Solar Advocates Win One in Arizona

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!"

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

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.
 

As GM prepares to cut 21 percent of its US jobs and produce smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, it's mulling over changing the color of its logo from blue to green. The AP reports that the switch would be "an effort to show consumers that it is leaner and greener, more focussed on fuel efficiency and better able to make quick decisions."

Depending on your perspective, this is either a brilliant move or a monumental case of chutzpah. It might signal GM's shifting priorities, or it might come off as an effort to put a new coat of green paint on the same grimy clunker. Given how far GM has to go before it's as green as companies like Toyota or Honda, perhaps the strongest message behind the color change would be this: GM is green with envy.

This Week in Frog: Help Is on the Way!

This week, we will focus on positive contributions that people are making to combat the extinction of frogs worldwide:

- In Panama, American and Canadian ex-pats are working to save the golden frog (pictured above).

- At Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York, and Plymouth University in England, professors are learning about why tadpoles have been turning into deformed frogs at incredibly alarming rates.

- Inmates in Washington state are making the most of their sentences by breeding frog species that have rapidly declined in recent years. Check out the video below for an amazing related story:

 

On a sidenote, today I entered the Save The Frogs poetry competition (deadline at midnight tonight) by submitting the following entry:

I entered the swamp, in search of a frog
His name was Mudraker, he hailed from Prague
Though he spoke Czech, his issues were global
Rapid decline, much worse than Chernobyl.

Mudraker came to the US of A
But non-native bull-frogs, scared him away
He battled pesticides throughout the year
Habitat destroyed, he remained austere.

His friends, victims in a deadly abyss,
finished from chytridiomycosis
Don't surf the net or drive Mitsubishis,
Now's our last chance to save these species.

Eco-News Roundup: Friday, July 10

Just in case you missed these health, environment, and science stories from our other blogs:

Torture couture: Class up your t-shirt collection with these fine garments.

Political science: What percentage of scientists identify as Republican? A new Pew survey has the un-shocking answer.

Dr. Evil: Who best to fix healthcare? Why a fraudulent former hospital exec, of course.

Six characters in search of the drug war: How backward policies and forward-thinking traffickers got us to this point.

Let the circle be broken: Carbon-related positive feedback loops caused a horrendous drought in the Amazon in 2005. Just another joy of climate change.

Worry while you work: Mandatory furloughs, wage freezes, and benefit cuts are just some of the recession-related bummers keeping American employees up at night.

Photo of the day: Iraqi soldiers learn to use a terrain board to plan missions.

 

Flu Mutating

Barack Obama warned today of a resurgence of flu this autumn. But it's summer in the northern hemisphere. Hard to fret in warm weather. Right?

Well here are some developments worth the worry, summed up by New Scientist.

In June, more than 98 percent of genotyped flu cases in the US were caused by the pandemic swine flu—which is to be expected, since seasonal flus tend to die out in summer.

But the same high percentages of pandemic flu are appearing in the southern hemisphere, where swine flu, A(H1N1), is replacing the seasonal flu.

In the Australian state of Victoria, swine flu now accounts for 99 percent of all flu cases, with similar numbers from South America. The seasonal vaccine is proving useless.

The pandemics of 1918, 1957, and 1968 also completely replaced their seasonal flus.

Yet many drug companies are still laboring to produce seasonal flu vaccines for use later this year for the northern hemisphere—when they might well prove useless.

It's also possible that three viruses will be circulating later this year: the milder H1N1, plus H3N2, plus the swine flu A(H1N1). In this complicated scenario, seasonal and pandemic vaccines would be needed with people in different age groups requiring vaccines based on their exposure to past flus.

During previous pandemics, the pandemic virus mutated and its effects worsened. Some ominous signs are emerging now with swine flu, including a mutation to the virus's polymerase enzyme that allows it to replicate more efficiently. This mutation appeared in Shanghai and could make the virus more contagious or more virulent or both.

Three cases of resistance to the main antiviral drug Tamiflu were discovered last week in Denmark, Japan, and Hong Kong—including one in a girl who had never taken the drug. This suggests that Tamiflu-resistant swine flu might already be circulating.

Plus the news from Germany today that swine flu is capable of spreading from people to pigs and then rapidly between pigs. This was an experimental exposure in Germany. But if swine flu really does get loose in the ghastly world of pig farms, there's a risk of the virus mixing with other strains to create a real flu monster.


The German researchers were heartened the virus did not spread to five chickens housed with the pigs. That's the worst case scenario: a swine-avian flu hybrid. The H2N3 seasonal flu currently circulating has the ability to bridge that gap since it's composed of swine and avian flu genes dating back to the 1957 pandemic.

Enjoy smmer. Winter's going to get interesting.
 

Geoengineering Won't Save Our Oceans

Last month I wrote about geoengineering, controversial schemes to deliberately manipulate the Earth’s climate to slow the planet’s warming. I focused mostly on a proposal often called “solar radiation management” (PDF), in which sunlight is blocked in the upper atmosphere in order to reduce warming at the planet’s surface. A new study, cowritten by one of the main sources in my piece, Stanford’s Ken Caldeira, makes a major conclusion about this type of geoengineering: It may cool the planet, but it won’t prevent dangerously high levels of carbon dioxide from wreaking havoc on our oceans.

As MoJo’s environmental correspondent Julia Whitty has written, our oceans are already at their breaking point: Man-made emissions have negatively impacted the ocean's chemistry, and toxic waste is being dumped into our oceans without regard for its harmful impact on fragile marine ecosystems. To make matters worse, scientists fear that large-scale geoengineering proposals could cause further acidification of our oceans (for instance, the sulfur injected into the atmosphere in a solar radiation management scheme would fall back to the Earth's surface through precipitation), damaging the lifeforms that live there. More recent geoengineering studies (PDF), however, allayed those fears, finding that solar radiation management wouldn’t acidify the oceans as much as first anticipated.

Nonetheless, the Caldeira report finds that our oceans and coral life are in grave danger—and even the best-case-scenario geoengineering scheme to block out the sun’s rays won’t help the oceans much. Paired with a report from earlier this year stating that global warming is essentially irreversible, that CO2 will hang around in the atmosphere for around a thousand years or so, the Caldeira paper suggests that solar radiation-related geoengineering efforts aren't worth pursuing.

Perhaps geoengineering researchers would be better off focusing on ways to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, like synthetic trees that “scrub” the CO2 out of the air. After all, why waste time, money, and manpower on a geoengineering scheme like solar radiation management if, as this latest research suggests, it won’t do much to save our planet?

Senator Barbara Boxer was expected to introduce a version of the Waxman-Markey climate bill in the Senate this month but Greenwire reports that she's going to wait:

The California Democrat told reporters that many senators are focused this month on health care reform legislation, prompting the delay from her original plan to hold a vote before the August recess.

Phew. Now everybody gets another month to stress out about this.

Is the future of agriculture the neglected flower bed on Main Street? The San Francisco Chronicle reports today that Mayor Gavin Newsom has ordered all city departments "to conduct an audit of unused land--including empty lots, rooftops, windowsills and median strips--that could be turned into community gardens or farms." If the Mayor gets his way, you could just as well get an apple from the corner mart as from a tree growing on the street corner.

The announcement is the latest fruit from an "urban-rural" roundtable of food experts that Newsom convened last year to look for more ways to get locally-grown foods onto the plates of city residents. The effort began last summer with a quarter-acre "victory garden" in front of city hall--a big hit with locals and tourists; Newsom later announced plans to replicate the effort at 15 sites around the city. He also floated the idea of planting fruit trees on street medians, and experimented with a strawberry patch atop a bus shelter--ideas that could catch on under his new food directive.

Newsom's move builds upon a vibrant hyperlocal agriculture movement in the Bay Area and along the West Coast. Detailed in "Inside the Green Zone" in our March/April food issue, the movement encompasses everything from professional farmers who'll sow your backyard to urban fruit foragers who barter blackberries plucked from city parks. The efforts have taken on a timeliness in the midst of the recession as cities look for ways to fill lots that aren't being developed and provide healthy, inexpensive food. Indeed, the original "victory garden" was planted by Eleanor Roosevelt on the White House lawn in the waning years of the Great Depression to serve as a model for rugged self reliance.

Newsom plans to go a step further by also requiring the city departments serve only high-quality food. Within two months, he'll send an ordinance to the city's Board of Supervisors mandating that all food served in city jails, hospitals, homeless shelters, and community centers be safe, healthy, and sustainable. Of course, the switch will be much easier in San Francisco, which consumes a million tons of food a year but has 20 tons available within a 200 mile raidius, than it would in say, New York. Still, there's no reason an apple tree couldn't also thrive on a sidewalk in Brooklyn.