Under A Green Sky  

Posted by Big Gav

"The Clean Slate Report" has a post on the potential for smart grids to power the retirement of a large number of existing power plants. They identify peaking plants as the likely candidates, which isn't so great from a global warming point of view (where killing off coal is most important), but might be highly beneficial as natural gas depletion kicks in.

A report to be released next week by the Brattle Group bodes well for all of the smart grid companies lining up for IPOs.

Tallying the energy savings from demand response programs, taking out a conservative five percent of the load, Brattle estimates that 38 gigawatts will be retired, or just under 400, 100MW peaking plants. Moreover, Brattle estimates that these efficiencies are ‘in the realm of possibility’ over the next five to 10 years. On a net present value basis, over 20 years, Ahmad Faruqui, principle of the Brattle Group and the report’s author, estimates value generation of $35 billion from not having to operate existing or build new plants. Faruqui says his study’s findings, which he has been delivering in Washington this week, are generating a lot of discussion. “It almost requires a new way of thinking. Basically, a lot of power plants will not be needed anymore.”

Tom Konrad has a look at taking global warming driven sea level rises into account when investing - time to go long dike builders !
Since people tend to deny ideas that are just too scary, a consequence of global climate change that I expect most investors are under-prepared for is a massive (15+ foot rise) in sea level rise due to the melting of either the Greenland or West Antarctic ice sheet. From casual conversations, I note that Al Gore got a lot of flack for even bringing up this possibility in "An Inconvenient Truth"... despite the fact that he was careful not to do more than raise the possibility, as opposed to predicting it.

We don't know if those ice caps will melt suddenly, or, if they do, when it will happen. We do know that their melting has accelerated in recent years, and I believe that society has massively underestimated the danger, because a 15 foot sea level rise (let alone a 20 or 40 foot rise) is just too horrific for most people to think about. Given our propensity towards psychological denial, I feel confident that the markets are underestimating the chances sea level rises large enough to seriously disrupt large coastal cities. Note that I'm not saying we will see such a sea level rise in my lifetime; rather that the probability of such a rise is currently underestimated by most market participants, and that this complacency is likely to be reflected by a relative overvaluation of investments which stand to lose from such a rise, and an undervaluation of investments that might gain. ...

On Earth Day, Marc Gunther reported on an idea to come out of a Goldman Sachs conference on the business of climate change: dikes. If sea levels were to rise even a foot over the next couple years, that would require massive new barriers to protect existing structures from the ravages of the sea. The companies who build those dikes are likely to profit handsomely as soon as the need is recognized. I'm not an expert on the construction industry, but my impression is that it is fragmented and most of the companies are privately held. However, makers of the equipment and materials necessary for shoreline reinforcement may be easier to find, such as companies in the cement industry such as Cemex (NYSE:CX.) Another likely beneficiary a dike building boom would be Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT), given their leadership in earth-moving equipment. CAT has the added benefit of being a company which is actively lobbying for meaningful greenhouse gas regulation, which I pointed out in my article on blue chip companies involved in alternative energy. ...

Alex at WorldChanging has a review of paleontologist Peter Ward's book Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Can Tell Us About Our Future, which looks at the link between past mass extinctions and global warming.
Scientists are telling us that we need to rapidly and substantially reduce our ecological footprint -- think one planet, three decades. We're optimistic that such a transformation is possible, Because we focus on solutions here, we rarely think about, much less report on, what might happen if we fail to miss that mark.

True insight into our day, into what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called "the fierce urgency of now," demands knowing the stakes for which we're playing. It requires knowing what awaits us if we fail. In this regard, Worldending has it's place, especially when it helps us grasp a possible future which cuts against the grain of our expectations.

That's why paleontologist Peter Ward's Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Can Tell Us About Our Future is a worldchanging book: not because it points the way to a solution, but because it provides a new and insightful resource for thinking about the true magnitude of our climate crisis. This is an important piece of green futurism.

We still carry in our minds a popular conception of mass extinctions as the product of asteroids -- a group of grazing dinosaurs in a prehistoric swamp looking up as a gigantic ball of fire comes screaming out the sky to cause them a Very Bad Day. We still, as it turns out, live in a cosmic shooting gallery. What we're less familiar with is the threat of a disastrous climate meltdown. But the climate has collapsed in the past, and it hasn't been pretty. ...

WorldChanging also has a post from the "Advancing Sustainable Prosperity" conference in Boston.
The information the panel shared was dizzying from an investor's perspective: clean technologies have accelerated rapidly over the last four or so years to become a $70 billion market worldwide, according to Kenneth Locklin of Clean Energy Group (a trade group representing power generators and distributors advocating for sustainable energy generation, that has worked closely with CERES on its Investor Network on Climate Risk), and current growth rates this will get close to $100 billion by the end of 2007. This year biofuels are one of the most exciting investment arenas, Locklin said, displaying a graph showing skyrocketing amounts of ethanol production.

Michael Leibreich of New Energy Finance looked at the same data on the clean energy market from a slightly different perspective -- beginning with some humor. "Is it fair in year seven of the century to identify what the investment opportunity of the century will be," he asked, and with tongue firmly in cheek, prognosticated the next 90-odd years worth of "investments of the century":

* Clean tech
* Nano tech
* Biotech
* Intergalactic space travel tech
* Immortality tech ("...will be particularly big mid-century")
* Military and security tech ("Always big, but particularly good in the 21st century")
* And finally, towards the end of the century: Making tools in bits of flint tech

Moving on to a candid assessment of clean energy market dynamics, Leibriech suggested that right now the sector's action is mimicking the frenzy of the dot-boom of the late 1990s, and that some of the results are likely to be similar. "This is the transformation of the energy industry," he said, but "these kinds of increases can't go on forever." And while there will be investors who win out in the cleantech-boom, the likely bust to follow will create "quite substantial losers."

Leibriech's message, from an investing perspective, essentially seemed to be that investors should diversify their portfolios, and not bank on just one part of the clean energy/clean tech sector. And since this gathering is all about advancing sustainable prosperity in all senses of the s-word, that's fine.

But from what I understand, ethanol -- which the market is currently in love with -- is a pretty shaky biofuel to pin our hopes on this far north (kind of like shipping 30-pound bags of dog food across the country for free was a shaky dot-com business plan). It takes a lot of energy to grow corn, our primary ethanol feedstock, and the Big Ag interests protecting corn subsidies are both entrenched and powerful. Do we want depend on the kinds of market dynamics and insider politics that led to some phenomenally bad business in the late 1990s -- and profound financial and professional losses for many people around the turn of the century -- to get us off dirty energy as fast and painlessly as possible?

Simon Robinson's "Big Biofuels Blog" has a post on Brazil deregulating transgenic ecualyptus trees for biofuels and paper production. Who the hell created transgenic eucalyptus trees - aren't the things tough enough already !
Brazil has granted a licence for a firm to plant transgenic eucalyptus trees on its territory. The trees will be modified to make it easier to extract ethanol from their wood... according to a post in Spanish on Ambientum.

Work on the modification was carried out by researchers at the University of North Carolina by Vincent Chiang, according to Ambientum.

Alt Energy Stocks has a roundup of the week's best cleantech articles, pointing to an ethanol conspiracy.
On Tuesday, Tyler Hamilton at Clean Break informed us that solar growth was expected to shine strong. The numbers are very impressive indeed, but it could be argued that a lot of that future growth is already priced in many of the more high-profile solar plays.

On Wednesday, Mike Millikin at the Green Car Congress told us that California would sue if the EPA was too slow on awarding it the waiver it needs to implement its climate change bill. Suffices to say that the precedent in this case is not in the EPA's favor.

On Thursday, Rob Day at Cleantech Investing (for the record, this is hands down one of my favorite blogs in the cleantech space) went over the Q1 2007 numbers for cleantech investing. Very interesting yet concise comparison of the various organizations that compile data on VC and cleantech.

On Friday, Sebastian Blanco at AutoBlog Green discussed the latest ethanol conspiracy theory in the cleantech world. While I have no doubt that Big Oil will fight tooth-and-nail to preserve its monopoly over liquid fuels, especially in the automotive market, I'm always reluctant to label academics 'corrupt' unless I see hard evidence...but I may be naive. See also this post by Mike Millikin at the Green Car Congress for further criticisms of the Stanford study.

On Friday, Simon Robinson at The Big Biofuel Blog informed us that CBOT was launching small corn contracts suitable for smaller players who want to trade electronically. This is an interesting step and may provide retail investors with a good opportunity to play this very interesting angle of the ethanol story.

On Friday, the Clean Slate Report told us all about the new economics of the smart grid. We at AltEnergyStocks.com are big believers in the future of energy efficiency and believe that there will be good investment opportunities in this space. See the recent piece on the Comverge IPO by The Motley Fool for an idea of the opportunities related to energy efficiency and smart grid.

GreenBiz has a post on the promise of green nanotech.
Among the many promises of nanotechnology are the ability to eliminate waste and toxins from production processes early on, to create more efficient and flexible solar panels, and to remove contaminants from water.

But researchers and environmentalists have long cautioned that working with molecular-scale materials offers unforeseen threats to humans, animals and the planet. Today, the Project on Emerging Nanotechnology released a report, "Green Nanotechnology: It's Easier Than You Think," which outlines the ways to harness nanotech's power to reduce pollution, conserve resources and, ultimately, build a "clean" economy.

The report is based on discussions with scientists, policymakers, lawyers, and NGO and industry representatives. It explores the benefits of linking nanotech with green chemistry and engineering, which aim to minimize environmental impacts through resource-conserving and waste-eliminating improvements in processes and products.

The report focuses on four areas where nanotechnology can benefit from and improve environmental concerns:

* Creating new nanotechnology-enabled products and processes that are environmentally benign - or "clean and green";
* Managing nanomaterials and their production to minimize potential environmental, health, and safety risks;
* Using nanotechnology to clean up toxic waste site and other legacy pollution problems;
* Substituting green nanotechnology products for existing products that are less environmentally friendly.

"We think the United States is on track to be a global leader in green nanotech," said David Rejeski, director of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies. "The country's research and development portfolio should be directed toward this goal. We believe green nanotechnology can not only help protect the environment but also be a source of American jobs and company profits in the future."

The Christian Science Monitor has an article considering the question "Is China outdoing US in curbing carbon ?".
If the United States starts charging people and businesses for the greenhouse gases they emit but China does not, America's economy could fall behind its fast-growing Asian competitor. It's a crucial issue now bogging climate-change legislation on Capitol Hill. No lawmaker wants to push through laws that are likely to raise US energy costs and hand an advantage to global-warming scofflaws.

"I will not support major legislation imposed upon the American economic system ... unless and until we have brought the Chinese on board," said Sen. Pete Domenici (R) of New Mexico, who serves on the committee that would move global-warming legislation, in a hearing last month.

But new evidence suggests that, despite a fast-growing economy that could make it the world's largest carbon-dioxide emitter as early as this year, China may be getting on board. In a bid to cut energy costs, boost energy security, and reduce air pollution, it could be essentially creating the largest greenhouse-gas-reduction plan on the planet.

Indeed, if the nation's leaders follow through, it may be the US playing catch-up with China – not the other way around. "You hear people in Washington saying we can't do anything if China doesn't do anything to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions," says Ned Helme, president of the Center for Clean Air Policy (CCAP), a Washington think tank. "But that's basically a myth. China is really doing quite a lot, not under treaty but on their own."

Make no mistake, China's greenhouse-gas emissions are projected to increase rapidly through 2020. With its roaring economy and demand for coal-fired power, China will surpass the US as the largest producer of greenhouse gases sooner than expected, perhaps this year instead of in 2010, International Energy Agency officials said this week.

Yet China's rate of growth in emissions could slow thanks to sweeping reforms, started in 2001, to slash energy use at cement, steel, and paper factories, and for automobiles, Mr. Helme's group reported this week. Those reforms are on track to cut 168 million tons of greenhouse gases by 2010, says the CCAP. ...

The BBC reports on solar loans lighting up rural India.
More than 100,000 people in rural India have benefited from an innovative loan scheme that helps families buy home solar power systems, the UN has said. The $1.5m project, led by the UN Environment Programme (Unep), supports Indian bankers who offer finance to people who want to purchase a unit. The sunlight-powered systems are used to light homes and shops instead of expensive and polluting kerosene lamps. Officials hope to expand the scheme to Tunisia, China, Ghana and Indonesia.

Since the project began in 2003, there has been a 13-fold increase in the number of the solar power units being financed within the scheme's pilot area in southern India. A system capable of powering two to four small appliances, or lights, costs about $300-$500. Before the UN project was set up, purchases were predominately cash only - making the devices too expensive for most people. ...

Project workers have credited solar powered lighting with helping schoolchildren achieve higher grades, and better productivity for cottage industries. There are also health benefits associated with making the switch. The majority of homes in rural India are poorly ventilated, leaving the occupants exposed to harmful particles emitted by the lamps. In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, the UN says a single wick lamp each year burns about 80 litres of kerosene, which produces more than 250kg of carbon dioxide. An estimated 100 million families in India use kerosene lamps.

The Australian reports on Kevin Rudd's plan to subsidise energy savers in Australia.
LABOR has moved to pre-empt Howard government spending on the environment in next week's budget with its own $300million subsidy plan to help install solar power, water tanks and energy-saving measures in homes. And in the process Kevin Rudd has broadened Labor's definition of struggling families, with the scheme open to families earning up to $250,000 a year.

Low-interest loans of up to $10,000 would be provided to install solar panels, solar-powered or high-efficiency gas hot water systems, roof insulation, awnings and home audits of energy use to help reduce power costs. The money would also provide for water-saving initiatives such as rainwater tanks and recycling systems for so-called grey water, such as from washing machines.

Loans would be paid back according to a family's capacity to pay and repayments would amount to no more than 2per cent of income. They would be paid back through the tax system, although families could opt to get the loan from a bank that offers carbon credits. The details are yet to be finalised but Mr Rudd said yesterday that in some cities, such as Sydney, families were struggling on $200,000.

(Take a deep breath those of you earning less than $200k - Sydney real estate is as overpriced as any in the world, but I doubt anyone earning that much is going to starve any time soon).

The SMH reports that green groups are formulating an anti-coal plan.
Environmental groups and the NSW Greens will hold a summit in Sydney today, aiming to develop a campaign to stop any proposed expansion of the state's coal industry. The Greens said Premier Morris Iemma wants to expand the coal industry, particularly in the Hunter region, despite the climate change crisis.

Attendees at the summit, including Greenpeace, The Wilderness Society and the Nature Conservation Council, are expected to approve a joint statement to Mr Iemma requesting a meeting over the issue. "It's criminal that at a time when the government should be moving towards a massive expansion of renewable energy it plans to ratchet up the coal industry instead," Greens MP Lee Rhiannon said. "NSW Labor's continued affair with the coal industry flies in the face of clear evidence from the scientific community that coal is a key climate change culprit."

The SMH also has a report on the massive subsidies currently enjoyed by fossil fuel industries in Australia.
Fossil fuel-burning industries receive up to $10 billion a year in taxpayers' money, a study has found. The University of Technology Sydney analysis of energy and transport subsidies released today said 96 per cent of those government funds went to coal, oil and gas companies in 2005-06. The remaining four per cent, or $330 million, went to the renewable energy sector, the university's Institute of Sustainable Futures said. ...

In light of its findings, author Dr Chris Reidy questioned the willingness of federal and state governments to curb greenhouse gas emissions caused by fossil fuels. "The energy and transport sectors are responsible for almost 70 per cent of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions and these emissions are increasing rapidly," Dr Reidy said. "It is in these sectors that action to combat the impact of climate change are most urgently needed but currently subsidies are preventing a shift to clean energy solutions." ...

"By removing subsidies for fossil fuels and instead supporting renewable energy and energy efficiency we could level the playing field and reduce our greenhouse pollution," Greenpeace energy campaigner Mark Wakeham said.

Grist notes that US summer driving season is approaching and that US gasoline stocks are at the lowest level in almost 2 decades.
Gasoline supplies right now are plumbing historic lows, just as May and the "summer driving season" are about to roll around. This fact has the industry types at the WSJ's Energy Roundup abuzz with predictions of $4/gallon gasoline, should the inevitable disruption (refinery fire, hurricane, Iran war) occur. As in years past, areas with higher cost gasoline, mostly the blue states along the oceans and Great Lakes, will see the highest prices.

Some hope that record margins (known as "crack spread," heh heh) will lead refineries to crank up gas production, but in any case, there's dangerously little slack in America's dangerously-tight gasoline supply chain. Blogger Robert Rapier points out that gasoline supplies right now are lower than they've ever been (at least since current records began, in 1991), besides a few Labor Day weekends when supplies are drawn down after all that summer driving.

I never quite understood the concept of a "summer driving season," anyways. Why waste a glorious summer day cooped up inside a car stuck in traffic? This summer, let's all escape gloomy gas prices and have a Summer Walking Season instead.

Red Herring has an article on a solar silicon production process exhumed by SRI.
It started with a chance conversation between two scientists. Now it might lead to the revival of a technology that could help ease the growing pains of the solar energy industry. Scientists at SRI International, a Menlo Park, California-based nonprofit research institute, have dusted off an old technology to make solar-grade silicon more cheaply, updated it, and licensed the technology to three Asian companies. SRI says pilot plants could be up and running in 18 months.

The discovery could be just what the solar power industry needs. Although solar energy is often viewed as the golden child of cleantech—and saw 30 percent growth in 2006—its growth has been hampered by a shortfall of solar-grade silicon, the critical material used to make photovoltaic cells. As a result, contract prices of polysilicon—high-purity silicon used to make solar cells—have more than doubled, putting the squeeze on solar cell makers.

The new technology is actually an old technology developed in the labs at SRI, whose inventions include everything from the computer mouse to malaria treatments. Larry Dubois, SRI’s vice president of the physical sciences division, learned of the decades-old research only recently when he was chatting with lab scientist Angel Sanjurjo. “I said, wow, this is a great breakthrough and could have a real impact on the market,” Mr. Dubois says.

Of course, SRI isn’t the only one working on alternative, cheaper processes for making solar-grade silicon. Some companies are working with dirtier, lower-quality silicon normally used to make aluminum and other metal alloys. Others still are experimenting with different fertilizer factory waste products and even algae as silicon-starters. Meanwhile, large producers are expanding capacity, with new factories expected to go online starting at the end of the year. ...

SRI had better work fast. Industry watchers expect the silicon supply to triple by 2010.

The Energy Blog reports that Phoenix Motors is going to develop a plug-in Version of its Sports Utility Truck.
UQM Technologies, Inc. announced today that it has completed an agreement with privately held Phoenix Motorcars, Inc. to collaborate on the development of a plug-in hybrid model of a sport utility truck currently produced and sold by Phoenix as an all-electric vehicle.

The Phoenix Sport Utility Truck is a five-passenger dual cab pickup truck measuring 194 inches in length with a wheelbase of 108 inches. The vehicle has an independent torsion bar and double wishbone front suspension, rack and pinion steering and a 1/2 ton payload carrying capacity. The plug-in hybrid model to be developed will include a small gasoline fueled internal combustion engine, a UQM(R) PowerPhase 100 propulsion system and NanoSafe(R) lithium titanate batteries from Altair Nanotechnologies, Inc.

The Energy Blog also has a post on a "Sustainable Fuel for the Transportation Sector" (H2CAR) proposed by Purdue University scientists. I first saw this on "Free Energy News" and I have more than a few doubts about it (both from a practicality point of view, and because it seems to rely on some dirty energy sources, and lastly because you'd be better off producing electricity from the renewables component and powering an EV transport system instead of producing hydrogen), however it is another example of how we could potentially solve the problems posed by peak oil. The Engineer Poet has more criticisms at The Oil Drum.
Purdue University scientists Rakesh Agrawal, Navneet Singh, Fabio Ribeiro, and Nicholas Delgass have proposed a hybrid system of hydrogen and carbon that can produce a sufficient amount of liquid hydrocarbon fuels to power the entire U.S. transportation sector. The H2CAR process uses carbon produced by biomass and hydrogen supplied from carbon-free energy. The following is summarized and paraphrased from the online publication of their report cited above.

The process has several advantages:

* The land area needed to grow the biomass is <40% of that needed by other routes that solely use biomass to support the entire transportation sector.
* Prior known processes were estimated to be able to produce 30% of the United States transportation fuel from the annual biomass of 1.366 billion tons, while the H2CAR process shows the potential to supply the entire United States transportation sector from that quantity of biomass.
* The synthesized liquid provides H2 storage in an open loop system.
* Reduction to practice of the H2CAR route has the potential to provide the transportation sector for the foreseeable future, using the existing infrastructure.

In their proposal, the primary purpose of either coal or biomass is to provide carbon atoms needed for the production of liquid hydrocarbons. Thus, the goal is to accomplish the complete transformation of every carbon atom contained in either of the feed stocks to liquid fuel by supplementing the conversion process with a carbon-free energy source. They propose to generate H2 from a carbon-free primary energy source such as solar, nuclear, wind, etc. and then use it to supply the hydrogen atoms needed for the chemical transformation.

TreeHugger is wondering why the New York Times is burying articles explaining the deficiencies of hydrogen cars.
Wind Turbines and Hydrogen cars, the match made in heaven and the most deceptive and manipulative picture in the New York Times. It is one of a series of hydrogen vehicles ogled in the the paper today. What is really fascinating is the editorial bias shown by the print editors, who chose not to run two very well written articles, available online, that point out the problems with hydrogen. Jim Motavalli writes a Q and A that explains where hydrogen now comes from (Natural Gas) and how it is shipped (with great difficulty) and how ultimately the only way to make it efficiently is with nuclear power, which Amory Lovins describes as "aspirational."

Far more devastating is Don Sherman's " At Milepost 1 on the Hydrogen Highway", covering much of the same ground as Jim Motavalli but in greater detail: "Hydrogen proponents promise a future of placid (and carbon-free) travel punctuated by occasional stops to replenish our tanks as conveniently as we fill them today. They champion an America laced by a hydrogen highway, dotted with service stations that offer safe, affordable refueling. Perhaps clean restrooms will be part of that future, too."

However there are a couple of small problems. Of the fifty million tons of hydrogen produced annually, fully a quarter of it is used to refine oil, and as the quality of crude oil deteriorates, it needs more hydrogen. 95% of the hydrogen made in the United States is created from natural gas, through a process called steam reforming, which creates 350 million tons of carbon dioxide per year.

Hydrogen does not travel or store well because its small molecule can leak out of the smallest fissure, and special pipes are needed- "While it is possible to deliver hydrogen in pipes used for natural gas, a well-known risk is hydrogen embrittlement — the tendency of hydrogen atoms to infiltrate the surface of welded or heat-treated steel, which can result in cracks and leaks."

The Bush Administration's goal of replacing fossil fuels with hydrogen will require 90 million tons of it a year. "Electricity from solar cells and wind turbines can also be used to electrolyze water to hydrogen and oxygen without undesirable byproducts, though it would be a considerable undertaking. The Energy Department estimates that meeting the country’s needs would require more than 160,000 two-megawatt wind turbines."

Leaving nuclear power the only option. "The Energy Department is promoting a Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative aimed at demonstrating the commercial feasibility of new nuclear plants that produce hydrogen using high-temperature-electrolysis processes. Such methods are under study in national laboratories. The Energy Department expects that the most promising approaches will be ready for commercial-scale demonstrations by 2020."

Sarah at WorldChanging has a post on the winners of Metropolis Magazine's next generation design awards.
Every year, Metropolis Magazine runs a competition for emerging designers focused on utilizing innovative design as a tool to address and promote "activism, social involvement and entrepreneurship." The competition selects a new theme each year to narrow the scope and sharpen the competitors' imaginations. This year, designers were required to address Energy -- "its uses, reduction, consumption, efficiencies, and alternatives."

Only one entry won the $10,000 grand prize, but Metropolis also publicized a strong list of runners-up, whose projects are well worth knowing about. (One runner-up comes from Worldchanging's own Dawn Danby and two of her colleagues from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute. Their project, Beeline is "an online virtual marketplace/transportation coordination system that connects local growers and retailers.")

The winning team, a San Francisco-based design collective called Civil Twilight, landed the grand prize with a project called Lunar-Resonant Streetlights -- streetlights specially designed to "sense and respond to ambient moonlight, dimming and brightening each month as the moon cycles through its phases." The lights would replace standard bulbs with LEDs and a photosensor, which work together to reduce energy consumption by creating only as much light as is needed according to the natural illumination of the moon. They also minimize light pollution by "utilizing the available moonlight, rather than overwhelming it," bringing stars back into the urban skyscape. It's a brilliant integration of a high-tech design and an ultra-low tech natural resource.

Civil Twilight's entire portfolio consists of projects that find a graceful and fruitful interrelationship between the natural and the constructed or technological. One of these is an adaptive reuse project employing mycology (or mycoremediation) to convert condemned wooden buildings into compost, and the building site into a garden plot. No demolition necessary.

Another building-related runner-up addressing land restoration and preservation in dense urban areas is Israel-based Geotectura's "i-rise" project, a "vertical, multi-story residential unit with an integrated infrastructure for generating renewable energy, collecting rainwater and treating liquid and solid waste based on zero-environmental impact technologies." The i-rise is a prefab structure with a very small footprint and the ability to be moved easily without scarring the land beneath. Its internal functions run in an efficient, mechanistic way, building sustainable systems into the home rather than tacking them on according to the wishes (and extra expenditures) of the residents. Geotectura's piece aims to address not only the ecological integrity of housing, but also the economic and social stratifications that emerge from the architecture of a neighborhood.

There are more than a dozen other inspiring projects from the 2007 Next Generation. Take a look at the list and find out what's possible when you combine good design, great imagination, and a healthy dose of competition.

"The Sietch Blog" reports that the Bush Administration is to push (once again) for more oil drilling off the coasts of Alaska And Virgina.
In what may become the next in a series of knuckle-headed moves, Bush’s Interior Department has finalized a plan to expand the areas that oil companies are allowed to drill. Areas off of Alaska, Florida and Virgina, some of them fishing regions, are to be opened up to massive oil exploration in the hungry attempt to maintain our “addiction to oil”.

Drilling had been banned in most of these areas previously, but in January, Bush lifted the bans in the central Gulf of Mexico and in Alaska’s Bristol Bay. The removal of the ban makes most of the Gulf south of the Florida panhandle open for drilling.

The 5.6 million acres opened up in Alaska is the home of endangered whales and the worlds largest sockeye salmon run. Estimates put the oil under these federal waters are about 200 million barrels of oil, and about 5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The US currently uses about 20 MILLION barrels of oil A DAY, in 1998 (last numbers I could find) we used 21.34 tcf/year (that’s trillion cubic feet) of natural gas. Meaning that this reserve would have less than half a years worth of oil, and natural gas. ...

Renewable energy like wind, solar, tidal, and geothermal should be our top priorities. Long after the paltry amount of oil in these regions has been pumped out, the wind will continue to blow, the sun will continue to shine. If the president really wants to build something in these regions why not a nice wind farm? I guess his “addiction to oil” comments in the state of the union can be lumped together with is other lies (”mission accomplished”, “Iraq has weapons of mass destruction”, “we do not tortue”, etc).

Some US politicians are also trying to pass a bizarre energy related law that outlaws foreign energy cartels. I boggle at the lengths some people will go to to avoid converting their economies to run on (local) renewable energy sources...
The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously voted Thursday in favor of the so-called "NOPEC" legislation to allow for criminal prosecution of countries that organize energy cartels and manipulate the prices of natural resources. The bill is the latest version of similar legislation that has failed to make its way through Congress in several attempts since 2000. In 1979, a federal court ruled that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries' pricing decisions are the result of "governmental" rather than commercial actions designed to protect the sovereignty of foreign governments.

The NOPEC bill, sponsored by Senator Herb Kohl, D-Wis., would allow U.S. law enforcement agencies and the federal government "to begin legal proceedings against any foreign power, including the member nations of OPEC, for conspiring to fix prices and artificially decrease the volume of available oil." The bill would enable actions to be taken against such nations or their agents by freezing or confiscating U.S.-held assets of foreign governments. The legislation does not address gas specifically, but instead addresses "a confederacy of oil-exporting countries, as a result of which (oil) reserves were artificially and critically cut and prices inflated on fuel."

But Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of Russian State Duma International Affairs Committee and Russian gas giant Gazprom, has expressed concern that the bill's language leaves plenty of room for the United States to take action against other energy-resource fronts.

UPI also reports on fierce rearguard actions against the new Iraqi oil law. A more comprehensive explanation of this theft of Iraq's oil is available here.
Discussions turned contentious among the more than 60 Iraqi oil officials reviewing Iraq's draft hydrocarbons bill last week in the United Arab Emirates. But the dispute highlighted the need for further negotiations on the proposed law that was stalled in talks for nearly eight months, then pushed through Iraq's Cabinet without most key provisions.

Tariq Shafiq, one of three authors of the law, said he attended the Dubai summit "reluctantly," at the request of Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani. "I thought it would help," Shafiq said, hoping all Iraqi sides in the debate over its oil law would meet and iron out their differences. "Apparently it did not."

Petroleum Intelligence Weekly reports talks in Dubai led to "heated exchanges." Instead, the voices of those who disagree with the law or, like Shafiq, oppose what it has become since the initial draft and how it was kept from the public, were not given part of the platform. "Had there been genuine interest in having consensus," Shafiq said, "the two differing parties should have sat -- not publicly in front of the television -- to discuss with an open heart how you can reach a compromise. But this apparently was not their aim."

Most of the law, which is better referred to as a regime, or a set of interworking laws, has yet to be finalized. But the main sticking points have the central government and Kurdistan Regional Government at loggerheads still. Although the Bush administration, led by former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and now U.N. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, praised passage of the framework law when Iraq's Cabinet approved it late February, it doesn't quite qualify as one of the benchmarks he has set for success in Iraq.

"To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country's economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis," Bush said in a national address Jan. 10.

Saudi King Abdullah has declared the US occupation of Iraq illegal. And he's Bush's best friend in the region...
The Saudi monarch has made a forceful appeal for Arab unity, denouncing US policy in Iraq and the embargo imposed by western nations on the Palestinians. At the Arab League summit in Riyadh, King Abdullah described the US presence in Iraq as an illegitimate occupation. Correspondents say he is seeking to show a measure of independence from Saudi Arabia's ally, the United States. Arab leaders are meeting to relaunch a plan for peace with Israel that they first endorsed five years ago. ...

The Saudi monarch insisted said the "real blame" for Arab woes lay with squabbling Arab rulers, who could only prevent "foreign powers from drawing the region's future" if they united. "In beloved Iraq, blood is flowing between brothers, in the shadow of an illegitimate foreign occupation, and abhorrent sectarianism threatens a civil war," said the king.

US military experts are saying (to deaf ears) that Iraq will be worse for the US than Vietnam.
As fighting in Iraq enters its fifth year, an increasing number of experts in foreign policy and national strategy are arguing that the biggest difference may be that the Iraq war will inflict greater damage to U.S. interests than Vietnam did.”
“It makes Vietnam look like a cakewalk,” said retired Air Force Gen. Charles F. Wald, a veteran of the Vietnam War. The domino theory that nations across Southeast Asia would go communist was not fulfilled, he noted, but with Iraq, “worst-case scenarios are the most likely thing to happen.”

Iraq is worse than Vietnam “in so many ways,” agreed Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr., a retired Army officer and author of one of the most respected studies of the U.S. military’s failure in Vietnam. “We knew what we were getting into in Vietnam. We didn’t here.”

Also, President Richard M. Nixon used diplomacy with China and the Soviet Union to exploit the split between them and so minimize the fallout of Vietnam. By contrast, Krepinevich said, the Bush administration has “magnified” the problems of Iraq by neglecting public diplomacy in the Muslim world and by not developing an energy policy to reduce the significance of Middle Eastern oil.

The Observer has a review of a book called "The Lucifer Effect".
Philip Zimbardo's The Lucifer Effect is a formidable and chilling study of the atrocities that were perpetrated at Abu Ghraib, says Edward Marriott

On 28 April 2004, the American news programme 60 Minutes II broadcast photographs taken in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The images, picked up immediately by the world's media, have since become scorched on our consciousness: naked Iraqi prisoners stacked in a human pyramid, presided over by grinning US soldiers; a female soldier leading a naked Iraqi around by a leash; other Iraqis forced to simulate fellatio; a hooded inmate balanced on a cardboard box, electric wires attached to his fingers.

One of the stunned Americans watching 60 Minutes II back in 2004 was eminent psychologist Professor Philip Zimbardo, in Washington that night on business. Zimbardo, more than anyone else in the country, had been there before. In 1971, as a young psychologist at California's Stanford University, he had conducted an experiment into the psychology of imprisonment, dividing a group of undergraduate students into 'guards' and 'prisoners'. That August, Zimbardo witnessed levels of cruelty he'd never have predicted or imagined. Within no time, liberal undergraduates became sadists, tormenting prisoners, even forcing them, in an uncanny premonition of George W Bush's Iraq 33 years later, to simulate sodomy with one another.

After six days, Zimbardo called a halt to the experiment. Although the 'guards' knew the 'prisoners had done nothing criminally wrong to deserve their lowly status', he writes in his new book, 'some ... were transformed into perpetrators of evil'. The experiment taught him that 'most of us can undergo significant character transformations when we are caught up in the crucible of social forces'.

It is to answer the question of 'how good people turn evil' that Zimbardo has written The Lucifer Effect, a formidable piece of research into the nature of evil and the systems and situations that foster it. Zimbardo, who grew up in poverty in the South Bronx and, as a child, witnessed how a harsh environment can breed cruelty and abuse, has come to some chilling conclusions. Far from the Abu Ghraib atrocities being the work of a handful of bad apples, or 'rogue soldiers', as General Richard B Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, put it, Zimbardo argues that they were the result of an entire 'bad barrel', going right to the top. ...

And to close, some pictures of the petrol truck explosion that has crippled some major roads in San Francisco.


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