Blue Marble - October 2009

America's Imminent Electrical Gridlock

| Thu Oct. 15, 2009 11:29 AM EDT

America's electricial consumption has skyrocked in the past decade, but the country's electrical grid is struggling to keep up with demand. Summertime blackouts are just one sign that the system is being pushed beyond its means. Former Energy Secretary and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson sums up the crisis this way: "We’re a major superpower with a third-world electricity grid."

In fact, it's even worse than that—Richardson should perhaps have said "three completely unconnected third-world electricity grids." The US has independent systems that seperately charge the West, the East and Midwest. It is not possible for electricity generated in New Mexico to reach East Coast consumers. But on Tuesday, officials in New Mexico finally unveiled plans to build a superconductor in Clovis, New Mexico to allow energy to flow between the three systems. On Wednesday the AP reported on the proposed project, the Tres Amigas SuperStation:

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News From TreeHugger: Thursday, October 15

| Thu Oct. 15, 2009 7:00 AM EDT | Scheduled to publish Thu Oct. 15, 2009 12:00 PM EDT

A weekly roundup from our friends over at TreeHugger. Enjoy!

Canada's First Grain CSA Transports Via Sailboat & Triples Demand Within One Year

CSAs aren't exactly new on the green scene, but one that deals exclusively in grains is. And one that ships only via sailboat in British Columbia is doubly unique.

From Smart Grid to Big Brother?

Smart grids may be the wave of the future when it comes to managing the electric grid so that we can truly take advantage of renewable energy, not to mention save a lot of power in the process. But, are we ignoring the ability of utilities to gather information about you and undermine your privacy?

US Coal Plants Pump Thousands of Gallons of Waste Into Drinking Water Supplies a Day

As if the greenhouse gas emissions weren't bad enough, a new investigation reveals that hundreds of coal power plants across the country are routinely dumping waste into rivers and streams...ones that millions of people get their water from.

California Now First State to Charge Polluters for Greenhouse Gas Emissions

How will California raise $63 million dollars in three years with CO2? By charging the most polluting companies 15¢ per ton they emit, starting in 2012.

World's Airlines Pledge to Cut Emissions 50% by 2050

Emissions from air travel may be only a small percentage of the world's total greenhouse gas output, but much of those emissions have even greater warming potential than ones emitted on terra firma...and they are growing. However, ahead of COP15, the IATA has announced new plans to address their contribution to global warming.

One Trick Pony Saudi Demands Compensation for Support of Climate Action

Is Saudi Arabia blackmailing the rest of the world for climate change support? Citing that they will suffer under a global climate agreement due to declining oil revenues, they are demanding compensation for climate cooperation.

Salazar Dedicates Arizona's First Commercial Wind Farm

| Wed Oct. 14, 2009 7:27 PM EDT

Last month Mother Jones reported that several Navajo families near Gallup, New Mexico, were forced to move due to contamination from years of uranium mining at the Church Rock Uranium Mine. Sixty miles west of Church Rock, in Navajo County, Arizona, a new energy project promises a clean, profitable use of desert land.

On Monday, lawmakers, industry representatives, and local citizens gathered in Heber, Arizona, to celebrate the Dry Lake Wind Power Project, Arizona’s first commercial-scale wind farm. Before his speech, Interior Secretary Salazar toured the project’s turbine fields, which occupy a combination of private, state, and federal lands in Navajo County. A local utilities company has purchased the energy from the 30 turbines, which cover 6,000 acres of land. This first phase is expected to generate 64 megawatts of wind energy, and 387 megawatts after an additional 70 to 170 turbines are constructed.

 

The Freaky Science of SuperFreakonomics

| Wed Oct. 14, 2009 9:30 AM EDT

It is still nearly a week before the follow-up to Freakonomics—the award-winning pop economics tome by journalist Stephen Dubner and University of Chicago economics professor Steven Levitt—hits the shelves. Yet already the book is generating controversy. A chapter on climate change—a new subject for the authors—has attracted the ire of Joe Romm, an outspoken expert on the subject. But with the provocative title SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance, perhaps that's what the authors intended.

The chapter on climate is titled "What do Al Gore and Mount Pinatubo have in common?". The author's answer to this quixotic question is that both Gore and Mt. Pinatubo present solutions to global warming—but that Mt. Pinatubo's are better. Dubner and Levitt conclude that Gore-style proposals to cap carbon emissions are ineffective and prohibitively costly. But they see the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo—a volcano in the Philippines that spewed 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere, lowering average global temperatures by half a Celsius degree for two years—as an example of the best way to combat climate change. The authors don't advocate blowing up more volcanoes to avert a climate catastrophe, but rather geoengineering a similar result. The concept of geoengineering—a low cost but high-risk remedy to climate change—is highly controversial. And a closer reading of the chapter prompts a number of questions about the scientific evidence the authors cite to make their case.

Sea Snot: Climate Change Gets Gross

| Tue Oct. 13, 2009 6:01 PM EDT

What's grosser than gross? Two words: Sea mucus. National Geographic has the scoop on marine mucilages, "jello-like sheets of disease-carrying mucus" that are spreading across the Mediterranean Sea. If you have not eaten in the last hour, check out the video below. A recent study found that sea-snot outbreaks increase when water temperatures rise, making this perhaps the most revolting evidence yet of the unexpected effects of climate change. It has some competition from the Arctic blob, a "fibrous, hairy" black goo that mysteriously appeared off Alaska this summer. It turned out to be an algae bloom, and one scientist suggested it had something to do with climate change. Global blob takeover—do you really need any more reason to get serious about global warming?

Another Day, Another Two Solar Steps in California

| Tue Oct. 13, 2009 3:21 PM EDT | Scheduled to publish Tue Oct. 13, 2009 3:20 PM EDT

It seems like every week there's another photo op for California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signing a new solar power bill, preparing to plunge a shovel into the earth at the groundbreaking ceremony for a new PV plant or standing on a rooftop, surveying a new solar array.

This week was no exception. On Sunday night, the Governator signed two new solar bills into law.

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5 Creative Uses for: Socks

| Tue Oct. 13, 2009 1:26 PM EDT

Since everyone's always grousing about the washer/dryer sock mystery thing, I'm not going to belabor that point. What I will say is this: I am convinced that my feet are extra sharp, owing to the really remarkably short length of time a typical pair of socks lasts me before one gets a hole. For those afflicted with pointy heels like mine (or flimsy socks), a few ideas from AltUse.com and Yankee Magazine's excellent book Don't Throw It Out:

1. Protect your shoes: Slip socks over shoes to keep them from scuffing in your suitcase.

2. Make a chew toy: Knot a sock up, or tie a few together around a rubber ball. Hours of fun for Fido. Don't you wish you were so easily entertained?

3. Warm up your arms: Like leg warmers: Cut the toe off an old pair of socks and bunch 'em up on your forearms. If you want to cover your hands, too, you can cut a thumb hole into the heel.

4. Store ornaments: Kids' socks work well for covering delicate Christmas ornaments. This trick works well for packing up tchotchkes for a move, too.

5. Clean with precision: Dusty, hard-to-reach corners are no match for your sock-covered hand. Spritz the toe with cleaning solution and attack.

Eco-News Roundup: Tuesday, October 13

| Tue Oct. 13, 2009 7:14 AM EDT

News from our other blogs and around the web on health and the environment.

Next Stop: AHIP has hopped off the healthcare bandwagon.

Let it Linger: Linger wants you to put a sugary mint into your vagina.

Insurance Double-Cross: AHIP report says premiums may go up as much as $4,000.

Come Together: GOP may be closer to agreeing with Senate climate bill than thought.

Granny Blaming: A NYT piece blames lack of insurance on money-sucking olds.

Copen-bloggin: Denmark wants to have 50% green power by 2025.

Foreign Inspiration: Climate conference-hosting Denmark finds inspiration in Obama.

Chamber of Secrets: Chamber of Commerce's climate position is increasingly outlandish.

Econundrum: Kids vs. Earth?

| Mon Oct. 12, 2009 6:00 AM EDT

Last week, we held a household conservation smackdown. Change out lightbulbs? Retrofit your windows? Drive less? The answers are here.

But there’s one thing you can do with carbon-saving benefits that wildly surpass all of the activities on last week's list: Have fewer kids. Assuming that an American mother and father are each responsible for one half of the emissions of their offspring and 1/4 of the emissions of their grandchildren, researchers at Oregon State University recently calculated that each child adds a staggering 10,407 tons of carbon dioxide to an average female’s carbon legacy, the equivalent of 5.7 times her lifetime emissions, or an extra 470 years of life. You'd have to change out 2,623 incandescent bulbs to offset a child’s carbon footprint.

Now clearly, the decision whether to have kids isn't as simple as a carbon footprint calculation. Back in March, Mother Jones contributor Julia Whitty blogged about the Oregon State study. Emotion ran high in our readers' comments: "When did babies become the enemy?" asked one commenter. "My three little carbon monsters are going to find cures for myriad cancers, bring about world peace, discover economically feasible ways to desalinate water, and develop safe methods of nuclear fusion," wrote another. Yeah. No pressure.

One idea for folks set on having kids: Consider living more modestly. Over at Natural Papa blog, Derek Markham writes about his family’s six-year adventure in living in a 120 square foot camper. "We hauled all of our own water, used a composting toilet, a solar shower, and we tried to exercise extreme patience with each other." They survived, and saved money: Their rent was about $200 a month. Experiments like this one and No Impact Man's might not be for your family, but the lesson—that it’s possible for families to learn to live with less—is certainly worth some thought.

It's one thing if your "little carbon monsters" are your choice. But not everyone in the world has kids voluntarily. Another recent study, this one by the London School of Economics, compared several ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions: spending money on low-carbon technologies such as renewable energy and "clean coal" technology vs. providing birth control to women who want it but lack access to it. Birth control spending won by a landslide—it was roughly four and a half times as cost effective as the other activities. Here's a list of the countries that would see the greatest emissions reductions over the next 40 years with better family planning (in billions of tons):

  • United States: 5.5
  • China: 4.4
  • Russian Federation: 3.3
  • India: 2.2
  • South Africa: 1.1
  • Mexico: 1.1

The bottom line: Whether you see kids as carbon monsters or little darlings, one thing's clear: For the planet's sake, people who don't want kids should have access to birth control. Just ask Levi Johnston.  

Eco-News Roundup: Friday, October 9

| Fri Oct. 9, 2009 7:00 AM EDT

Green-ish news from our other blogs:

Whose line is it anyway? If you wondered how the US Chamber of Commerce came up with its hard-line climate policy, you're not alone: Chamber insiders say its board of directors and its committees never formally endorsed the policy.

Scum artists: Some slimy algae biofuel companies have promised impossible amounts of oil based on speculation, raising millions from unwitting investors.

Don't try this at home: In Copenhagen cars are taxed an astonishing 180 percent. Think that'd work back in the States? Dream on.

Baby steps for healthcare reform: The Congressional Budget Office says the new bill pays for itself over ten years, pays for itself over 20 years, covers 94% of the population, and reduces Medicare spending by over $400 billion.

Chamber's "green" die-hards: Nike left. Apple's history. So why are these six "green" companies sticking it out in the US Chamber of Commerce?

Calorie labels make New Yorkers hungry: NYC's new law requiring calorie counts on chain restaurant menu boards doesn't appear to be making any difference.  In fact, it might be causing people to eat more.

Green building codes save the Danes big bucks: But in the US, Republicans claim similar legislation would have "global warming gestapo" storming your home and forcing you to be more efficient.

Danes heart bikes: Why Copenhagen might be the most bike-friendly city in the world

Is there a doctor in the house? Well, no. And the shortage of physicians could derail new reforms, public option or no.

Denmark's green island: Just 4,100 people live on the island of Samsø, which over the the course of 10 years has converted almost entirely to fossil-fuel free energy.