Former Virginia Senator George Allen, whose 2006 "Macaca" speech turned into the most famous online gotcha video of all time, has resurfaced after a long political quiesence--and, of all places, online. In a new Web video for the American Energy Freedom Center, which he now leads, he replaces a brown-skinned menace with hints of a green one: Climate legislation. The video appears to be the first installment of what Allen describes as monthly "kitchen table talks" in which he'll "tell people the truthful story about America's energy potential."

The American Energy Freedom Center draws upon an oily pedigree. It is a partner group of the Houston-based Institute for Energy Research, which is funded in part by Exxon-Mobil and is headed by Robert Bradley Jr., who worked as a public policy director at Enron and a speechwriter for CEO Ken Lay.

So why have these guys turned to Allen? According to the Center for Responsive Politics, before Allen lost his Senate seat in 2006, he was Congress' number 3 recepient of campaign cash from the energy sector . Over his career he raised $1 million from energy companies, including $19,400 from Exxon Mobil. He also brings strong connections to other lawmakers as a former presidential hopeful, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which plays a key role in crafting energy legislation. Moreover, as of 2006 Allen had personally invested somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000 in energy companies.

In short, he doesn't seem like the kind of guy I'd trust to sit in my kitchen and tell me how America should "promote the clean, creative, and thoughtful utilization of American energy." But here's his pitch, complete with a nifty lapel pin:


Investments in clean energy companies and projects worldwide reached $155 billion in 2008. Not including large hydro (which may be clean but is hardly green). However, investment in the second half of 2008 was down 17% on the first half and down 23% on the final six months of 2007, a trend continuing in 2009.

Nevertheless, UNEP reports $13.5 billion of new private investment in companies developing and scaling-up new technologies. Plus $117 billion of investment in renewable energy projects from geothermal, wind, solar and biofuels.

Altogether, 2008 saw more than four times the investment of 2004. The breakdown, according to Global Trends in Sustainable Energy Investment 2009:

  • $105 billion to developing 40 GW of power-generating capacity from wind, solar, small-hydro, biomass and geothermal sources
  • $35 billion to developing 25 GW of large hydropower
  • Renewables currently account for the majority of investment and over 40% of actual power generation capacity additions last year
  • China became the 2nd second largest wind market in terms of new capacity
  • China became the  biggest photovoltaic manufacturer
  • Rises in geothermal energy getting underway in Australia, Japan and Kenya
  • Wind attracted the most new investment: 51.8 billion, 1% growth on 2007
  • Solar made largest gains: $33.5 billion, 49% growth
  • Biofuels dropped: $16.9 billion, 9% decrease
  • The price of solar photovoltaic modules is predicted to fall by more than 43% in 2009
  • Carbon markets grew 87% during 2008, reaching a total of $120 billion

Regionally, investment in Europe rose 2% in 2008 to $49.7 billion. Investment in North America fell 8% to $30.1 billion, due to financing shutdowns—thanks, Wall Street—and the fact that tax-credit driven markets are ineffective in a downturn. Yet developing countries surged forward 27% over 2007 to $36.6 billion, accounting for nearly one third of global investments:

  • China led new investment in Asia with an 18% increase over 2007 to $15.6 billion, mostly in new wind and some biomass plants
  • Investment in India grew 12% to $4.1 billion in 2008
  • Brazil accounted for almost all renewable energy investment in Latin America in 2008, with ethanol receiving $10.8 billion, up 76% from 2007
  • Africa achieved a modest increase, with investments up 10% to approximately $1.1 billion

Although private sector investment stalled in late 2008, governments appear ready to take up some slack in 2009. Sustainable energy investments are a core part of key government fiscal stimulus packages announced in recent months, accounting for an estimated $183 billion of commitments to date.

  • The US and China remain the leaders, each devoting roughly $67 billion
  • Yet South Korea's package is the greenest with 20% devoted to clean energy—illustrating the political will of an increasing number of governments to secure future growth through greener economic development, according to the report

Unwed teens and 20s who attend or have graduated from private religious schools are more likely to obtain abortions than their peers from public schools.

New research suggests that while religiosity (defined as religious involvement, frequency of prayer, and perception of the importance of religion) influences the attitudes of young women towards abortion, it does not affect their actual behavior.

In other words, even religious women, if unmarried and pregnant, resort to abortion—particularly women in their teens. This according to new research published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

Hypocrisy sucks.

If you've never known a family who made the gutwrenching decision to abort or bring to term a fetus with physical anomalies "incompatible with life," you need to read the first person accounts on the website A Heartbreaking Choice. These are the kinds of pregnancies Kansas doctor George Tiller ended before he was murdered at church on Sunday.

I in no way mean to denigrate women who choose to carry to term babies who won't live long outside the womb. But I have to wonder, can Bill O'Reilly and his fellow anti-abortion hate mongers seriously read the passage below by an Andrew Sullivan reader and tell me this is the only option women should have?

The livestock in Southeast Asia’s commercial wildlife farms are rare snakes, turtles, crocodiles, monkeys, tigers, bears, and other threatened wildlife. The "farms" are supposed to be places where rare species are bred in captivity for the purpose of producing meat and wildlife products.

Okay, even from far away, the premise smells bad.

Apparently the farms aren't alleviating pressures on wild populations only making them worse. This according to the Wildlife Conservation Society and Vietnam’s Forest Protection Department, who found commercial wildlife farms depleting wildlife and contributing to illegal trade. Worst affected are tigers and bears whose body parts or secretions are valued in traditional medicine.

About 4,000 bears in Vietnam and 7,600 in China are kept inhumanely in crush cages, their bile extracted twice a day through surgically implanted catheters. The bears moan in pain and bite their own paws. The photo tells a thousand grunts.

Why are the bears tortured like this? Because the bile is used as a traditional Chinese medicine—touted as an anti-inflammatory and fever reducer,  eyesight improver, protection for the liver and gallstone fixer. 

Can't we sell them some aspirin? Seriously, it's gotta be cheaper. Not to mention actually effective.

The farms are supposed to protect wild populations. Instead they're laundering products from animals killed in the wild. Of 78 farms surveyed in Vietnam, 42 percent were regularly bringing in animals from the wild. Half reported their founder populations were taken from the wild or produced from a combination of wild animals and farm stock. Farm owners also admitted transporting wildlife to the Chinese border for export to China. Some farm owners illegally purchase farm stock from commercial hunters and then transported and imported wildlife without a license.

The report concluded the farms don't supply food for local rural communities. Instead most of the unfortunate wildlife victims ends up as luxury items for urban consumers.

What to do about it? The WCS authors recommend prohibiting farms from holding nationally protected and globally threatened species, penalizing farm owners who violate wildlife protection laws, and requiring farm owners to document the source of the animals they keep.

I'm still favoring the aspirin trade.

If Mary Roach's books on sex, death, and the afterlife make science writing look like the most fascinating gig on the planet, her recently released TEDTalk video proves it. Roach's talk, "10 Things You Didn't Know About Orgasm," is wonky, hilarious, and prurient in equal measure. Like this part, for example (video and transcript excerpt below):

The weather in the Amazon is going crazy—and the sudden climate changes could affect not only Brazil and its neighboring countries, but areas as far from the rainforest as the Mexican gulf and maybe even the southern US. That’s what Paulo Moutinho, research coordinator for the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM), warns might happen if the world doesn’t cut its carbon emissions significantly over the next two years.

After two severe drought periods in 1998 and 2005, the Amazon is now in the midst of heavy flooding—the river has reached a record water level of 28 feet. The drought hurt the economy and caused healthcare costs to skyrocket, but Moutinho believes an overflow could cause equal damage by ruining plantations and causing outbreaks of sewage-related diseases.


The following is a guest blog entry by Deena Guzder.

On May 20, 2009 a Wisconsin mother who followed an apocalyptic religious website said in a videotaped interview played at her trial that she did not call a doctor when her 11-year-old daughter was dying of untreated diabetes, but instead prayed for divine healing. “I just believed the Lord is going to heal her,” said Neumann. “I just felt that, you know, my faith was being tested.” During the trial, one of Neumann's surviving teenage children defended her parents’ decision to eschew medical intervention. “Because God created everyone, and how can we be more powerful than God?” the teenager said. “Why should we diss him and think a doctor would be more powerful than God or trust a doctor more than God?"

Even after her daughter was pronounced dead, Neumann told a detective, “I'm not crying and wailing right now because I know she's, I know she's, she's gonna come, she's gonna come back.” Unfortunately, there was no resurrection.

Why Soot Sucks

Here's a most excellent video to illuminate my last blog post on the link between black carbon soot and the melting Arctic. How springtime burning of farm fields may account for 30 percent of Arctic warming to date. The good news: It's an easy 30 percent to fix. The video, from Earthjustice, tells us how in slightly more than 2 minutes. I'm impressed. We need more relevant videos with super clean message lines and good looks.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who is (no joke!) apparently a water bottler in addition to being an environmental activist, has a good op-ed on bottle redemption laws in Thursday's New York Times. The piece focuses on New York's law, but Kennedy's criticisms apply to similar legislation everywhere:

A good new deposit bill could encourage recycling of new classes of beverage bottles and also provide financing for curbside programs that capture other kinds of recyclable waste, like juice cartons, ketchup bottles and mayonnaise jars. These are all made from the same plastic and glass as soda, beer and water bottles, yet fewer than one in five of them are being recycled. Since such containers are not subject to deposit laws, their recycling is driven only by moral imperative or local ordinances, and these incentives function best when supported by robust curbside recycling programs or other easy recycling options.

Indeed. So what did New York's lawmakers do instead of following Kennedy's suggestions? They applied a new bottle deposit to water alone, exempting water with any sugar added, and effectively incentivizing consumers to prefer sugary drinks like Vitamin Water to good, old-fashioned H2O. Horrible idea, New York legislature!