Blue Marble - December 2007

How George Bush Could Win a Standing Ovation

| Tue Dec. 4, 2007 7:40 PM EST

cop13_04_4_348.jpg You know he wants one. Desperately. All he needs to do is follow the lead of Australia's new prime minister Kevin Rudd. As Reuters tells us, Australia raised hopes of global action to fight climate change on Monday by agreeing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, thereby isolating the United States at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali as the only rich nation not in the pact.

Australia's decision won a standing ovation at the opening of tough two-week negotiations on the Indonesian resort isle. The talks aim to pull together rich and poor countries around a common agenda to agree a broader successor to Kyoto by 2009.

Think of it. George, alone in his corner, snarling at the world. He could travel to the lovely isle of Bali, relax, unwind, then stand before the summit and agree to Do The Right Thing. He would get so much more than a standing ovation. Hallelujahs. Laurel Wreaths. A Nobel. The relieved thanks of the world. A kinder place in history.

What a pretty dream…

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

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Your Electric Car as a Battery in the Grid

| Tue Dec. 4, 2007 7:02 PM EST

Paul%27s%20Civic%20-%20smaller.jpg Electric and hybrid cars could act as energy stores for the power grid when not being driven. New Scientist reports that researchers from the University of Delaware are using a new prototype by AC Propulsion to store or supply grid electricity (Washington DC got a first dose in October). If hundreds or thousands of owners opt into the system, the efficiency of power distribution could improve. A lot. The average US car is driven one out of every 24 hours. Combustion-powered cars are useless off the road. But plug-ins could act as backups to the grid while idle.

 

"Storage is golden for power companies because it is hard to do," [Willet] Kempton told New Scientist, who notes that the cost of storing excess electricity means that there is only capacity for around 1% of yield in the US and UK. Storage is particularly important for renewable energy because power supplied by the Sun, the oceans, or the wind, is often irregular.

 

Each plug-in can provide $4,000 of storage to an energy company per year, at a cost of $600 to install the high-power connection system. Energy companies need to pass on some of their savings to encourage drivers to help out, says Kempton… Hmm. Technology might be the easy part.

Fuel Cell Cleans Pollution and Makes Electricity

| Tue Dec. 4, 2007 6:27 PM EST

071203120753.jpg Pennsylvania State University environmental engineers have developed a fuel cell that uses pollution from coal and metal mines to generate electricity. Bruce E. Logan and colleagues describe successful tests of a lab-scale fuel cell based on microbial fuel cells capable of generating electricity from wastewater. Their device removes dissolved iron from solution while generating electricity at power levels similar to conventional microbial fuel cells (the recovered iron can be used in paints or other products). Better yet, the researchers say, later generations of these cells will lead to more efficient power generation in the future.

Engineers may save us yet.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Divorce is Bad for the Planet

| Tue Dec. 4, 2007 1:44 PM EST

"Oh, I wish that we could stop this D-I-V-O-R-C-E." Mother Nature probably agrees with Tammy Wynette. According to a recent Michigan State University study, divorce is taking a major toll on the environment.

Some of the findings:

* In the United States alone in 2005, divorced households used 73 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity and 627 billion gallons of water that could have been saved had household size remained the same as that of married households. Thirty-eight million extra rooms were needed with associated costs for heating and lighting.

* In the United States and 11 other countries such as Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Greece, Mexico and South Africa between 1998 and 2002, if divorced households had combined to have the same average household size as married households, there could have been 7.4 million fewer households in these countries.

* The numbers of divorced households in these countries ranged from 40,000 in Costa Rica to almost 16 million in the United States around 2000.

* The number of rooms per person in divorced households was 33 percent to 95 percent greater than in married households.

But the researchers also point out that divorce is just part of the picture: In the U.S., multigenerational households have become less common over the past few decades. What's more, single people are putting off getting married, and hence living alone for longer. Seems like the only bright side about sky-high rent, then, is that it might actually make some cities greener (since fewer people can afford to live alone).

Global Warming Threatens Another Endangered Species

| Tue Dec. 4, 2007 1:22 PM EST

Doing its part in the high-brow Priusification of the green movement, the New York Times has just released its "Ski Issue," reporting on the conversion of luxurious Swiss ski resorts into nothing more than luxurious Swiss sun decks and spas as snowfall even in the Alps decreases. Meanwhile one music fan and YouTube user has posted an unofficial video on behalf of the L.A. band HEALTH that honors another imminent casualty of Switzerland's suddenly sultry climate. By pairing the heroic track "Heaven" with footage from Werner Herzog's 1973 documentary The Great Ecstasy of the Woodcarver Steiner about Swiss ski jumper Walter Steiner, Bret Berg touches on a quandary heretofore neglected by the Times and many others: If the Alpine snowfields melt into a miserable puddle, whatever will become of the high-flying Swiss?

—Cassie McGettigan


Your Future Begins in Bali: Global Climate Summit Opens

| Mon Dec. 3, 2007 9:43 PM EST

Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary, from the press conference "Overview of the main issues of the COP/Technical and logistical details for journalists."

Also largely absent from today's news—unless you read offshore, say, at the BBC—the portentous UN Climate Change Summit 2007 opening today in Bali. Governments are assembled to discuss how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions after 2012 when the current Kyoto Protocol targets expire. You know the Kyoto Protocol, the one Bush never signed, dooming it to irrelevance.

This is the first big international meet since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that evidence for global warming is "unequivocal." What's Bush's stance this time around? The BBC put it diplomatically:

Meanwhile, US President George Bush—who favours voluntary rather than mandatory targets—issued a statement saying that the nation's emissions had fallen by 1.5% in 2006 from levels in 2005.

Bush—that champion of weird math and damn the consequences—hopes his numbers will enable the US to avoid doing what everyone else is in Bali to do: agree to binding emissions targets. This even though 150 multinationals last week did just that, according to Business Green, including Coca-Cola, Gap, Nike, British Airways, Nestlé, Nokia, Shell, Tesco and Virgin, as well as a number of Chinese companies such as Shanghai Electric and Suntech.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

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Hunger: Coming Your Way

| Mon Dec. 3, 2007 8:55 PM EST

drought.jpg

Global agriculture could go into steep, unanticipated declines due to complications that scientists have so far inadequately considered. So say three new reports published in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Predicted changes from 1- to 5-degree C temperature rises in coming decades fail to account for seasonal extremes of heat, drought or rain, multiplier effects of spreading diseases or weeds, and other ecological upsets. All are believed more likely in the future, according to The Earth Institute at Columbia University:

"Many people assume that we will never have a problem with food production on a global scale. But there is a strong potential for negative surprises," said Francesco Tubiello, a physicist and agricultural expert at the NASA/Goddard Institute of Space Studies who coauthored all three papers. Existing research estimates that developing countries may lose 334 million acres of prime farm land in the next 50 years. After mid-century, continuing temperature rises—5 degrees C or more by then—are expected to start adversely affecting northern crops as well, tipping the whole world into a danger zone.

Is there any mention of any of these three papers anywhere in the mainstream news? Not that I can find. The world goes on, as usual, headlining inconsequentials and absurdities.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.