Blue Marble - February 2010

New Use for Old Computer Cords

| Mon Feb. 22, 2010 5:30 AM EST

Next up in our series of creative ways to avoid sending your e-waste to the landfill: a new use for old computer cords. I have a few dead ones haunting my desk drawers, ghosts of computers past. The excellent new book 62 Projects to Make with a Dead Computer (and Other Discarded Electronics) has a few neat project ideas for these, one of which is a coaster (which, incidentally, we could really use in my house, since my poor roommate cringes every time we put drinks on the cool table she got from her grandparents). Here's how to turn your old cables into coasters:

Materials:

Large plastic cup

Placemat-size piece of cork

Marker

Scissors

Diagonal cutters

Computer power cable

Gaffer's or duct tape

Hot-glue gun

Instructions:

1. Trace a circle: Place the cup upside down on the cork mat. Trace a circle around the lip of the cup and cut it out with a pair of scissors.

2. Snip. Cut off the end of the power cable that would normally connect to the computer. Cut an additional 2" piece of cable from the end and set it aside for later.

3. Make a tape square. Cut two approximately 4"-long pieces of tape. Lay them sticky-side-up next to each other to form a square on your work surface.

4. Make the initial loop. Coil the trimmed end of the cable into the tightest possible loop that you can make. Stick it firmly onto the center of the tape square.

5. Coil it. Continue to tightly coil the cable around the center loop utnil you have created a similar spiral just slightly bigger than the cork circle. Your coil should be stuck firmly to the piece of tape. Use the 2" piece of cable you cut in Step 2 to plug the opening in the center of the coil.

6. Glue. Liberally apply hot glue to the surface of the wire coil. While the glue is still hot, center and press the cork circle over the coil. Hold it firmly in place until it dries.

7. Trim. Cut off the excess cable where it starts to spiral out from under the piece of cork. Glue the end of the cord and hold it in place until dry.

8. Peel. Flip the coaster over (so the cork side is down) and gently peel off the tape. If needed, fill the center of the coaster with hot glue to further seal it.

E-waste pack rats rejoice: The cord coaster is just one of Randy Sarafan's bright ideas. The be-ponytailed craftsman offers step-by-step instructions on how to make a first-aid kit out of a broken iPod, turn your old laptop into a digital photo frame, and make a dead mouse into either a pencil sharpener or a mini garden. We'll be featuring more of these projects over the next few weeks. So resist the urge to trash your old 'tronics for just a little while longer, okay? Cable cord project excerpted from 62 Projects to Make with a Dead Computer (and Other Discarded Electronics). Copyright 2010 by Randy Sarafan. Used by permission of Workman Publishing Co., Inc. New York. All Rights Reserved. 

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Murkowski Teams With the Chamber

| Fri Feb. 19, 2010 8:52 PM EST

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is heading up Senate efforts to stymie the Environmental Protection Agency's regulation of carbon dioxide, while the Chamber of Commerce last week kicked off a legal attack on the forthcoming rules. Now, Murkowski and the Chamber are joining forces on plans to bar the agency from regulating planet-warming gases.

The senator will join Chamber members on a conference call next Thursday to discuss her efforts to block the EPA regulations, the Chamber announced in an invitation on Friday. "Join in this worthwhile opportunity to hear an overview of the EPA's move toward regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, its burdensome effects on business, and Congress' response to the move," reads the invitation, which Mother Jones obtained.

"Senator Murkowski has introduced bipartisan legislation to allow time for Congress to address the climate change issue and prevent the EPA from moving forward with a regulatory scheme to regulate greenhouse gases under the ill-suited framework of the Clean Air Act," it continues. "On January 14, the first major step of that process—an EPA final rule concluding that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare—took effect, and with it the obligation to move forward with what could easily become the most expensive and intrusive set of regulations in history. The implementation of these rules will have a significant impact on the economy and small businesses."

Murkowski has faced criticism for working with energy lobbyists on previous efforts to block the EPA. Her most recent motion to prevent the agency from regulating carbon dioxide has also received support from some Democrats, is expected to be voted on next month.

What the Frack, Halliburton?

| Fri Feb. 19, 2010 8:34 PM EST

Is Halliburton injecting diesel fuel into your drinking water? According to documents from a congressional investigation released yesterday, the oil and gas giant in 2008 admitted to using more than 807,000 gallons of diesel-based chemicals in fluids used for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a method that uses a high-pressure blast of chemical compounds, sand, and water to fracture rock and access natural gas reserves. In 2005, the industry successfully lobbied to have fracking fluids exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act. Now the fear is that these toxic chemicals may be leaching into wells and contaminating the water you drink.

In response to an investigation by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released yesterday, Halliburton and BJ Services, another major oil field services company, reported using other toxic chemicals like benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene in fracking fluids. Even though the natural gas industry is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, it's still required to limit the amount of diesel used in fracturing, under a December 2003 agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency. Halliburton and BJ Services appear to have violated the agreement, according to yesterday's disclosure. 

A report released last month by the Environmental Working Group found that single wells have been found to contain enough benzene and other toxins to contaminate the amount of water New York state uses in a day. And natural gas use is only set to rise if there's a climate bill—it emits 30 percent less carbon dioxide than oil and 45 percent less than coal.

The Energy and Commerce Committee yesterday announced a wider probe of the controversial process. And Colorado Rep. Diane Degette (D) is sponsoring House legislation that would bring fracking materials back the Safe Drinking Water Act and require companies to make public the chemicals they use. But the industry has, for the most part, battled to evade disclosure requirements—arguing that the compounds are proprietary information that could compromise what is becoming an increasingly lucrative business. 

Green or Greedy?

| Fri Feb. 19, 2010 5:43 PM EST

New Scientist is running an interesting feature revealing a gulf between public perception of a company's green performance and its actual green performance:

"If you care about the environment, you may want to show that in the way you spend your money. Do the corporations that benefit from our environmentally conscious purchasing and investment choices deserve their green halo?"

There's an interactive graphic you can play with to assess how a company is perceived versus how it performs. The assessment of public perception is based on a survey by Earthsense asking 30,000 US consumers to rate companies on a scale of 1 to 10. The assessment of actual performance is made by a company's Trucost score: the estimated cost of its environmental impact under a "polluter pays" system, as a percentage of its annual revenue.

The companies are broken down by sector: food and beverage, retail, media, travel and leisure, personal and household, industrial goods and services, technology, chemicals, construction and materials.

The companies range from the New York Times to Apple, Nike to Timberland, Burger King to Starbucks, and a bunch in between. You can also get a pretty good sense of how sectors perform in relation to other sectors: food and beverage, bad overall; technology, better overall.
 

UN Climate Head Quits

| Thu Feb. 18, 2010 3:10 PM EST

Two months after a less-than-ideal outcome at the Copenhagen climate summit, the head of the United Nations' climate program has announced that his is quitting his post this summer. Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, said he would leave the post this July for work in the private sector.

"I believe the time is ripe for me to take on a new challenge, working on climate and sustainability with the private sector and academia," said de Boer in a statement. "Copenhagen did not provide us with a clear agreement in legal terms, but the political commitment and sense of direction toward a low-emissions world are overwhelming. This calls for new partnerships with the business sector and I now have the chance to help make this happen."

He said he is going to work for the consulting firm KPMG on climate and sustainability issues, and that he isn't quitting because he thinks the Copenhagen talks were a failure. "We were about an inch away from a formal agreement. It was basically in our grasp, but it didn't happen. So that was a pity," he said. But in his daily press briefings at the summit, it was clear that de Boer, an effusive speaker, was frustrated over how the Copenhagen summit proceeded. That he believes he can be more productive in the private sector than he has been at the UN is telling in and of itself.

Carbon Storage: Out of Sight, Out of Mind?

| Thu Feb. 18, 2010 2:52 PM EST

Renewable energy enthusiasts have been disappointed lately by President Obama's embrace of nuclear energy at the expense of cleaner, renewable options like wind and solar. He has also long been a supporter of "clean" coal, an umbrella term for strategies to reduce coal pollution, which critics have said amount to little more than government-sponsored green-washing.

One clean coal technology that has taken off in recent months is carbon storage and sequestration (CSS), which essentially transforms carbon emissions into a liquid to be kept underground. And as David Biello reports, American Electric's Mountaineer plant, the first to successfully store carbon under our feet, indicates that coal will remain a large part of our energy portfolio:

President Barack Obama seems to think so, even as he continues to push for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases by more than 80 percent by mid-century. To meet that goal, Obama said during his State of the Union address in January, the U.S. must not only develop renewable sources of energy but must also invest in clean coal technologies. A week later, the Obama administration created an interagency task force to develop a federal strategy by August for carbon capture and storage (CCS), the underlying principle of so-called “clean coal.” The goal is to make carbon capture and storage widespread within a decade.

So far, Mountaineer only stores 2 percent of its emissions, but the plant itends to increase carbon storage potential to twenty percent with the help of $334 million in federal funds. And the Obama administration has set a goal to add storage capability to five new plants by 2016, including the FutureGen plant, which was abandoned in 2008 due to its $1.8 billion price tag.

The problem, reports Victoria Schlesinger for Mother Jones, is that many communities are saying "Not Under My Backyard" to carbon storage, fearing that the new technology could raise electric bills, and worse, leak dangerous chemicals into public spaces. Earth scientists have said that such dangers are highly unlikely, but carbon storage remains untested on a large scale. "It's tricky to know what conduits exist underground" a lawyer for the Union of Concerned Scientists told Schlesinger. "Those could be a potential pathway for the CO2 or other minerals to leach out."

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iPhone App Challenges Skeptics

| Thu Feb. 18, 2010 2:20 PM EST

Ever wished you had a snazzy way to silence climate change skeptics? If you have an iPhone, you're in luck: A recently launched app called Skeptical Science provides a list of common skeptic arguments—and the science to refute each claim.

So if someone says "Climate's changed before," you can whip out your iPhone and retort, "Natural climate change in the past proves that climate is sensitive to an energy imbalance. If the planet accumulates heat, global temperatures will go up." Scientific arguments are sourced to reputable studies from organizations like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

A handy tool for heated debates.

Click here for a list of other green-friendly iPhone apps.

Lindsey Graham: Coal and Nuclear are "Clean" Energy

| Thu Feb. 18, 2010 12:50 PM EST

You've heard of greenwashing, but maybe you should also be on the lookout for "cleanwashing." Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of the lead proponents of a climate bill, wants the Senate to include coal and nuclear power in a so-called "clean energy" mandate.

Graham is circulating draft legislation that would replace a provision in the current Senate climate bill requiring utilities to produce a certain amount of electricity from renewable sources—known as a renewable electricity standard, or RES. Graham's proposed mandate instead involves ramping up the amount of electricity from "clean" sources over time—13 percent by 2012, 25 percent by 2025 and 50 percent by 2050. But the big question is what "clean" means. According to Graham's draft language, new nuclear power and coal with carbon-capture technology would qualify, in addition to renewable sources like wind, solar, biomass and hydropower. This would be a boon to the nuclear industry, which has pushed hard to be included as part of any clean energy mandate.

Environmentalists have already slammed the RES in both the House and proposed Senate text as too weak. Including technologies that aren't actually renewable would only undermine the RES further.

Graham has made it clear that he wants major incentives for nuclear power and offshore drilling in a climate and energy bill as part of the deal to cut carbon dioxide pollution. Graham's clean energy mandate also calls for more government-backed loans for nuclear power, with place-holder language calling for funds "sufficient to build 60 additional nuclear reactors." This would require an even greater expansion of a program that the Obama administration has already advocated tripling.

It's not known whether Graham's proposal will be included in the final legislation that Sens. John Kerry, Joe Lieberman and Graham are working on in the hopes of gaining bipartisan support for a climate bill. But they've made it clear that there will be a lot of compromises on energy in order to bring reluctant senators on board. 

 

John McCain's Climate Climbdown

| Thu Feb. 18, 2010 12:04 PM EST

As a presidential candidate, John McCain regularly touted his pioneering support for a cap-and-trade plan to reduce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. "I will clean up the planet," McCain told a New Hampshire crowd during the primaries. "I will make global warming a priority." In fact, he listed tackling climate change as one of his top three goals as president. And there was reason to believe he meant it. McCain co-sponsored the first cap-and-trade legislation with Joe Lieberman in 2003 and again in 2005. But then he lost the presidency to Barack Obama, and proceeded to throw a hissy fit over plans to regulate carbon that weren't all that different from ones he'd championed in the past.

Now, McCain has taken his climate climbdown to a new low. He recently told an Arizona conservative talk radio host he "never" supported capping carbon emissions at a specific level—though he at least said he still thinks cutting emissions is a good idea. Via Think Progress, here's the exchange:

HOST: If we knew then what we know today about these scientists and this fraud, would you still be in favor of capping carbon emissions at 2000 levels?
MCCAIN: I’ve never favored it at a certain level. I’ve favored reducing greenhouse gas emissions for the good of — I mean we all know that greenhouse gases are bad! But I’ve said, in order to achieve that we have to have nuclear power as a component of it.

McCain has been keeping his distance from the Senate climate debate this year, at least in part because he's facing a challenge from the right for his Senate seat. Conservative former congressman J.D. Hayworth is already making hay of McCain's support for addressing climate change. But McCain also refused to endorse the 2008 legislation from Lieberman and former Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia, arguing that it didn't do enough for nuclear power (though he was not present for the vote on the bill).

In any case, the chances of McCain joining forces with buddy Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Democrats on climate legislation this year don't look promising.

News From TreeHugger: Yemeni Capital Out of H20?

| Thu Feb. 18, 2010 7:00 AM EST

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

When It Comes to Green, We Are Hypocrites

A new study conducted by Yale University and George Mason University shows not only is there a big gap between what Americans believe is the green thing to do and whether they then actually do it, but also that we're going backwards. When asked, "In the coming year do you intend to do this less often, the same, or more often?" in most cases where there is a comparison to 2008, the answer is that fewer people care.

Washington State Eco-Terrorist Bill Could Make Writing for TreeHugger a Criminal Act

A new bill introduced into the Washington State Senate with the ostensible purpose of "prohibiting terrorists acts against animal and natural resource facilities" is so broadly worded that producing some of the content on TreeHugger could be deemed illegal. Introduced by Senator Val Stevens, with text nearly lifted straight from the American Legislative Exchange Council, the bill would prohibit materials used "in whole or in part to encourage...publicize, promote, or aid" an act of "animal or ecological terrorism.

Sanaa, Yemen to Become World's First Capital City to Run Out of Water

A Yemeni water trader explains that even though his well is 1,300 ft deep, he's hardly extracting any water at all. The same goes for wells that are 2,000 and even 3,000 ft deep—in Yemen's mountainous capital city Sanaa, more water is being consumed than produced. Families have reported going without getting access to water for weeks. Sanaa is home to 2 million people, and is growing fast—but experts say that if trends continue, it could be a ghost town in 20 years. To make matters worse, much of the shortage can be blamed on a nationwide drug habit.

Globally Flared Gas Could Meet One Quarter of US Needs

Not only is the annually wasted gas worth an estimated $30.6 billion (depending on current market prices) but it is also responsible for 0.5% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Natural gas, or methane is a greenhouse gas itself, and a far more potent one at that. Methane's ability to trap heat in the earth's atmosphere is said to be twenty-one times as high as CO2 so simply stopping the practice of flaring and instead releasing the gas into the atmosphere is not the answer.

The Pros (and Cons) of the Non-CO2 Case for Sustainability

We need to be careful not to focus entirely on carbon emissions. We must make the case for sustainability as an opportunity to rethink every aspect of our 20th Century infrastructure. Even if someone believes that climate "gate" (anyone else sick of "gates"?) really did expose the biggest and most implausibly intricate conspiracy ever conceived of, it is hard to argue against the fact that America would be better off if it was less dependent on foreign oil, and wasn't reliant on blowing up its mountain tops to create electricity. At the heart of it, sustainability is nothing more than solid, strategic common sense.