Blue Marble - September 2009

What China's 2 GW Solar Plans Say About US Energy Policy

| Wed Sep. 9, 2009 2:11 PM PDT

You'd think we'd get tired of China kicking our collective ass, after, oh, the last three decades.

But you would be wrong.

Apparently our leaders (cough, cough) don't have a problem with our economy perpetually shedding jobs like a Husky sheds fur in June. Perhaps it's because Congressional Republicans and conservative Democrats have so much loot from corporate donors padding their posteriors. Maybe they don't feel the boot on their butt the way working stiffs do.

The hardest recent blow came yesterday and was duly celebrated by the media: A US-based company announced plans to build the world's largest solar power plant. In China. At two gigawatts, the planned facility would have a generating capacity more than three times greater than the current #1 (in Spain).

Don't get me wrong. I'm a big fan of solar power and renewable energy in general. I publish an online news service on solar power, after all. And I certainly don't have a problem with China going solar in a big way. The GHGs this project will eliminate helps the whole planet.

I don't even have a problem with the American company, First Solar, building more manufacturing plants in Malaysia and China. That's where the markets are, so it benefits everyone to build the panels nearby.

But, here's my problem: The Chinese are going great guns on solar precisely because their government embraces policies to help renewable energy achieve "grid parity" -- that is, economic competitiveness with polluting, global warming, catastrophically risky, disease-inducing, death-hastening sources of energy.

And we don't. Simple as that.

A final kicker (pun very much intended): The Chinese are using capitalist measures (incentives) to overcome the market's failure to internalize the true costs of burning coal.

We, on the other hand, have allowed industries to usurp the role of government and make command-and-control decisions that affect millions of workers and their families, the very air we breathe and the water we drink.

Call it government or call it industry, centralized power is still a bitch.

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The full story of the enormous solar plant in China, including the SEC documents that spell out the details, is located here.

 

 

 

 

 

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What's Really Behind the Van Jones Attack

| Wed Sep. 9, 2009 10:13 AM PDT

The political smear campaign against Van Jones didn't begin in the paranoid brain of Glenn Beck. The wildly distorted attacks that ultimately brought down President Obama's green jobs czar on Saturday were fed to Beck by Phil Kerpen, the little-known policy director for the polluter front group Americans for Prosperity. Taking credit for the effort in jubilant, surprisingly frank blogs and tweets, Kerpen describes Jones' resignation as the first blow in a new fight to derail the climate bill.

This post continues at Mojo Blog.

Eco-News Roundup: Wednesday, September 9

| Wed Sep. 9, 2009 4:00 AM PDT

Here's what's Blue Marble-ish in our other blogs (and around the web) today:

The buck stops here: Used to be you could make a living working a facotory job in Janesville, Wisconsin. Then GM went bust. Now the town is left to pick up the pieces.

Cautious optimism: Why Kevin Drum agrees with TNR's Jon Cohn on the state of health care reform.

Earth in the balance: Researchers find that the benefits of the Waxman-Markey climate bill outweigh the drawbacks 9-to-1. [Treehugger]

Sun share: Meet the families who bought into the country's first solar farm co-op. [Wall Street Journal]

Brazil Preps for More Forest Fires

| Tue Sep. 8, 2009 9:13 PM PDT

What will the Brazilian Amazon turn into once global warming makes it drier and fires become more frequent? Woods Hole Research Center and the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) are trying to answer that question by fast forwarding to the future. How? Setting a forest on fire.

IPAM and Woods Hole have been experimenting with fire in Brazil since 2004, in a 370-acre farm in the state of Mato Grosso, Western Brazil. The area is divided in three blocks: The first is the control block, which is never burned. The second is burned every three years, and the third is burned every year. This year’s burn happened from August 28th to 31st.

They hope the burn will help determine whether this forest will survive the increasing number of wildfires—or just turn into degraded scrub or grassland. In order to figure that out, they measure forest structure, which animals and insects survive, what blossoms after a fire, and how the soil fares.

IPAM researcher Oswaldo de Carvalho Jr. says that, in the every-year burn area, degradation is already obvious. “Diversity has decreased, and other species, like common grass, start invading,” he says. Woods Hole researcher Jennifer Balch documented that trend in her field notes. “This year we were really able to capture the grass-fire cycle,” she writes. “Grass invasion via fire leads to higher fuel loads and a more intense future fire, if ignition sources are plentiful in the landscape.”

The group is also trying to answer another question: What are the carbon consequences of this high-frequency burning? So far, they have calculated that combusted organic material from the initial burn has released more than 19,000 pounds of carbon—the same as 9.5 plane trips across the US—per acre.

After a few more years of burning, Carvalho says the scientists will want to take the reverse approach. “We will study how the forest will restore itself without the fire,” he says. He believes that once they understand that, they can help the fire recovery more efficiently—an important lesson to learn to prepare for the dry years ahead.

Guest contributor Gabriela Lessa is a journalist and blogger spending the summer in her native Brazil. Watch for her regular environmental dispatches on The Blue Marble.

Why Sarah Palin Backfired: Parenting Makes Moms Liberal, Dads Conservative

| Tue Sep. 8, 2009 6:22 PM PDT

So this is why father thought he knew best. Parenthood pushes mothers and fathers in opposite directions on political issues. Mothers become more liberal and fathers more conservative with regards to government spending on social welfare issues like health care and education.

Researchers from North Carolina State U used data from the 2008 presidential election to evaluate the voting behavior of men and women with children living at home. The findings:

  • Women with children in the home were more liberal on social welfare attitudes and on attitudes about the Iraq War than women without children at home.
  • Men with kids were more conservative on social welfare issues than men without kids—though they did not differ in their attitudes towards the war in Iraq.
  • There was no evidence of a 'Sarah Palin effect'—even when looking exclusively at Republicans. The self-professed hockey mom and working mother of five did not attract votes of parents, especially mothers.

Smart moms.

I mean, it wasn't Father Jones, now was it?

The researchers also evaluated the data for elections going back to 1980 and found the trend is strengthening for dads to become more conservative, while the trend is holding steady for moms to become more liberal.

Which means the Republican party which calls itself the family-values party might as well call itself the daddy-values party. Or maybe the white-daddy-values party. Or the red-state-white-daddy-values party.

The research was presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association.
 

5 Creative Uses for: Baking Soda

| Tue Sep. 8, 2009 1:34 PM PDT

The following conversation happens a lot in my house:

Me: I'm making cookies. Do we have baking soda?

Roommates: Uh...maybe?

The outcome is always the same. I'm too lazy to go on an archaeological dig through our bursting cupboards, so I spend a buck or so on another Arm & Hammer. And the orange boxes multiply. AltUse.com readers clearly have this problem, and they've figured out how to put all that sodium bicarbonate to use:

1. Fix a bad battery connection: Create a paste of three parts baking soda to one part water and brush onto corroded battery posts and cable connectors. Rinse and dry. Coat with petroleum jelly to keep terminals trouble free.

2. Soothe a sunburn: Mix some baking soda with water and apply to your burn. Quite cooling.

3. Clean your oven: Sprinkle soda on the bottom of your oven until it's about 1/4 inch thick, then mist with a spray bottle until damp and let sit. Mist again a few hours later. Once it has dried a second time, scrape out. Wipe clean with a wet sponge.

4. Keep fruit flies off plants: Create a solution of four teaspoons baking soda and one gallon of water. Spray on plants when fruit first appears. Spray once a week for two months, and after each rain. Can also be used on rosebushes against black spot fungus.

5. Remove car oil stains from concrete: Wet the stain, then sprinkle soda. Scrub.

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Eco-News Roundup: Monday, September 7

| Mon Sep. 7, 2009 4:06 AM PDT

Happy Labor Day! Here are stories from MoJo blogs, and other sites, you may have missed from Friday.

No Money, Mo' Problems: Kevin Drum says healthcare debate is all about the money.

Delayed Justice: Ford finally settles dumping lawsuit from the 1960s for $10 million. [Yahoo News]

Nature's Clock: Inkblot knows when it's dinnertime, and he's happy to remind you.

Rising Sun: Months before Copenhagen, Japan says it will veto limits on GHG emissions. [Planet Ark]

Afghan Antics: The Armor Group guards who participated in highly sexual, and highly unhygienic, hazing in Kabul may be on their way out the door.

 

 

Google's Search Engine Pinpoints Extinction

| Fri Sep. 4, 2009 4:32 PM PDT

Thanks to the BBC for a link to this paper describing how Google's algorithm for ranking web pages could determine what species are most critical for sustaining ecosystems.

The authors write in PLoS Computational Biology that their version of PageRank could ascertain which extinction would likely lead to ecosystem collapse.

Species are embedded in complex networks of relationships. Some more so than others. In those cases, a single extinction can cascade into the loss of many other species.

Figuring this out in advance is supremely difficult. The number of links in even simple ecosystems exceeds the number of atoms in the universe. We can't sort out that kind of complexity without quantum computers.

But maybe Google can. Researchers Stefano Allesina and Mercedes Pascual reversed the definition of the PageRank algorithm that ranks a webpage as important if important pages point to it. In the conservation biology context, even humble species are important if they point to important species.

The researchers also designed a cyclical element into the foodweb system by including the detritus pool... you know, that to which all returns and that from which all arises.

Allesina and Pascual then tested their method against published foodwebs to rank species according to the damage caused if they were removed from the ecosystem. They also tested algorithms already in use in computational biology to find a solution to the same problem.

The results: PageRank gave them exactly the same solution as the more complicated algorithms.

In the real world, this research will likely make it easier to quickly target conservation efforts for maximum benefit.

Hope evolves in that muddy puddle where technology meets environmentalism.
 

Et Tu, Sigg Bottles?

| Fri Sep. 4, 2009 3:07 PM PDT

Well, this is just peachy. Sigg, maker of re-usable metal canteens, has been using a liner that contains bisephenol A. Bisephenol A, or BPA, is one of the key reasons I switched from drinking water out of plastic bottles. BPA is an endocrine disruptor that mimics estrogen and does all kinds of nasty stuff to the female reproductive system. I thought that by getting a Swiss-made Sigg, which markets itself as a high-quality product produced in an "ecologically friendly environment," I'd be reducing my BPA intake. Well, maybe not unless I bought it after August 2008 says a recent investigation published by GreenerDesign.com.

According to the article

At no point over the last few years, in the handful of conversations and email exchanges I have had with SIGG's PR company, Truth Be Told, were my perceptions that the bottles were free from BPA corrected... In my conversation with [Sigg president] Steve Wasik, he said SIGG did not reveal the BPA information because of a non-disclosure agreement they had with their manufacturer... Yet, at the same time, SIGG began development on a new BPA-free liner back in 2006. When I asked Wasik about this contradiction, he pushed the responsibility back on to the supply chain, stating, "Our confidentiality agreement with our suppliers would not allow us to talk about the liner."
The January 2009 press release from SIGG indicated they were creating a new line of bottles with what they called an EcoCare liner. What they did not say, and what even their PR company did not know, was the underlying reason for this change: That the original SIGGs contained BPA.

Biggest Temperature Increases Projected in States that Oppose Climate Bill

| Fri Sep. 4, 2009 1:14 PM PDT

States that will see the highest temperature increases due to climate change also overwhelmingly oppose a federal bill to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

By 2100, the biggest temperature spikes in the United States will be felt in the Midwestern states of Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, and Oklahoma, according to a report released this week by The Nature Conservancy. Each state will see temperatures rise at least ten degrees--up to twice the increase predicted in more liberal coastal states. The five hard-hit Midwestern states have only three Democratic senators among them; no Republicans in the region are expected to support a cap and trade bill. Climate change heat map from climatewizard.orgClimate change heat map from climatewizard.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Midwest is set to see the mercury rise because it's isolated from cooling ocean currents that will blunt the effects of a warming climate in other parts of the United States. In President Obama's home state, Hawaii, for example, temperatures will increase only 4.9 degrees. The temperature rankings come from an interactive heat map published by the Nature Conservancy this week on the website Climatewizard.org.

In a narrow sense, one could argue that the GOP is looking out for the Midwest's best interests; higher temperatures may ultimately be a boon to chilly states such as South Dakota. But adapting to a warmer climate could also prove painful. Temperature increases will likely shift farming zones, exacerbate outbreaks of pests, and tax the region's underground aquifers.

The one Midwestern state that would probably be most screwed over by warming is also the one inhabited by the Senate's leading climate change skeptic, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma. He has called global warming a "hoax,"  trumpeted a fake EPA scandal involving a so-called climate whistleblower, and parroted the Chamber of Commerce's call for a "Scopes Monkey Trial" on the evidence for climate change.  And yet temperatures in Oklahoma are set to rise 9.9 degrees by the end of the century. That wouldn't be so bad, except it means that Oklahoma City will experience 103-degree summers. Inhofe may keep alive the old Texas maxim about why the Lone Star State doesn't slip into the Gulf of Mexico: Because Oklahoma sucks.