ground,” she told IRIN. Now, in N’djamena people found with plastic bags are fined 50,000 to 300,000 CFA francs (US$105 to $630). “We will even order a shop closed for a period of time – perhaps it’s harsh, but it’s the price to pay.”

11. Sudan plans for food sufficiency in 5 years

According to the story in Reuters.com, Africa’s largest country wants to diversify its economy away from oil– from which it derives more than 90 percent of its foreign exchange revenues– as the oil-producing south is expected to secede following a January 9 independence referendum.”

12. North African Crops to Be Hit Hardest By Climate Change?

Allafrica.com reports, according to research carried out by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia, “North African agriculture will be the worst affected by climate change, according to an assessment of how 50 key crops will perform around the world under increasing temperatures over the next 40 years. Climate change will raise average crop productivity until 2020, after which it will decline by 5-10 per cent by 2050.

The National Geographic ran a story in July 2009, Sahara Desert Greening Due to Climate Change?, says, “Half the models follow a wetter trend, and half a drier trend. Forecasting how global warming will affect the region is complicated by its vast size and the unpredictable influence of high-altitude winds that disperse monsoon rains.” But, “Emerging evidence is painting a very different scenario, one in which rising temperatures could benefit millions of Africans in the driest parts of the continent. Scientists are now seeing signals that the Sahara desert and surrounding regions are greening due to increasing rainfall.”

13.World Bank expands ag program

The World Bank has launched Phase II of its West Africa Agricultural Productivity Program (WAAPP) by announcing it will add Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Côte d’Ivoire. According to their media release, “The WAAPP is expected to help achieve significant growth in agricultural output to fight against food insecurity and poverty,” and ultimately reach the UN’s Millenium Development Goals for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) participate in this Program. The project aims to generate and accelerate adoption of improved technologies in the top priority agricultural commodities in the participating countries that are aligned with the sub-regional priorities defined by the ECOWAS Agricultural Policy.”

“Launched in 2007, the first phase of WAAPP has already shown successful results in Ghana, Mali, and Senegal by setting up centers of specialization for agricultural research and increasing cooperation among researchers and institutions within the participating countries.

“The program will eventually cover all countries in West Africa and generate social and economic benefits that will spill across national boundaries. The regional aspect of the program will strengthen the platform for regional policy harmonization. It will provide a regional framework for ECOWAS countries to collaborate in implementing national and regional agricultural strategies for technology generation and dissemination.”

California News

14. Governor declares emergency over water contamination in Barstow

The Los Angeles Times reported that on November 20, “Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency Saturday for San Bernardino County, where the water supply for the city of Barstow was found to be contaminated with a toxic chemical used to make explosives and rocket fuel.” In a follow-up report the LA Times said, “How long the perchlorate may have been at unacceptable levels is unknown — Golden State [the water company] last tested its wells for perchlorate in December 2009 and was slated to repeat the test in December 2012, an interval that local officials said complied with state regulations.”

On Wednesday the LA times reported, “State water officials launched an investigation Tuesday into how a chemical used in rocket fuel and munitions found its way into Barstow’s residential water supply, as costs to address the crisis mounted.” An official from the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, said, “We’ve got three teams of investigators sampling private wells in the area as part of an effort to get a sense of the extent of the contamination in the groundwater, and where it originated.”

By Thursday, the LA Times reported, more Barstow residents were allowed to drink tap water again following the ban. “Golden State Water Co., the private utility that supplies water to the Barstow area and neighboring Marine Corps Logistics base, began flushing the water system Saturday night. Company spokesman John Dewey on Monday  said the clean-out effort is making ‘great progress’ and they hope to rid the system of perchlorate within days.”

15. State health officials: No common cause for birth defects near toxic-waste dump

In a story posted by the Sacramento Bee, “California health officials said Monday they found no common cause for birth defects plaguing infants in an impoverished San Joaquin Valley farm town where residents are battling plans to expand the largest toxic waste dump in the West. Eleven cases of cleft palates and other birth abnormalities have been reported since 2007 in Kettleman City, where officials said the rate of birth defects from 2008 to 2009 was higher than what would be expected.” The LA Times reported, “The 160-page report [state Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Public Health investigators] did not satisfy the residents of the community of 1,500 just off Interstate 5 between Los Angeles and San Francisco. They and environmentalists wanted an answer to what was responsible for the birth defects in the community that for decades has endured agricultural sewage, diesel exhaust, pesticides and elevated levels of arsenic in drinking water.”

16. Task force wants Jerry Brown to create climate change panel

The LA Times story notes, “A task force of California politicians, business people, academics and environmentalists is calling on incoming Gov. Jerry Brown to [continue in the Governator Arnold’s footsteps by appointing] a climate risk council within his office to focus statewide attention on adapting to the effects of global warming…to prepare for a steep sea level rise, diminishing water supplies and the spread of wildfire, as studies have predicted.” Much of the prediction appears to be based on the Pacific Council Task Force report: Preparing for the Effects of Climate Change – A Strategy for California.

17. Northrop opposes solar energy project

Northrop’s complaint that the planned solar plant might interfere with testing of stealth technology on aircraft and could put a crimp in the Governator’s hopes slow global warming and for green tech jobs in California. The LA Times reports that Schwarzenegger wrote Monday to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, “It is important that this project move forward, not only for Los Angeles County, but in order to achieve the policy objectives of the state of California.”

As noted before here last September, The California Energy Commission (CEC) unanimously approved the construction and operation by Solar Millennium of four solar-thermal power plants with a planned overall capacity of nearly 1,000 megawatts (MW) at the Blythe location in California last Wednesday. If built, it will be the largest solar thermal plant in the world. The Times story reports, “Northrop Grumman Corp. contends that a proposed 230-megawatt plant near Rosamond to be built by First Solar Inc. could impair operations at a sensitive installation for testing radar-evading stealth technology on aircraft.”

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