Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Humans Force Earth into New Geologic Epoch

Humans have altered Earth so much that scientists say a new epoch in the planet's geologic history has begun.

Say goodbye to the 10,000-year-old Holocene Epoch and hello to the Anthropocene.

Among the major changes heralding this two-century-old man-made epoch:

Vastly altered sediment erosion and deposition patterns.
Major disturbances to the carbon cycle and global temperature.

Wholesale changes in biology, from altered flowering times to new migration patterns.

Acidification of the ocean, which threatens tiny marine life that forms the bottom of the food chain.

The idea, first suggested in 2000 by Nobel Prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen, has gained steam with two new scientific papers that call for official recognition of the shift.

Vivid metaphor


In the February issue of the journal GSA Today, a publication of the Geological Society of America, Jan Zalasiewicz and Mark Williams of the University of Leicester and colleagues at the Geological Society of London argue that industrialization has wrought changes that usher in a new epoch.

Scientists of the future will have no trouble deciding if the proposal was timely. All they'll need to do is dig into the planet and examine its stratigraphic layers, which reveal a chronology of the changing conditions that existed as each layer is created. Layers can reflect volcanic upheaval, ice ages or mass extinctions.

"Sufficient evidence has emerged of stratigraphically significant change (both elapsed and imminent) for recognition of the Anthropocene — currently a vivid yet informal metaphor of global environmental change — as a new geological epoch to be considered for formalization by international discussion," Zalasiewicz's team writes.

The paper calls on the International Commission on Stratigraphy to officially mark the shift.
In a separate paper last month in the journal Soil Science, researchers focused on soil infertility alone as a reason to dub this the Anthropocene Age. (The term "age" is sometimes used interchangeably with "epoch" or to indicate a transition period between epochs.)

As an example, they said, agriculture in Africa "has so degraded regional soil fertility that the economic development of whole nations will be diminished without drastic improvements of soil management."

"With more than half of all soils on Earth now being cultivated for food crops, grazed, or periodically logged for wood, how to sustain Earth’s soils is becoming a major scientific and policy issue," said Duke University soil scientist Daniel Richter.

Richter's work was supported by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Origin of a term

Earth's 4.5-billion-year history is divided into major eras, then periods and finally epochs. The Holocene Epoch began after the last Ice Age.

As early as the late 1800s scientists were writing about man's wholesale impact on the planet and the possibility of an "anthropozoic era" having begun, according to Crutzen, who is credited with coining the term Anthropocene (anthropo = human; cene = new) back in 2000. That year, Crutzen and a colleague wrote in the scientific newsletter International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme about some of the dramatic changes:

"Urbanization has ... increased tenfold in the past century. In a few generations mankind is exhausting the fossil fuels that were generated over several hundred million years."

Up to half of Earth's land has been transformed by human activity, wrote Crutzen and Eugene F. Stoermer of the University of Michigan. They also noted the dramatic increase in greenhouse gases and other chemicals and pollutants humans have introduced into global ecosystems.
The epochal idea has merit, according to geologist Richard Alley of Pennsylvania State University.

"In land, water, air, ice, and ecosystems, the human impact is clear, large, and growing,"Alley told ScienceNow, an online publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. "A geologist from the far distant future almost surely would draw a new line, and begin using a new name, where and when our impacts show up."

original article

Hundreds of Scientists Call on Congress to Help Wildlife Survive Global Warming

January 29, 2008 -- WASHINGTON, DC – More than 600 prominent scientists from across the United States are calling on Congress to pass legislation that will curb America’s global warming pollution and help protect wildlife and other natural resources threatened by global warming. Spearheaded by some of America’s greatest scientific minds, including Harvard Professor E.O. Wilson, Thomas Lovejoy, Paul Ehrlich and Camille Parmesan, the scientists have sent a letter to Congress urging action.

“The science is irrefutable not only about the reality of climate change, but also that plant and animal species are already being harmed by it,” said Dr. Thomas Lovejoy, renowned conservation biologist and president of the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment. “Alarming effects are already being observed in nature from mountaintops to the oceans, and from the equator to the polar regions. We have the choice to allow these effects to intensify or to move to avoid the more disastrous consequences for life on earth.”

“The precarious status of polar bears and their melting sea ice habitat in the Arctic is only the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr. Dan Svedarsky, president of The Wildlife Society, on behalf of its over 8,000 professional wildlife biologists. “It’s not just polar bears – wildlife across America are being impacted by global warming, including birds, butterflies, fish and mammals.”

“The science is clear that without major action to both reduce global warming pollution and to help wildlife survive global warming, species will suffer rapidly increasing extinction rates,” said Jeff Price, one of the authors of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (2007). “It is not too late, but we must take action now.”

The U.S. Senate is currently considering legislation that would begin to take the urgent actions these scientists say are necessary. The Climate Security Act, introduced in 2007 by Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and John Warner (R-VA), creates a market-based system that cuts global warming pollution and helps communities address the impacts of climate change.

“Global warming is an unprecedented challenge for wildlife, adding a host of new threats such as thawing permafrost, disappearing mountain snow pack, and the warming of rivers, lakes and estuaries,” said John Kostyack, executive director of wildlife and global warming at the National Wildlife Federation. “Senators Lieberman and Warner recognize the gravity of the threat and the necessity of timely and effective action. The Climate Security Act provides the best hope for saving wildlife at risk of extinction and for conserving ecosystems that are essential for both wildlife and people.”

Under the bill’s carbon cap-and-trade system, global warming pollution would be capped at levels that enable the U.S. to achieve 2 percent annual reductions through the middle of the century. Permits, also known as allowances, to release global warming pollution would be auctioned annually. Revenues from these auctions would be dedicated to various public purposes, including conservation of wildlife and other natural resources at risk from global warming.

During the first 19 years of the program the bill would raise an estimated $175 billion in revenue for wildlife and natural resource conservation. With this critically needed funding, managers of wildlife, land and water would be able to effectively utilize a number of tools at their disposal to protect and restore wildlife and ecosystems harmed by global warming. The bill would provide substantial investments to state and federal agencies to reduce non-climate stressors on ecosystems, prevent and control invasive species, and protect coastal wetlands and address the impacts of sea level rise, all of which will help wildlife survive the pressures of global warming.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change points to droughts, wildfires, flooding and intensified storms as consequences of unchecked global warming. Both people and wildlife are at risk from these impacts. Investing in the conservation of wildlife and natural resources will directly benefit Americans whose jobs, health and quality of life depend on maintaining natural ecosystems. The letter emphasizes that “global warming represents, by far, the greatest threat ever posed to the planet’s living resources, which provide the foundation of our economy and quality of life.”

“Salmon and trout are among our most vulnerable species and their protection in the face of a rapidly changing climate demands strong actions,” said Helen Neville, research scientist with Trout Unlimited. “Trout Unlimited urges Congress to enact legislation reducing global warming pollution and funding conservation of fish and wildlife threatened by global warming.”

The signers are hoping to convey to Congress “our sense of urgency. Global warming is already causing serious damage and disruptions to wildlife and ecosystems, and reliable projections call for significant additional damage and disruptions. To fulfill the nation’s longstanding commitment to conserving abundant wildlife and healthy ecosystems for future generations, Congress must craft legislation that greatly reduces global warming pollution and generates substantial dedicated funding to protect and restore wildlife and ecosystems harmed by global warming.”

The Lieberman-Warner bill is expected to come to a full Senate vote within the next several months.

See the full list of signers


click to download and view scientists letter


Source: National Wildlife Federation



original article

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

MASS - Commonwealth Solar Program is Open!

Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles has announced that Commonwealth Solar, the state's new program of rebates to encourage the installation of solar photovoltaic (PV) power is now accepting applications from businesses and homeowners looking to reduce the cost of putting solar panels on their roofs.

Announced in December, the program, which makes use of existing renewable energy funds, is expected to result in the installation of more than 27 megawatts (MW) of solar power capacity over the next four years. Commonwealth Solar is part of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick's pledge to increase installed solar power from 5 MW today to 250 MW by 2017. This was made in April in connection with Evergreen Solar Inc.'s commitment to locate its first full-scale U.S. manufacturing facility in Massachusetts.

"Commonwealth Solar is open for business, and that's good news for the economy and the environment," Bowles said. "Solar energy is a key component of the clean energy economy we are developing here in Massachusetts, and a rebate is the most efficient, cost-effective way we can make solar power more affordable. Now is the time for businesses and homeowners to find out what Commonwealth Solar has to offer.

"Information on how to get a Commonwealth Solar rebate can be found at http://www.commonwealthsolar.org/.

Pumping pollution beneath the desert


World's oil companies will be carefully watching Abu Dhabi's plan to capture carbon emissions underground


Abu Dhabi is planning to construct the world's largest carbon capture and storage project, as part of the oil-rich emirate's $15-billion (U.S.) bid to become a leader in clean technology and renewable energy.

While countries around the world are wrestling with the daunting economics of carbon sequestration, Abu Dhabi is planning to invest up to $4-billion to capture as much as 15 million tonnes of CO{-2} annually from eight industrial plants, and then inject the gas underground to enhance oil recovery.

Once injected, it is expected that the greenhouse gas will remain sequestered underground indefinitely.

The effort is being spearheaded by Abu Dhabi Future Energy Co., a state-owned company that has been endowed with $15-billion to spend on carbon management programs, alternative power sources such as solar and energy-from-waste, and a model, zero-emission city that would be powered by renewables.

It is all part of the emirate's effort to invest its vast and growing oil wealth in new technologies that will broaden its economic base, while meeting international commitments to begin reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Though other countries have individual carbon capture projects - including one run by EnCana Corp. in southern Saskatchewan that is the world's largest - none has moved beyond single, isolated endeavours. As a result, oil companies from around the world will be watching the effort to determine whether a carbon-capture network can be economically viable.

In Alberta, where massive oil sands development is raising fears about rapidly rising greenhouse gas emissions, the federal and provincial governments have indicated a willingness to help finance a pipeline that would deliver CO{-2} to oil fields for use in enhanced recovery. However, industry officials say the gathering system represents a small fraction of the cost - the biggest expense is the effort to capture carbon dioxide from the emissions stream.

With Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. doing feasibility work, the Abu Dhabi project - known as Masdar - has identified eight sources of CO{-2}, including power plants and refineries. It initially plans to proceed with the "low hanging fruit" from four of them, said Sam Nader, the project's director of carbon management.

Masdar, established in 2006, is working with state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. - which produces virtually all of the emirate's 2.5 million barrels of crude per day - to identify oil fields that would benefit from CO{-2} injection to enhance oil recovery.

"This is a win-win situation for us," Mr. Nader said in a telephone interview from Abu Dhabi. "We get the environmental benefit from capturing the CO{-2}, and also enhance oil production."

As one of the world's most prolific oil producers, Abu Dhabi is also a major emitter of greenhouse gases - third in the world on a per capita basis after neighbours Qatar and Kuwait.

In addition to the revenue generated by replacing the natural gas that is currently used to enhance oil production, the Abu Dhabi company will profit from the sale of emission credits generated by the reduction in greenhouse gases.

SNC-Lavalin principal consultant Doug Macdonald presented the preliminary results of the feasibility study at an energy futures conference hosted by Abu Dhabi last week. He told the conference that up to six of the eight projects can be implemented in a "relatively short" amount of time, Bloomberg News reported.

"Our mandate is to act as an agent for promoting sustainability in this part of the world," Mr. Nader said. "The Middle East has been a laggard in terms of adapting to a carbon-constrained world, but we believe we can catch up."

As part of that overall $15-billion announced last week, Masdar Clean Tech Fund is investing $250-million in renewable energy and other clean technologies that would be appropriate for the desert conditions of the region.

Masdar fund manager Alex O'Cinneide said in an interview that he is looking for a commercial rate of return on the investments in industries like solar and energy-from-waste. But at the same time, the company is investing in technology "that can be scaled up for Masdar to deploy in the region."

Those technologies will then be featured in Masdar City, a planned six-kilometre-square development that the emirate unveiled last week. It will feature zero greenhouse gas emissions, zero waste, with no cars allowed. The emirate is also partnering with Massachusetts Institute of Technology to establish in the city a graduate level program in clean-tech engineering.

The urban centre, with a projected population of 47,500, will include an electric light-rail system, a solar-power plant and a desalination plant, with wastewater being used to grow plants for biofuels. Construction is to begin next month, and residents are to begin moving in next year.
Mr. O'Cinneide said the Abu Dhabi commitment is unprecedented for any government.

"There are plenty of funds our size," he said. "But from an all-encompassing perspective - building cities, building universities, building a manufacturing base - there's nothing like it," he said.

the source

Monday, January 28, 2008

Is Congress Finally Ready to Go Green?

As concern over global warming became more and more prominent in the U.S. over the past several years — in the media, in opinion polls, in business and in state governments — the one place where the issue seemed all but invisible was the one place that could really do something about it: Congress. But that began to change in 2007, and nowhere more so than in the Senate's key committee on the environment and public works, which drafts much of the country's environmental legislation. Up until last January, the committee was chaired by Alaskan Sen. James Inhofe, a Republican who memorably called global warming "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." When the Democrats took over Congress in the 2006 midterm elections, however, the chairperson's gavel was handed over to Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, and the floodgates opened. Boxer began a series of open hearings on the science of global warming, giving airtime to the sort of experts — including former Vice President Al Gore — who had been suppressed under Inhofe. "As soon as the change took place, I realized that this was going to be one of my number one goals," says Boxer. "Elections have consequences, and this was one of the consequences."

Hours and hours of hearings finally led to a legislative breakthrough in December: the passage out of the committee of the first bill that would put carbon caps on the U.S. economy. Co-sponsored by the Republican Sen. John Warner and the Independent Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the America's Climate Security Act would cap U.S. carbon emissions at 15% below 2005 levels by 2020, with a 70% cut projected for 2050. If enacted, those carbon caps would all but force U.S. businesses to invest in cleaner technology and greater energy efficiency, and would help the country take a leadership role in international climate negotiations.

Similar bills had been put forward over the past several years, only to die in committee. This time, however, Boxer was able to help pull together not only Democrats but also several Republicans on the committee, ensuring relatively bipartisan support. That's key — given how narrowly divided Congress has become, meaningful climate change legislation only has a chance if its supporters can draw allies from across the political aisle. Boxer is confident she can. "The environment has been an issue that has pulled together Republicans and Democrats in the past," she says. "Everyone has to breathe the same air."

The Climate Security Act has passed the first barrier to becoming law, but the road is only going to get tougher. To have a chance in the Senate, the bill needs at least 60 votes — anything less, and opponents can stop it with a filibuster. That will require winning over more conservative Senators, while at the same time ensuring the bill doesn't become so watered down that it loses all effectiveness. And even if the bill were to pass the Senate, and then the House of Representatives, it still has to make it through President George W. Bush, who has shown little inclination to support it. Bush favors what he calls technological solutions to global warming, but without the pressure of carbon caps. "That's like saying let's meet at the field and play baseball, but you don't bring a mitt or a ball," says Boxer. "You can't play the game."

Critics like Bush tend to focus on the economic costs of reducing carbon emissions — through increased energy prices — but Boxer, and many of her supporters, believe that combating climate change can have a net positive effect on the economy. Boxer hails from California, which has already passed the strongest state legislation on climate change, cutting carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Far from hurting the state economically, Boxer notes, the carbon bill has helped California become the center for green innovation in the U.S., with Silicon Valley venture capitalists pouring billions into alternative energy start-ups. Those businesses will create new, green jobs that should make up for the short-term costs of cutting carbon. "The cure for global warming is positive," says Boxer. "That makes it easy for me to approach it with hope."

Emphasizing the hope, the positive possibilities of dealing with climate change, should also help Boxer broaden the appeal of the Climate Security Act. Americans are worried about global warming, but they're also worried about Iraq, the economy and health care. Make global warming into an economic issue, or an issue of national security, not just an environmental one, and there's a better chance of achieving broad, bipartisan support. Not all environmentalists are happy with the Climate Security Act — it has been criticized by the Sierra Club, among other groups, as too weak. While it could be tightened, the reality is that only a moderate bill is likely to pass soon, and with science telling us that we may have less than 15 years to turn around carbon emissions, we can't afford to hold out for a perfect law. "The longer we wait to do what we need to do, the harder the transition will be," says Boxer. "We're running out of time." She's absolutely right, but at least Congress is no longer standing still.

to the source

Friday, January 25, 2008

Shell Oil Exec Ponders Impending Energy Crossroads

By Jeroen van der Veer

By 2100, the world’s energy system will be radically different from today’s. Renewable energy like solar, wind, hydroelectricity, and biofuels will make up a large share of the energy mix, and nuclear energy, too, will have a place.

Humans will have found ways of dealing with air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. New technologies will have reduced the amount of energy needed to power buildings and vehicles.

Indeed, the distant future looks bright, but much depends on how we get there. There are two possible routes. Let’s call the first scenario Scramble. Like an off-road rally through a mountainous desert, it promises excitement and fierce competition. However, the unintended consequence of “more haste” will often be “less speed,” and many will crash along the way.

The alternative scenario can be called Blueprints, which resembles a cautious ride, with some false starts, on a road that is still under construction. Whether we arrive safely at our destination depends on the discipline of the drivers and the ingenuity of all those involved in the construction effort. Technological innovation provides the excitement.

Regardless of which route we choose, the world’s current predicament limits our room to maneuver. We are experiencing a step-change in the growth rate of energy demand due to rising population and economic development. After 2015, easily accessible supplies of oil and gas probably will no longer keep up with demand.

As a result, we will have no choice but to add other sources of energy – renewables, yes, but also more nuclear power and unconventional fossil fuels such as oil sands. Using more energy inevitably means emitting more CO2 at a time when climate change has become a critical global issue.

In the Scramble scenario, nations rush to secure energy resources for themselves, fearing that energy security is a zero-sum game, with clear winners and losers. The use of local coal and homegrown biofuels increases fast. Taking the path of least resistance, policymakers pay little attention to curbing energy consumption – until supplies run short. Likewise, despite much rhetoric, greenhouse gas emissions are not seriously addressed until major shocks trigger political reactions. Since these responses are overdue, they are severe and lead to energy price spikes and volatility.

The Blueprints scenario is less painful, even if the start is more disorderly. Numerous coalitions emerge to take on the challenges of economic development, energy security, and environmental pollution through cross-border cooperation. Much innovation occurs at the local level, as major cities develop links with industry to reduce local emissions. National governments introduce efficiency standards, taxes, and other policy instruments to improve the environmental performance of buildings, vehicles, and transport fuels.

Moreover, as calls for harmonization increase, policies converge across the globe. Cap-and-trade mechanisms that put a price on industrial CO2 emissions gain international acceptance. Rising CO2 prices in turn accelerate innovation, spawning breakthroughs. A growing number of cars are powered by electricity and hydrogen, while industrial facilities are fitted with technology to capture CO2 and store it underground.

Against the backdrop of these two equally plausible scenarios, we will know only in a few years whether December’s Bali declaration on climate change was just rhetoric or the start of a global effort to counter it. Much will depend on how attitudes evolve in China, the European Union, India, and the United States.

Shell traditionally uses its scenarios to prepare for the future without expressing a preference for one over another. But, faced with the need to manage climate risk for our investors and our descendants, we believe the Blueprints outcomes provide the best balance between economy, energy, and environment. For a second opinion, we appealed to climate change calculations made at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. These calculations indicate that a Blueprints world with CO2 capture and storage results in the least amount of climate change, provided emissions of other major manmade greenhouse gases are similarly reduced.

But the Blueprints scenario will be realized only if policymakers agree on a global approach to emissions trading and actively promote energy efficiency and new technology in four sectors: heat and power generation, industry, transport, and buildings.

This will require hard work, and time is short. For example, Blueprints assumes CO2 is captured at 90% of all coal- and gas-fired power plants in developed countries by 2050, plus at least 50% of those in non-OECD countries. Today, none capture CO2. Because CO2 capture and storage adds costs and yields no revenues, government support is needed to make it happen quickly on a scale large enough to affect global emissions. At the least, companies should earn carbon credits for the CO2 they capture and store.

Blueprints will not be easy. But it offers the world the best chance of reaching a sustainable energy future unscathed, so we should explore this route with the same ingenuity and persistence that put humans on the moon and created the digital age.

The world faces a long voyage before it reaches a low-carbon energy system. Companies can suggest possible routes to get there, but governments are in the driver’s seat. And governments will determine whether we should prepare for bitter competition or a true team effort.

* Jeroen van der Veer, Chief Executive of Royal Dutch Shell plc, is Energy Community leader of the World Economic Forum energy industry partnership in 2007-2008 and chaired this year’s Energy Summit in Davos. He also chairs the Energy and Climate Change working group of the European Round Table of Industrialists.

Lawyers Push for Energy Conservation

David White Jr. doesn't fit the mold of an environmentalist.

An attorney and partner in the Boston firm of Breakstone, White and Gluck, White is more comfortable in a suit and tie than tie-dye.

Before joining the Massachusetts bar, however, White was a student at the University of Vermont, where he received a degree in environmental studies. After graduation, he spent three years working as an environmental advocate for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

Now the president of the Massachusetts Bar Association, White is putting his environmental pedigree to use, leading the industry group in a push to encourage lawyers to be more environmentally friendly.

Called the Lawyers Eco Challenge, the program urges lawyers to sign an "environmental pledge" to take steps to implement a set of green guidelines drafted by the association.

"It's not a whimsy, it's a real concern," White said this week, of promoting "green lawyers." "The why of it is we all have a duty to fight global warming and protecting environmental resources, and one way we can definitely do that is by reducing our energy usage."

Taking even simple steps to reduce energy usage, like turning off lights or installing motion-activated lights in law offices, turning off computers and other electronics, reducing paper use and increasing recycling, White said, can have dramatic impacts.

Read more about green guidelines

"What we've done in my office is...we took out all incandescent bulbs and replaced them with compact fluorescents," White said. "We put the common areas on motion sensors, and we've just adopted good habits about turning off equipment that's not being used."

Those few steps, he said, combined with a plan to replace traditional fluorescent bulbs with the super-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs should cut the firm's energy use by as much as 25 percent.

"I'm pretty confident most firms around the state can do the same thing," he said. "We want to be an example for other businesses around the state. If lawyers can do it, accountants can do it, and insurance people can do it."

White's sentiment already seems to be catching on.

Barely a day after the Eco Challenge campaign was unveiled this week, more than two dozens lawyers and law firms had signed the online pledge. By week's end, more than 30 had signed up.

"My desire to go green started with my daughter" Rachel, said Alan Klevan, of the Wellesley firm Klevan and Klevan. "She's in middle school, and over the past several months she's become very environmentally conscious."

Spurred by his daughter and his work with the MBA's Law Practice Management Section, Klevan uses technology like document scanners to cut back on the amount of paper his office uses.

"I personally believe I'm 50 to 60 percent there," he said, of his goal of a paperless office.

"Lawyers have been so focused on their practice of law and doing right by their clients, they're not understanding the idea that there's other means out there to represent their clients as efficiently, if not better."

Even for lawyers who already consider themselves "green," the guidelines have been eye-opening.

"I've gotten all kinds of new ideas from this group," Sudbury attorney Susan Crane, who served on the MBA task force which helped draw up the guidelines, said this week.

"I've done a whole lot, but I could always do more, and I think we all could," she added. "A lot of lawyers focus on the environment and energy - this seemed like something we should be doing so our clients can model our behavior, and send a message out there that we're all trying.

"Lawyers need to be doing this. We can't just be taking on causes for others and forget what we're doing ourselves."

"For us, it was something that made a lot of sense, because it makes a good statement," said Tim Borchers, senior partner at Borchers, Ware and Guglielmo, which has offices in Medway and Franklin. "Every profession ought to have some kind of commitment to cutting back on the use of resources."

Like Klevan, Borchers is exploring the notion of the paperless office, and said the firm may purchase equipment and software to help cut back on paper usage.

"In our business, paper is king," he said. "We do a lot of printing. One thing we're actually studying right now is the impact of printing on both sides of the paper."

The firm has also urged employees to turn computer monitors off at night, switches to energy saving light bulbs and is upgrading its office to use programmable thermostats.

The idea of the challenge, though, isn't to mandate lawyers or law firms follow the MBA's strict rules on environmental awareness.

"It's more about planning," said Nancy Reiner, who co-chaired the task force. "The idea is just to get people and lawyers and law firms thinking about it.

"When you have a can, don't just throw it in the garbage. If we all, if a lot of firms do work to save energy, then it will have an impact."

"It's very exciting," said Philip Warburg, president of the Conservation Law Foundation, the MBA's partner in the Eco Challenge, of the commitment from lawyers and law firms. "I think that we are encouraging leaders in the Massachusetts professional community to walk the walk about climate change and other environmental practices they can show leadership on.

"It's a process of both thinking differently, and acting differently. We're not asking people to somehow reduce their efficiency on the job, or cutting into their profit margin. It's simply saying here are responsible choices you can make that can help us address a problem we can no longer afford to ignore."

to the source

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Solar to take on coal within three years!

Solar power will prove as cost effective as electricity from coal-fired power stations within three years, according to a new report from US environmental think tank the Earth Policy Institute.

Released last week, the study predicts that advancements in thin film photovoltaic (PV) cells that can be manufactured using cost-effective printing processes will ensure that production costs reach $1 per watt by 2010, making solar PV competitive with coal-fired electricity.

The report echoes predictions from US solar start up Nanosolar, which last month began shipping printed thin-film solar cells, which it claimed could soon be sold profitably for as little as $0.99 per watt.

The Earth Policy Institute also predicted that traditional silicon-based PV cells would become more cost effective over the next three years as raw material shortages are addressed and production facilities are scaled up.

"The average price for a PV module, excluding installation and other system costs, has dropped from almost $100 per watt in 1975 to less than $4 per watt at the end of 2006," the report noted. "With expanding polysilicon supplies, average PV prices are projected to drop to $2 per watt in 2010."

The study also concluded that PV solar panels are now the world's fastest growing energy source with worldwide production having increased by 50 per cent during 2007 to 3,800MW. It added that global PV cell production to date amounts to about 12,400MW - or enough to power 2.4m US homes.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Home Energy Audits

With rising utility cost to heat or cool a home many home owners are looking for ways to reduce these type of cost.

A fast growing field is home energy auditing. Not a new field but new in the area of residential homes. And in mosA fast growing field is home energy auditing. Not a new field but new in the area of residential homes. And in most cases unregulated.

With high tech tools (such as infrared cameras) an inspector will come to your home and inspect and suggest the fixing of various energy hogs throughout one’s home.

Some States offer its residence upward to $ 1,000 if they make improvements to lower energy cost. In fact recently the State of Massachusetts Senate passed a bill requiring that home sellers provide prospective buyers with an audit scoring of the home’s efficiency.

But today most people simply want to know whether it is worthwhile to find the various leaks, look at appliance efficiency, and have healthy air in the home.

Some problems can be resolved without an inspection. If your home has a furnace that is 30 to 75 years old you recognize there could be a problem. The furnace efficiency is kaput and a newer one would be more efficient. However the cost of replacing the heater or furnace may be an insurmountable task and the payback may not yield the return on replacement.

If it is decided to get an energy audit, expect to pay between $ 300 to $ 700 or more. Therefore one’s energy consumption needs to have jumped significantly over a short period of time or was extremely high from the start of occupying the home to justify the cost of finding out what has to be done to to decrease cost overall.

Upon completion of an energy audit one will receive a 15-50 page report of problems that exist inside and outside of the home. It will include recommended fixes, such as replacing the heater/air conditioner/appliances, as an example and will give a ball park figure of what it will cost to make the fixes.

True some things can be done by the homeowner. But when windows need to be replaced, or a seperation between ceiling and walls needs fixing, or exterior electrical outlets need to be replaced then one needs a professional to do these things and the home owner is looking at some significant cost.

Is the home energy audit worth the price?

Yes. It would be good to know where the problems are and certainly one could, if they wish, create a plan of attack to resolve the most critical. So some action to reduce energy cost may result in some good saving for the home owner which may warrant the expenditure.

But one has to be careful to make sure that the problem being resolved is the real problem. If one puts insulation in the attic and it is the roof that needs to be replaced, the savings, if any, will be extremely small.

It is a case by case situation and the bottom line is money and the pay back for implementing the required changes.

to the source

Here comes the Sun

Yarmouth, Mass. - Peter White of Yarmouth is proof that one man can make a difference.

Sixty photovoltaic panels are being installed on the roof of Yarmouth Town Hall this month after White led a grassroots effort to bring the first renewable energy system to a town building on the Cape.

“It’s a small step in the right direction,” said White, adding that Yarmouth is fortunate to have leaders at the town level who are well informed and see the value of solar power.

Through White’s efforts an article was placed on Yarmouth’s Town Meeting warrant last year to appropriate $50,000 toward installation of the photovoltaic modules.

The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative matched the town’s funds through the MTC’s small renewables initiative grant.

White says additional grant money is available through MTC for other businesses and municipalities willing to go green.

“Every town is building new municipal buildings with no solar designs. So we are trying to get the leaders on Cape Cod to move toward solar energy,” he said.

White warns towns that paying for energy isn’t going to get cheaper. “If [town officials] don’t do anything with a 7 percent increase a year in the energy bills for towns and schools, it will double over the next 10 years and triple in 15.”

Installation of Yarmouth’s solar panels began last week and will be completed before the end of the month. SolarWrights, a Rhode Island-based renewable energy provider with offices in Orleans, was awarded the installation project.

The company says the system will offset around 13,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity every year from the town’s electrical bills. The company estimates that with current prices of 20 cents per kwh, that will equal $2,600 in annual savings.

In addition, the solar panels will eliminate 20,620 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year along with reducing the production of nitrous oxides and sulfur dioxide – measures that are equivalent to planting three acres of trees.

Meanwhile, White hasn’t stopped his efforts to bring renewable energy systems to the Cape. “We’re working with Liz Argo [of SolarWrights] and some other town energy committees. We hope to have three or four other towns with warrant articles this year,” White said.

to the source

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Whole Foods Market Does Away With Plastic Bags

Whole Foods Market is joining the anti-plastic bag movement, announcing today it will end the use of disposable plastic grocery bags at all of its 270 stores in the U.S., Canada & the U.K. It says the goal is to be plastic bag-free by Earth Day, 4/22/08.

The first U.S. supermarket to commit to completely eliminating disposable plastic grocery bags, Whole Foods Market has declared today "Bring Your Own Bag Day" and will give out over 50,000 reusable shopping bags to customers at the checkouts to celebrate the announcement.

The company says beginning immediately, each store will work on depleting stocks of disposable plastic grocery bags at the checkouts and will help raise awareness about the benefits of reusable bags. Over the next three months, stores will reduce plastic grocery bag inventories and increase selections of reusable bags for purchase.

Although the natural and organic grocer says it hopes to inspire shoppers to bring their own reusable bags, the it will continue to offer 100% recycled paper grocery bags. Last year, Whole Foods Market became the first and only food retailer in North America to offer grocery bags made with 100% recycled fiber content.

A.C. Gallo, co-president and chief operating officer for Whole Foods Market, said "More and more cities and countries are beginning to place serious restrictions on single-use plastic shopping bags since they don't break down in our landfills, can harm nature by clogging waterways and endangering wildlife, and litter our roadsides. Together with our shoppers, our gift to the planet this Earth Day will be reducing our environmental impact as we estimate we will keep 100 million new plastic grocery bags out of our environment between Earth Day and the end of this year alone."

Whole Foods Market already encourages shoppers to bring their own bags by offering a refund of either five or ten cents at the checkouts. The company also sells different types of reusable bags, ranging from canvas to a new large bag made from 80% recycled plastic and costing only 99 cents.

Recently, Whole Foods Market stores began using all-natural fiber packaging at its salad and food bars. The fibers for the new containers come from plants that are cultivated or grow wild and are harvested annually. Additionally, the company says it continues to seek alternatives to plastic bags in its bulk, produce, bakery and seafood departments.

"We realize there are many more steps to take, and we recognize it's an ongoing process to provide as much Earth-friendly packaging as possible," said Gallo. "We will continue to evaluate each department within our stores as we seek to continually improve."

to the source

Monday, January 21, 2008

HP, L’Oreal, Pepsi, Others Asking Suppliers For Emissions Info

Hewlett Packard, L’Oreal, PepsiCo, and Reckitt Benckiser have joined the Carbon Disclosure Project’s Supply Chain Leadership Collaboration, which wants to create a single standardized approach to measuring the carbon footprint of supply chains. The companies join Cadbury Schweppes, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, Tesco, Imperial Tobacco, and Unilever, who signed on last fall. In December, Dell announced that it was joining the program. Wal-Mart has also partnered with the CDP on measuring suppliers’ energy use.

Each member of the Supply Chain Leadership Collaboration has selected up to 50 suppliers to work with them and to respond to the CDP pilot information request by March, 2008. Some members will work with suppliers at national level, others will work internationally.

“Participating in the CDP Supply Chain Leadership Collaboration is one of the steps that will help P&G achieve its new five year sustainability goals, which include improving the environmental profile of our products across their lifecycles,” said Dr. Peter White, Director, Global Sustainability, Proctor and Gamble. “Working within supply chains to innovate and reduce CO2, as well as other environmental impacts, will be a key part of this work.”

The project will be rolled out in May 2008, and CDP is inviting more companies to join the program.

“The Supply Chain Leadership Collaboration is a key step towards a unified business approach to climate change,” said Paul Dickinson, CEO of CDP. “By bringing together the purchasing authority of some of the largest companies in the world, CDP will encourage suppliers to measure and manage their greenhouse gas emissions. This will enable large companies to work towards managing their total carbon footprint, as the first step to reducing the total carbon footprint is to measure its size.”

The CDP information request gathers information on companies’ supply chains. It encourages suppliers to report carbon footprints and climate change-relevant information, such as greenhouse gas emissions data, emissions reduction targets and climate change strategy.

to the source

Consumer Demand for Green Practices Changing the Business of Home Improvement Contractors

Pristine Home Solutions, a Massachusetts home improvement contractor serving Middlesex and Worcester County, says that increasing demand for eco-friendly home solutions will further influence consumer buying decisions.

As Americans become more eco-conscious, consumer-driven companies industry-wide have begun offering more ecologically friendly products and services to retain a competitive edge.

Massachusetts home improvement contractor Warren Fish, president of Pristine Home Solutions, says that an increasing number of homeowners are seeking out his company because of its eco-friendly home improvement practices.

Pristine Home Solutions has for years used eco-friendly products such as low VOC paint and green cleaning products, and HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filtration vacuums for cleanup after jobs are complete.

Fish makes it a point to partner with green companies for products ranging from cleaning supplies to countertops. “Eco-friendly countertops made of recycled glass and concrete as opposed to granite have become a hot item in households where people are committed to green living,” says Fish.

Even with the growing popularity of green products and practices, Fish says that quality still reins the number one priority among consumers. He says that over the past decade, green products have made major leaps in the area of quality and can now be integrated into the company’s high quality home improvement contractor jobs.

“Even homeowners that prefer green materials still will often choose quality over the environmental impact. Because of the improvements in green materials, we have been able to include many more environmentally friendly products and practices into our standard service offerings. As more manufacturers address this growing trend the more you will see green materials being used by building and home improvement contractors,” says Fish.

to the source

Saturday, January 19, 2008

CIA Says Hackers Have Cut Power Grid

Several cities outside the U.S. have sustained attacks on utility systems and extortion demands.

Criminals have been able to hack into computer systems via the Internet and cut power to several cities, a U.S. Central Intelligence Agency analyst said this week.

Speaking at a conference of security professionals on Wednesday, CIA analyst Tom Donahue disclosed the recently declassified attacks while offering few specifics on what actually went wrong.

Criminals have launched online attacks that disrupted power equipment in several regions outside of the U.S., he said, without identifying the countries affected. The goal of the attacks was extortion, he said.

"We have information, from multiple regions outside the United States, of cyber intrusions into utilities, followed by extortion demands," he said in a statement posted to the Web on Friday by the conference's organizers, the SANS Institute. "In at least one case, the disruption caused a power outage affecting multiple cities. We do not know who executed these attacks or why, but all involved intrusions through the Internet."

"According to Mr. Donahue, the CIA actively and thoroughly considered the benefits and risks of making this information public, and came down on the side of disclosure," SANS said in the statement.

One conference attendee said the disclosure came as news to many of the government and industry security professionals in attendance. "It appeared that there were a lot of people who didn't know this already," said the attendee, who asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to speak with the press.

He confirmed SANS' report of the talk. "There were apparently a couple of incidents where extortionists cut off power to several cities using some sort of attack on the power grid, and it does not appear to be a physical attack," he said.

Hacking the power grid made front-page headlines in September when CNN aired a video showing an Idaho National Laboratory demonstration of a software attack on the computer system used to control a power generator. In the demonstration, the smoking generator was rendered inoperable.

The U.S. is taking steps to lock down the computers that manage its power systems, however.

On Thursday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved new mandatory standards designed to improve cybersecurity.

CIA representatives could not be reached immediately for comment.

to the source

Soaring electricity prices leave Massachusetts manufacturers struggling

Higher power bills contribute to plant closings
State lawmakers will soon finalize energy legislation that aims to promote efficiency and alternatives to fossil fuels. But as legislators iron out differences between recently passed House and Senate bills, businesses say they need to pay closer attention to what many firms consider the real crisis: spiraling electricity costs.

Massachusetts manufacturers pay the highest electricity prices in the continental United States, and the gap between their costs and those of competitors in other states is widening, according to the Energy Department. In 2006, the most recent annual data available, industrial users in Massachusetts paid more than double the average US rate, compared to 60 percent more in 2005. Only Hawaii has higher industrial rates.

As a result, Massachusetts manufacturers are struggling to stay in business. Electricity costs have contributed to the shutdown of several plants with the loss of an estimated 2,000 jobs, according to Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the state's largest employer group.

Among them: a 200-year-old paper mill in Lee. The mill's owner, Schweitzer-Mauduit International Inc. of Alpharetta, Ga., said electricity played a role in the decision to shutter the plant later this year and lay off about 160 workers. Power costs at the Lee mill jumped nearly 30 percent, or $2.8 million, over the past two years, with electricity accounting for 17 percent of manufacturing costs, said Bill Foust, vice president of administration.

That compares to 5 to 7 percent at Schweitzer-Mauduit's other mills.

"Electricity isn't the only reason we plan to cease operations," said Foust, citing other factors such as falling demand for the cigarette papers produced at the mill, "but rising energy costs have been significant there."

Massachusetts has long had high electricity prices, but several factors contributed to the recent run-up, specialists said. First, the state depends on expensive fuels to make electricity. About 60 percent of New England power plants run on natural gas or oil, and sharp increases in the costs of these fuels passed through to electricity prices, according to ISO-New England, the organization that runs the region's power grid.

Nationally, these fuels account for a combined 21 percent of power generation. Cheaper coal-fired and nuclear plants generate nearly 70 percent of the nation's power.

Other factors driving costs here are growing demand, lagging supply, and inadequate transmission, which creates bottlenecks that further constrain supply. Difficulties at power plants and other facilities, such as liquid natural gas depots, also push prices higher.

"These are constraints that are self-imposed in New England," said Gordon van Welie, chief executive for ISO-New England. "Yet we keep consuming more."

Western Massachusetts has been hardest hit by rising electricity costs, recently pummeled by sharp increases in delivery charges from Western Massachusetts Electric Co., a unit of Northeast Utilities of Berlin, Conn. Those increases, approved in a 2006 settlement with former Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, helped raise power costs for large commercial and industrial users more than 20 percent last year.

Total power costs for large users are projected to rise 11 percent this year, according to the utility.

Under Massachusetts' deregulated market, utilities just deliver electricity, charging delivery rates regulated by the state. Independent generators that make electricity sell it at market prices determined by supply and demand. Utilities pass those prices on to consumers.

Economic development officials in Western Massachusetts say soaring electricity costs are not only pushing plants like Schweitzer-Mauduit's over the edge, but also are hurting efforts to recruit companies. About a year ago, Ice River Springs Water Co. Inc. of Feversham, Ontario, planned to open a bottling plant in Pittsfield. But when corporate officials saw electric rates, they put the building they purchased up for sale and opened the plant in New Hampshire
.
Sandy Gott, executive vice president, said her company is working with economic development officials to revive the Pittsfield project. The Berkshire Chamber of Commerce recently formed a cooperative of smaller companies to buy power in larger volumes at lower rates. Gott said Ice River Springs is examining whether those savings will be enough.

"We're kind of in limbo and trying to make a final decision," said Gott. "The electricity prices were quite a shock."

At the Friendly Ice Cream Corp. plant in Wilbraham, soaring prices boosted power costs by nearly $1 million over the past 2 years, gobbling savings from investments in energy-efficient lighting and refrigeration and other projects, said Mike St. Marie, vice president of production and distribution. Friendly pays 14 cents a kilowatt hour for electricity, up from about 8 cents three years ago.

"Rates have really spiraled out of control," St. Marie said, "and it makes us a little uncompetitive."

Ian Bowles, the state's secretary of energy and environment, said the Patrick administration recognizes that high electricity prices hurt competitiveness and is pushing initiatives to lower them. They include investing heavily in energy efficiency; revamping utility rate structures to promote conservation; and developing renewable sources, such as wind, solar, and biofuels, to reduce reliance on natural gas and oil. Significantly increasing efficiency could slice electricity expenses 3 to 5 percent a year, Bowles said.

Robert Rio, senior vice president at AIM, agreed energy efficiency could cut prices. But, he said, policy makers should move carefully in subsidizing alternative energy and other programs.

"We need a policy that puts electricity prices first," Rio said. "All these programs are nice, but we need to constantly ask, 'How is it going to reduce prices?' "

Many of these programs are funded with surcharges on utility bills, typically fractions of a cent per kilowatt hour. Many homeowners barely notice these charges, Rio said. But for industrial users, consuming millions of kilowatt hours a year, they boost costs by thousands of dollars.

M. Brian O'Shaughnessy, chief executive of Revere Copper Products Inc. of Rome, N.Y., said surcharges for energy efficiency, renewables, and other programs contributed to the shutdown this fall of Revere's plant in New Bedford. About 90 workers lost jobs.

New York development programs exempt manufacturers from such surcharges, O'Shaughnessy said, and rates at Revere's Rome facility are half those at New Bedford. "Massachusetts has to recognize that industrial companies have to be competitive with industrial plants around the world," O'Shaughnessy said. "You can't burden manufacturers with higher costs in a region where high costs already make it harder to compete."

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Year in Energy

Advanced biofuels, more-efficient vehicles, and solar power top the most notable energy stories of 2007.
The Rise of Biofuels

Corn ethanol production has grown so fast, driving up corn prices and driving down the price of ethanol, that some producers are having trouble breaking even. But an energy bill signed into law last week that requires greater use of biofuels will provide new incentives for both production of biofuels and research into new technologies. Reaching the ambitious goals set by the law will require new technologies for transforming biomass into fuel. (See "Oil from Wood," "Breaking Ground on Cellulosic Ethanol," and "BP's Bet on Butanol.") Others are developing ways to convert biomass into hydrocarbon fuels that could be more practical than ethanol. (See "Making Gasoline from Bacteria.") In the current print issue, Technology Review's editor takes a close look at the technology needed to replace a significant part of gas consumption with renewable fuels and the costs of doing so. (See "The Price of Biofuels.")

Cheaper solar panels

Investors are rushing to pour money into solar energy companies to capitalize on an industry that's growing by leaps and bounds. That brought good news for solar technology this year, as the wraps came off a number of technical advances that could eventually make energy from the sun as cheaply as conventional sources. These include new types of panels that use cheaper materials or cheaper manufacturing techniques. (See "Making Cheaper Solar Cells" and "Solar Power at Half the Cost.")

One company in particular, San Jose-based Nanosolar, attracted attention for its decision to build an enormous manufacturing facility for making inexpensive thin-film solar panels (see "Large-scale, Cheap Solar Electricity"), only to see delays in production. But by the end of the year the company had started manufacturing solar panels for its first customer.
Researchers are also investigating more distant possibilities for solar, including using the exotic physics of quantum dots and mimicking the complex chemistry of photosynthesis to help make solar power ubiquitous. (See "TR10: Nanocharging Solar" and "Supplying the World's Energy Needs with Light and Water.")

Managing Carbon Dioxide

Researchers are making progress in finding ways to use carbon dioxide as a source of raw materials for fuel, by taking a cue from biology. (See "Making Gasoline from Carbon Dioxide" and "Turning Carbon Dioxide into Fuel.") But these technologies are still far from eliminating the need to sequester large amounts of carbon dioxide in order to reduce greenhouse emissions. (See "The Precarious Future of Coal.")

Clearing the Way for Alternative Energy

If alternative energy sources such as wind and solar are ever to provide a big chunk of our electricity, we'll need a better system for storing and distributing that power. That's because these sources of energy, unlike coal or nuclear power, are intermittent: solar panels only make power when the sun shines. New battery systems (see "Fixing the Power Grid") and thermal storage systems (see "Storing Solar Power Efficiently") could help.

More-Efficient Vehicles

GM made news this year with its plans for a new electric vehicle that gets extended range, compared to other electric vehicles, from an onboard generator. (See "Electric Cars 2.0.") Other companies are developing similar vehicles. But technologies for boosting the efficiency of conventional internal combustion engines could play a big role in helping automakers meet new fuel economy standards. (See "The Incredible Shrinking Engine" and the blog, "Better Fuel Economy on the Way.")


to the source

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Environmental Groups, Northeast States and New York City Challenge Weak EPA Energy Standards

New York, NY -- Environmental advocates and state and city governments are filing lawsuits today urging the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to adopt stronger energy efficiency standards for residential furnaces and boilers.

The public interest law firm Earthjustice is filing suit on behalf of Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), arguing that standards DOE adopted in November are shockingly weak, will cost consumers billions of dollars and fail to reduce global warming emissions.

The City of New York and the States of Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York are also challenging DOE's standards in a joint lawsuit being filed today.

"Stronger energy efficiency standards for furnaces and boilers would save money, stop pollution and spare health," said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

"The Bush Administration's stagnant standards disregard the law and public interest, benefiting industry at the expense of consumers and the environment. Without increased fuel efficiency, consumers nationwide will unnecessarily spend potentially millions more in home heating costs, while their furnaces and boilers spew millions more tons of harmful CO2."

Tougher efficiency standards translate into significant economic benefits, especially in northern states where the cost difference between low and high efficiency models can be recovered more quickly through reduced heating bills. Advocates for residents in these regions said the weak national standards disproportionately hurt renters who are stuck paying the higher fuel costs of less efficient models installed by landlords.

"By adopting such weak new standards, the Energy Department is telling New Yorkers and others that reducing greenhouse gases and heating bills just doesn't matter," said Ramin Pejan, attorney at the New York City Law Department. "The success of the City's PlaNYC efforts to improve air quality in a cost-effective manner depends, in part, on cooperation from federal agencies."

The new DOE standards for gas-fired furnaces - the most common home heating appliance - represent a miniscule increase: from 78 to 80 percent efficiency. DOE recognized that adopting a 90 percent efficiency standard nationwide would maximize consumer value, saving $11 billion over a 24-year period, while also preventing the emission of 141 million tons of carbon dioxide over the same span. But DOE instead opted for a standard that 99 percent of furnaces sold already meet, resulting in much less cost savings and virtually no reduction in CO2 emissions.

"DOE chose to implement a standard so weak it is simply meaningless," said Earthjustice attorney Tim Ballo. "The vast majority of products on the market already meet the standard DOE has adopted. This is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it efficiency increase."

The lawsuits challenge serious flaws in DOE's economic analysis that led the department to undervalue the benefits of stronger standards. For example, a stronger standard would most likely drive down the cost of natural gas, but the DOE failed to consider this factor in making its decision. The DOE also failed to place a dollar value on the decreased carbon dioxide emissions that would result from a stronger efficiency standard.

to the source

Massachusetts Public Lands Preservation Act

Article 97 of the State Constitution grants citizens of Massachusetts a right to a clean environment and the enjoyment of natural resources on publicly owned land.

The article requires that public land acquired for natural resource purposes not be used for other purposes or otherwise disposed of without a two thirds vote of each branch of the legislature.

There is hardly a city or town in the Commonwealth that does not have some park, playground, conservation land, or other public land that is supposed to be protected by Article 97. Article 97 Lands.

Unfortunately, conversion of land acquired for natural resource purposes to other uses has been sanctioned frequently by the legislature with little examination, debate, or opposition. Article 97 Land Transfers.

The Public Lands Preservation Act or PLPA (S. 2388) (aka the Article 97 bill and the No-net-loss bill), would be a statement of legislative policy to approve change in use or disposition of Article 97 land, only when there is no feasible alternative and if replacement land of equivalent acreage and market value is provided.

The PLPA has been sponsored and co-sponsored by 43 senators and representatives and endorsed by numerous environmental and other organizations.

Encourage your legeslators to support the bill too!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

US Congress Expected To Extend Renewable Energy Tax Credits

US Congress Expected To Extend Renewable Energy Tax Credits

By Ian Talley Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES WASHINGTON

The U.S. Congress is expected to extend expiring renewable energy production and investment tax credits in the new session, industry experts and lawmakers say.

Although the White House has objected to offsetting the proposed multi-billion dollar credits by cutting tax breaks given to the oil and gas industry, lawmakers may include the credits as part of an economic stimulus package or a tax credit extension package, insiders say.

A $21 billion energy tax package that would have cut tax breaks to the top five major oil companies in order to fund renewable energy projects fell victim to repeated veto threats from the White House and wasn't included in a major new energy law passed late last year.

Solar companies such as Evergreen Solar (ESLR) and Emcore Corp. (EMKR), and wind turbine manufacturers such as Vestas Wind Systems (VWS.KO), Gamesa Corporacion Tecnologica (GAM.MC) and Siemans Power Generation, a unit of Siemans AG (SI), count on the credits to build demand in the U.S. The industry says it needs the credits - some of which expire at the end of the year - to offset the costs of expensive electricity generation projects.

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in December that Congress would vote again on the tax proposal "more quickly than you think," and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said it had become a matter of urgency for many firms in the sector.

Jaime Steve, legislative director for the American Wind Energy Association, said the credits were "vitally needed to keep momentum going in the industry and keep creating jobs."

"If the credit is not extended in the next two to three months, we'll see a downturn in the industry," he said.

Lawmakers are now searching for ways to include the two major tax provisions - a renewable energy production credit and an investment credit - into other legislation, including a farm bill and fast-developing legislation that would give a boost to the economy.

Democrats have said they would work with President George W. Bush to develop a proposed major stimulus package to counter growing fears of a recession.

"The No. 1 opportunity is in an economic stimulus package," AWEA's Steve said, adding, "That would be a perfect place in an renewable production tax credit." The cost would depend on how long the credits were extended. In the energy tax package, the renewable production credit would have lasted three years, costing around $6 billion.

"We're looking for extension of current law as long as possible...because it provides certainty for investors," Steve said.

Although Steve said he believes paying for the offsets by cutting tax breaks to the oil industry is likely off the table, Mark Kibbe, a senior policy analyst at the American Petroleum Institute, is still watching Congress carefully.

Kibbe, a tax specialist at API, said he'd heard of several alternative options to include the renewable tax credits, including a tax-extenders bill that Congress has come to pass on a near annual basis that prolongs a raft of non-permanent but popular tax rules.

"I don't think they'd move the entire (energy tax) package over, but the the Section 45 renewable energy production credit is a logical one and would not be such a stretch," Kibbe said.

The API analyst said he'd also hear of another creative solution: the Federal Aviation Administration's reauthorization of the collection of excise taxes, which expires in March. If Congress lets the reauthorization expire for a day, and then reauthorizes the agency's authority, Kibbe said it could be considered new revenue, "and they get to spend all those billions of dollars as offsets."

Monday, January 14, 2008

2007 SECOND WARMEST YEAR ON RECORD

Northern Hemisphere Temperature Highest Ever

With the record for 2007 now complete, it is clear that temperatures around the world are continuing their upward climb. The global average in 2007 was 14.73 degrees Celsius (58.5 degrees Fahrenheit)—the second warmest year on record, only 0.03 degrees Celsius behind the 2005 maximum. January 2007 was the hottest January ever measured, a full 0.23 degrees Celsius warmer than the previous record. August was also a record for that month and September was the second warmest September recorded.

Looking at the northern hemisphere alone, 2007 temperatures averaged 15.04 degrees Celsius (59.1 degrees Fahrenheit)—easily the hottest year in the northern half of the globe since the record began in 1880, and more than a degree warmer than the 1951–80 average. Paleo-temperature records from ancient tree rings suggest that the northern hemisphere is now warmer than at any time in at least the last 1,200 years.

The year 2007 fits into a pattern of steadily increasing global average temperature, with the eight warmest years on record all occurring in the last decade. According to the dataset maintained by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, global average temperature rose from 14.02 degrees Celsius in the 1970s to 14.26 degrees in the 1980s and then to 14.40 degrees in the 1990s. In the first eight years of the twenty-first century, the world averaged 14.64 degrees Celsius. (See data.) Since 1990, mean global temperature has risen by 0.33 degrees, a rate of increase faster than climate models had predicted.

Although 2007 did not post a new record high, the year stands out as being extremely warm despite several natural factors that usually cool the planet. El Niño conditions in the southern Pacific tend to increase the global average temperature, and yet the second half of 2007 saw the opposite develop—a La Niña, which would usually depress global temperature. This is in stark contrast to conditions in 1998, the third warmest year, when temperatures were boosted around 0.2 degrees Celsius by the strongest El Niño of the century. In addition to the moderate La Niña, solar intensity in 2007 was slightly lower than average because the year was a minimum in the 11-year solar sunspot cycle. The combination of these factors would normally produce cooler temperatures, yet 2007 was still one of the warmest years in human history. This strongly suggests that the warming effect of increased greenhouse gas concentrations is now dwarfing other influences on the Earth’s climate.

The impact of the exceptional warmth in 2007 was especially apparent in the Arctic, where several feedback mechanisms amplify the effect of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations. Summer sea-ice extent in the Arctic Ocean shrank dramatically to a new low, 23 percent below the previous 2005 record. This opened the Northwest Passage for the first time in recorded history and prompted a scramble to claim large swaths of the newly exposed Arctic.

Regionally, several areas saw record-setting temperatures in 2007. Southeastern Europe suffered through temperatures as high as 45 degrees Celsius in a heat wave that killed up to 500 people. In Japan, thermometers in August reached 40.9 degrees Celsius, the highest temperature ever recorded in that country. Chart-topping temperatures and severe drought conditions proved a lethal combination, as extensive wildfires spread in both Greece and the American West in July and August.

While some areas baked under intensive heat or drought conditions, others were inundated by record amounts of rain. England and Wales experienced widespread flooding and damage estimated at £3 billion ($6 billion) during the wettest May to July period since records began in 1766. In South Asia, some of the worst flooding in decades occurred during the monsoon season, affecting at least 25 million people and killing more than 2,500. Fifteen countries across Africa—from Ghana to Ethiopia—were affected by severe floods in the summer of 2007. These displaced hundreds of thousands of people and washed away crops and farmland, seriously damaging food security in the region. Other countries that saw exceptional or record flooding in 2007 include China, Indonesia, Mexico, and Uruguay.

Intense rainfall events and flooding will only become more common in the future, as climate models show that warmer temperatures will cause a greater share of total precipitation to fall in extreme events. This means that there will be more heavy rainstorms but also more dry periods, producing both more severe droughts and more frequent, more intense floods. Rainfall data from the twentieth century show precipitation intensity increasing over the last two decades, suggesting this trend is already beginning.

In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Nobel prize–winning body of more than 1,250 scientists, released its Fourth Assessment Report, which detailed the likely climatic consequences if human beings continue to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It reported that unabated emissions would result in a temperature rise of between 1.1 and 6.4 degrees Celsius (2 to 12 degrees Fahrenheit) during the twenty-first century.

To put this in perspective, temperatures over the last 100 years rose by a comparably small 0.74 degrees Celsius, and yet this appears to have already contributed to trends of more heat waves, longer and more intense droughts, higher sea level, more frequent heavy rain events, and stronger hurricanes. Future warming on the scale projected by the IPCC will bring with it a multitude of outcomes that can only be described as disastrous. These include hundreds of millions of people exposed to increased water stress, a third of species at increasing risk of extinction, widespread coral mortality, grain yield declines at low latitudes, the loss of 30 percent of remaining coastal wetlands, and the disappearance of glaciers feed some of the world’s major rivers.

The temperature record for 2007 shows that we have now fully entered into what some are calling a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, in which human activities are the main driver of the global climate system. The many effects of warmer temperature, which we are already beginning to see, will only become more severe and more costly to society if greenhouse gas emissions are not cut quickly and dramatically. Our future now depends on what we do to limit warming by moving away from climate-disrupting fossil fuels and toward renewable energy and energy-efficient technologies.

ADDITIONAL DATAAverage Global Temperature, 1880-2007 figure table
Average Global Temperature by Decade, 1880-2007
Atmospheric Concentration of Carbon Dioxide, 1000-2007
Average Global Temperature, 1880-2007, with Projections to 2100

For more information related to TEMPERATURE and CLIMATE from Earth Policy Institute, click here.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Beware Electronics “Recyclers” that Don’t Recycle

7 January 2008 (Seattle, San Francisco) – In the wake of the Christmas electronic gadget buying season, with many of us buying new flat screen TVs, cell phones and computers now faced with disposing of the old ones, the Basel Action Network (BAN) and the Electronics TakeBack Coalition (ETBC) today cautioned consumers not to be fooled by the majority of businesses nationwide calling themselves electronics recyclers who in fact don’t do any recycling at all, but instead ship your old equipment to developing countries.

The Recycling Lie

“We may think we’re doing the right thing by giving our old electronics to a ‘recycler’ or a free collection event,” said Sarah Westervelt, BAN’s e-Stewardship Program Director. “But most of those businesses calling themselves recyclers are little more than international waste distributors. They take your old equipment for free, or pocket your recycling fee, and then simply load it into a sea-going container, and ship it to China, India or Nigeria.”

Once on foreign shores your old computer or TV becomes part of a cyber-age horror story. In China, woman and children breathe in the toxic solder vapors as they cook circuit boards, dioxins are produced when wires are burned, and micro-chips are washed in strong acid baths and flushed into the rivers as primitive metals extraction techniques take their toll on the local environment and the health of thousands of migrant farmers. In Nigeria the imported techno-trash that is not repairable is dumped and burned in swamps. BAN revealed these sad truths as early as 2002 in their film and report “Exporting Harm: The High Tech Trashing of Asia” and again in another report and film entitled “The Digital Dump: Exporting Re-use and Abuse to Africa," in 2005.

Unfortunately, according to BAN and ETBC, this ugly waste trade continues unabated from the United States because the government refuses to ratify the Basel Convention and the Basel Ban Amendment – international accords prohibiting trade in hazardous waste to developing countries, and has otherwise expressed little interest in controlling its toxic waste exports as long as they are claimed to be destined for recycling or re-use. As such, US e-waste exports are in contravention of international law, but not US law, and thus US “recyclers” are able to claim they abide by all environmental laws and are even "EPA approved".

Doing the Right Thing: The e-Stewards Initiative

To help distinguish between these unscrupulous exporters and the responsible recyclers and refurbishers, BAN and ETBC created the e-Stewards Initiative – a program identifying North America’s most responsible e-Waste recyclers that have agreed to adhere to strict criteria created by the non-profit environmental groups. The criteria require that no hazardous electronics equipment or parts (as defined internationally) will be exported to developing countries or be processed by captive prison labor, and that none of it will end up in landfills or incinerators. These responsible recyclers can be found at: www.ban.org/pledge1.html or www.computertakeback.com/responsible_recycling/index.cfm.

Consumers are urged to avoid recyclers not on this list including free e-waste collection events that do not state that they only use e-Stewards recyclers.

“We strongly urge all consumers to avoid all but those recyclers that have qualified as e-Stewards. If your local recycler has not qualified for the program, ask them to do so. Otherwise while trying to do the right thing with recycling, you can unwittingly become a player in a global digital dumping game, and end up poisoning those in developing countries,” said Barbara Kyle, National Coordinator of ETBC.

For more information contact:

Sarah Westervelt at BAN in Seattle: 1.206.652.5555, or
swestervelt@ban.org.Barbara Kyle at ETBC in San Francisco: 1.415.206.9595, or bkyle@etakeback.org.