Blue Marble - July 2009

Palin on the Porch: I Can See the Past From Here!

| Tue Jul. 14, 2009 4:33 PM EDT

The view from Sarah Palin's porch remains as bizarre as it was when she said she could see Russia from there. Having conquered the limits of space, Palin's eyes now vaniquish time.

"American prosperity," the soon-to-be-former Governor of Alaska writes in today's WaPo, "has always been driven by the steady supply of abundant, affordable energy."

As Palin makes clear further on, the only energy sources that meet her All-American standards are fossil fuels. (Nuclear power is OK, but from an economic POV, it's something of a dinosaur, too.)

Coal. Natural gas. And, of course, the precious crude oil that gave rise to her battle cry, "Drill, baby, drill!"

The energy future Palin sees from her porch is, in fact, the past.

Palin's 20th Century obession with fossil fuels is not unique. On Monday, Wonkette took a swipe at the National Endowment for Democracy for hosting a conference on fostering democracy in oil rich countries. (Still?! Again?!)

According to a piece in today's HuffPo, even Exxon is experimenting with biofuels, investing half a billion dollars in algae-based program. (I think their dabble is doomed to failure, but that's a different post. Or, if you can't wait, check out what Greenbiz had to say on this subject last week.)

A more likely future was presented in a study released yesterday by the University of California: "Electric Vehicles in the United States."

The report forecast that electric vehicles (EVs) will account for up to 86% of all new car sales in the US in just two decades. What's interesting about the study is not its wildly optimistic viewpoint -- it's the business model they say will usher in that future.

Here’s the concept: You pay for the electric vehicle (like the Renault-Nissan Rogue shown above).

The company, Better Place, pays for (and owns) the $11,000 battery. And the network of charging stations. And the switching stations where customers can swap their nearly empty battery for a full one on long trips, at no fee. Under this scenario, you’ll buy the car in the usual way. But all the costs associated with powering the vehicle will come in the form of a pay-per-mile contract.

The concept is familiar to anyone who has a pay-per-minute cell phone contract. The cost to the consumer pencils out at a point well below what gasoline-powered drivers currently pay. The savings increase with the inevitable rise in oil prices.

The UC study found that “separating the purchase of the battery from the car and incorporating its financing into a service contract that pays for the electricity and charging infrastructure radically changes the pricing possibilities for electric vehicles.”

According to the study, other key benefits of adopting EVs at this scale include:

  • A decrease in oil imports of between 18-38%.
  • A reduction of the US trade deficit by a third.
  • A net increase of as many as 350,000 new jobs.
  • Health care saving of between $105-$210 million based on lower levels of airborne pollutants.
  • A 69% decline in CO2 emissions — if the electricity to charge the batteries comes from renewable, clean sources such as solar or wind.

To those who think this will never happen: it's already begun. With the aid of $45 million from the state of Hawaii, Better Place is installing charging stations in key areas on the islands. The company also plans on building a billion dollar charging infrastructure throughout the San Francisco Bay area. And the Japanese company, A123, has announced plans to build a $2 billion plant in Michigan to produce batteries for these cars.

The Sarah Palins of the world don't see any of this, of course. She and her followers are too busy marching backwards into the past and thinking they're gaining ground.

As all progressives know, looking forward is so much more fun.

 

Osha Gray Davidson covers solar energy for The Phoenix Sun, and is a contributing blogger for Mother Jones. He edited The Climate Bill: A Field Guide. For more of his stories, click here.

 

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Apples to Orgasms

| Tue Jul. 14, 2009 4:08 PM EDT

An odd tidbit from our British friends across the pond:

A National Health Service leaflet is advising school pupils that they have a "right" to an enjoyable sex life and that regular intercourse can be good for their cardiovascular health.

The advice appears in guidance circulated to parents, teachers and youth workers, and is intended to update sex education by telling pupils about the benefits of sexual pleasure. For too long, say its authors, experts have concentrated on the need for “safe sex” and loving relationships while ignoring the main reason that many people have sex, that is, for enjoyment.

The document, called Pleasure, has been drawn up by NHS Sheffield, although it is also being circulated outside the city.

Alongside the slogan "an orgasm a day keeps the doctor away", it says: "Health promotion experts advocate five portions of fruit and veg a day and 30 minutes’ physical activity three times a week. What about sex or masturbation twice a week?"

Very interesting. But could such a sexually enlightened controversial program ever work here in the United States?

Eco-News Roundup: Tuesday, July 14

| Tue Jul. 14, 2009 7:00 AM EDT

Tuesday news of the Blue Marble variety, from around our site:

Trip down memory lane: Or lack thereof. Check out our drug-war timeline.

Is there a computer in the house? Sure, digitizing medical records will make doctors' jobs a lot easier. But is the Obama administration doing it all wrong?

Cheese, please: Domino's Pizza's new sidewalk ad campaign: Green or grotesque?

Boringest babysitter ever: GOP House reps say never mind a bill that would support new parents, why not just park the kids in front of a Baby Einstein DVD?

Doha drag: Likelihood of progress on agricultural issues in trade talks, given the reluctance of rich countries to reduce subsidies on farmed products? Not great, says Kevin Drum.

 

NOAA Says No to Krill Fishing

| Mon Jul. 13, 2009 6:13 PM EDT

Good news today. NOAA published a final rule that will go into effect 12 August prohibiting the harvesting of the shrimplike invertebrates known as krill off California, Oregon, and Washington.

The states themselves already have regulations prohibiting a krill harvest within three miles of their coasts. But, until now, no federal restriction protected the Exclusive Economic Zone—between three and 200 miles out.

Interestingly, there is no commercial fishery for krill in these waters. Today's rule is a rare instance of foresight in fisheries management, designed to preserve the foundation of a healthy marine foodweb in the California Current ecosystem, including its five National Marine Sanctuaries.

Krill are vitally important as primary consumers in this ecosystem, feeding on the primary producers:the microscopic phytoplankton that use the energy of sunlight to make life from nonlife.

Numerous commercially important fish feed on krill, including salmon, rockfish, squid, sardine, mackerel and flatfish. Many endangered and threatened species forage on krill, including blue whales, humpback whales, and a variety of seabirds, including Sooty Shearwaters, Marbled Murrelets, and Common Murres.

This krill ban was originally proposed by the National Marine Sanctuary Program and grew from there to include all West Coast waters. The plan is to prevent a commercial krill fishery like the ones that have already taken root in Antarctica, Japan, and off Canada's Pacific coast. The idea being that fishing the primary consumers of the foodweb is like eating your seed corn.

Most wild krill fished in foodwebs elsewhere in the world are used to feed aquacultured marine life and terrestrial livestock, as fish bait, and for pet foods.

That's like feeding your seed corn to your milk cow. Or your goldfish.
 

Sustainable Farming is Being Destroyed to Eradicate E. Coli

| Mon Jul. 13, 2009 1:40 PM EDT

From the San Francisco Chronicle today comes a great story about how major produce buyers are imposing secret scorched-earth measures on hundreds of thousands of acres where spinach and leafy greens are grown. Trees are being bulldozed, frogs and rodents are being killed, and farmers are creating wide crop buffers of bare dirt, all in a misguided attempt to prevent another outbreak of E. Coli. The changes are taking a heavy toll on the Salinas Valley, the nation's "salad bowl," which is incredibly biodiverse and traditionally a hotbed of sustainable agriculture. By eliminating the natural checks and balances on the agricultural ecosystem, the measures might be doing more harm than good. There has never been an E. Coli outbreak on small-scale farms---farms that are integrated with the local ecosystem and sell to the region's farmers markets.

 

The United States of Calorie Counting

| Mon Jul. 13, 2009 9:56 AM EDT

Somehow, the battle over whether to require chain restaurants to prominently disclose nutritional information has become a hot button issue. And it could flare up as lawmakers consider enacting a federal calorie labeling policy. New York City reinstituted the practice last year, and California is on track to follow its example. But calorie labeling has so far stalled outside of these progressive havens.

Why all the controversy? As Ezra Klein writes, calorie labeling is such a good idea that it will "one day come to seem like the most natural thing in the world."

It turns out that the only drawback to requiring restaurants to disclose calorie information is that it could make people healthier... which could be bad for unhealthy restaurants and has therefore drawn the ire of the restaurant industry. In a brief following the defeat of a labeling measure in Maryland, the Restaurant Association of Maryland wrote that they do not oppose labeling but that they "simply want flexibility in how the information is displayed and nationwide uniformity through a federal approach." Will they show calorie information under the counter, or in the trash can, perhaps?

By giving consumers the means to make more informed, healthy decisions about their meals, calorie labeling fits perfectly into our capitalist ideals. The consumer can choose a 400-calorie salad from Cosi, for example, or a 1,000-calorie burger and fries combo from McDonald's. I, for one, know the euphoria that follows the knowledge that I just saved myself from 400 calories by ordering "fresco" at Taco Bell instead of my default 970-calorie choice Grilled Stuft Burrito and Double Decker Taco.

Why not let people enjoy the simple pleasures of eating healthy or unhealthy when they choose?

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Eco-News Roundup: Monday July 13

| Mon Jul. 13, 2009 7:00 AM EDT

Here's news on the environment and health from our other blogs.

Medicaid Aid?: Should the feds use stimulus dollars for Medicaid?

Urgent Care: Kevin Drum muses on how urgent the healthcare crisis really is.

Drunk Driving: California Supreme Court reconsiders breathalyzer test results.

Sins of Omission: NPR gets chided for not calling torture... torture.

Solar Advocates Win One in Arizona

| Sat Jul. 11, 2009 12:37 AM EDT

In a major victory for solar advocates in the state, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer today signed SB 1403 into law.

The bill extends tax credits and other incentives to manufactures of renewable energy equipment (mainly solar) if they locate in Arizona and meet other criteria.

Proponents of the legislation, which passed the AZ Senate on June 15th and the House June 26th, have claimed that such a bill was a missing "third leg" on a stool that would support Arizona's bid to be the "solar capital" of the nation.

(The other two legs are a large market for consuming solar electricity and enough incoming solar radiation to produce large quantities of power.)

The bill was sponsored by Senator Barbara Leff (R-Paradise Valley) and Representative Michele Reagan (R-Scottsdale).

Several solar manufacturers have been watching the bill's progress since it was introduced in March.

"We are happy to be one of the first companies to claim a home there," Drew Zogby, president and CEO of Alpha Technologies Inc., told the Arizona Republic after the bill was sent from the legislature to the Governor's office. Even without Brewer's signature, Zogby seemed confident that the legislation would become law.

According to the Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC), a main supporter of the bill, several businesses were waiting for the incentives package to become law before they, too, would announce plans for relocating to Arizona.

In a statement released last week, the GPEC said it would be meeting with officials from 25 major solar companies at the Intersolar North American conference in San Francisco July 14-16.

According to Barry Broome, president of GPEC, “Major players in the global solar industry will be at this conference...There just isn’t a better venue to show these companies what Arizona can offer this industry and to promote the Quality Jobs Through Renewable Industries bill."

Tonight, GPEC tweeted this message, "Thanks to Gov, Sen Leff, AZ legislators & GPEC stakeholders for the will & leadership to improve AZ's economy!"

Swift Boat Funder T. Boone Pickens Greenwashes on Huffpo

| Fri Jul. 10, 2009 7:19 PM EDT

As my mamma in Texas might say, T. Boone Pickens is trying to throw a wide loop with a short rope. The man who funded the swift-boating of Sen. John Kerry is blogging on the liberal Huffington Post, where he's gone into full folksy mode to urge us "to pull the trigger" on "an energy plan this country needs and deserves" (one that would also line his pockets). The NAT GAS Act, sponsored by Senators Harry Reid (D-NV) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), would provide massive federal subsidies to natural gas vehicles, which Pickens is heavily invested in. Nevermind that those vehicles emit only 10 to 20 percent less greenhouse gas than diesel ones, or that Pickens and company spent more than $3.7 million promoting the same idea in California only to see it mocked and voted down. If only Pickens was as commited to building his vaunted wind farm on the Texas panhandle, which was supposed to be the largest in the world before he abandoned the idea last week. As they also say in Texas, the man is as full of wind as a corn-eating horse.

How to Fix the G8's Failure

| Fri Jul. 10, 2009 5:20 PM EDT

Despite the smiles and promises of change, the G8 accomplished little to nothing but soft targets on serious climate goals, which will hereafter be easily ignored by all who pretend to endorse them.

This business of holding out for economic equality between all nations in the emissions fight is laughable when you consider that economic mayhem is hot on the heels of do-nothing climate change.

So how can we break the climate impasse? According to a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it's easy.

Since half the planet's climate-warming emissions come from less than a billion of its wealthiest people, the fairest strategy is to base each nation's emission targets on its number of wealthy individuals—not on the basis of whether the country itself is developing or developed. In other words, we should distribute emissions reductions based on the proportion of the population in the country doing the most damage.

At the moment, the world average is about 5 tons per person. But each European produces around 10 tons and each North American and Australian some 20 tons.

By focusing on rich people everywhere, rather than on rich countries and poor countries, the proposed system would ease developing countries into any new climate change framework.

Except it doesn't look like any one is interested in easing anyone else's way. It's still the godawful tragedy of the commons here... Leaders? Barack Obama ain't no Abraham Lincoln.