The Age Of Oil Must End In Our Time  

Posted by Big Gav

Barack Obama has noted that the US car industry needs a revamp in order to overthrow the "tyranny of oil".

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Monday faulted U.S. automakers for failing to do what foreign manufacturers have accomplished in producing fuel-efficient vehicles. Uttering words not often spoken in Detroit, Obama said U.S. energy policy must change in order to help domestic automakers answer the rising global demand for efficient autos. ``For years, while foreign competitors were investing in more fuel-efficient technology for their vehicles, American automakers were spending their time investing in bigger, faster cars,'' the Illinois senator told business and political leaders.

Obama said his plan encourages domestic automakers to make fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles by giving them health care assistance for retirees. Federal financial assistance would cover 10 percent - up to $7 billion - of automakers' annual legacy health care costs through 2017, under Obama's plan, which would require automakers to invest at least half of their health care savings into technology to produce fuel-efficient cars.

As a second choice, Obama's plan would provide $3 billion to automakers over 10 years to help retool plants to make fuel-efficient cars and trucks. It's all part of the U.S. auto industry taking necessary steps to help its own turnaround, Obama said. ``Here in Detroit, three giants of American industry are hemorrhaging jobs and profits as foreign competitors answer the rising global demand for fuel-efficient cars,'' he said. ``The need to drastically change our energy policy is no longer a debatable proposition. It is not a question of whether, but how; not a question of if, but when. For the sake of our security, our economy, our jobs and our planet, the age of oil must end in our time.'' ...

Obama said focusing on the cars Americans drive and fuels used would save 2.5 million barrels of oil per day. ``It starts with our cars, because if we truly hope to end the tyranny of oil, the nation must once again turn to Detroit for another great transformation,'' Obama said at the sold-out Detroit Economic Club meeting. ...

``Our goal is not to destroy the industry, but to help bring it into the 21st century,'' Obama said. ``So, if the auto industry is prepared to step up to its responsibilities, we should be prepared to help.''

The Green Wombat has a post on Arnold Schwarzenegger's green foreign policy.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is fond of calling California a nation-state and accordingly he practices his own foreign policy, forging an international alliance to combat global warming. On Friday the California governor signed a memorandum of understanding in Los Angeles with Steve Bracks, the premier of the Australian state of Victoria. The two Pacific Rim states agreed to share technology and develop policies to develop international carbon trading markets, reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, foster clean energy technologies and worth together on energy efficiency standards.

Schwarzenegger has signed a similar accord with U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair and he has collaborated on green policies with the premier of British Columbia. But the California-Victorian alliance is particularly noteworthy, representing a growing rebellion against national governments perceived as obstructionist on global warming. "This agreement exemplifies the leadership role of sub-national jurisdictions in driving global climate change solutions," the document states.

Australia, of course, is the only other major industrialized country to join the United States in refusing to enact the Kyoto Accord. The country of 20 million is heavily dependent on cheap and highly polluting coal and conservative Prime Minister John Howard, a close ally of President George Bush, has doggedly resisted efforts to impose emissions limits. Victoria, Australia's second-largest state, is governed by the left-leaning Labor Party and is the California of Australia when it comes to promoting clean energy and policies to fight global warming. (Victoria, for instance, is helping fund the world's largest photovoltaic solar power station.)

Howard is in a tough re-election fight, and as the country suffers through one of its worst droughts on record, climate change has emerged as a major campaign issue. The prime minister is bashed almost daily by the Labor Party environment spokesman, former Midnight Oil frontman Peter Garrett, and now he's got the Terminator doing photo-ops with the opposition.

The Australian reports on the Rodent's attempt to buy some green votes in the latest federal budget. It looks like the anticipated carbon trading system will be another handout of sorts - this one to big (polluting) business. Whereas with a carbon tax, the playing field would be level for all players - but I guess conservatives hate free markets...
A DOUBLING of the handout to households that install solar-energy systems to $8000 forms the centrepiece of the Coalition's push to shore up its green credentials in today's budget. The drive to increase the number of solar-powered houses will cost about $150 million over five years. Schools and other public buildings will also be able to access solar grants of up to $12,000 as the Government tries to win back credibility with voters seeking eco-friendly policies.

Today's budget is also expected to include tax breaks to encourage the planting of trees and other vegetation, under a national plan to expand the use of "carbon sinks". This forms part of the Government's environmental pitch - and follows John Howard's $200 million reforestation scheme for developing countries, particularly Indonesia.

The budget will contain a range of other environmental initiatives, although senior government figures said it was not the end of the climate response. However, more than $1 billion is expected to be allocated for a number of long-term environment and communications projects, forming the backdrop to the Government's re-election pitch.

The Prime Minister is waiting for his hand-picked emissions taskforce to report later this month before unveiling a scaled-down emissions-trading scheme in the lead-up to the election. The main focus of today's budget will be delivering solar and other alternative-energy programs to suburban and regional homeowners, allowing them a share of growing taxpayer spending on environmental measures.

While Labor is offering a loan of up to $10,000 on solar systems - which on its assessment could cost anywhere between $14,000 and $26,000 to install - the Coalition wants to deliver the money as rebates and in smaller bites.

There will also be a big emphasis on promoting a market for carbon credits - most notably forestry plantations - that will allow big-polluting industries to claim credits when an emissions trading system is, inevitably, adopted later in the year.

The Greens apparently got an early copy of the budget papers and were not too impressed, saying the nation "badly needed a green budget" and pointing out the much larger handouts of taxpayer money going to the fossil fuel industry.
The Greens claimed they have been leaked details of the budget in what would be a sensational breach of security of the tightly-held documents. According to a detailed document the Greens have received, $2.4 billion of the $10 billion water plan has been allocated over the next four years. This includes more than $900 million to buy back water licences and more than $1 billion to fund more efficient water infrastructure.

The document also confirms that the solar rebate program would be extended for five years at a cost of about $150 million. The Greens said the Government spending figures show that the $4 billion would constitute less than half what the Government spends on "handouts" to the fossil fuel industry during a mining boom.

But the Greens leader, Bob Brown, said "after all the build up about a 'green' budget, this is an anti-climax and will disappoint all Australians concerned about climate change". The Greens said the figures showed only $150 million a year would be spent on climate change, while the Government would spend $65 million on advertising its Work Choices change.

"Australians who were hoping for a green budget have been dumped by the Howard government, by the treasurer and by the minister for the environment,'' Senator Brown told reporters. "We are going to see the big end of town do much better out of this budget than the nation's environment and the future prospects of its children.''

Senator Brown said the federal budget would be an exercise in "greenwash'' - meaning the coalition would attempt to paint itself as being concerned about the environment in order to win votes.

The Canberra Times reports that a report from the CSIRO's mining division has outraged clean energy advocates.
Two of Australia's leading energy researchers have accused the CSIRO of using push-polling tactics to undermine public confidence in solar energy during a two-year research survey. Professor Philip Jennings of Murdoch University's school of energy engineering and Dr Mark Diesendorf from the University of NSW Institute of Environmental Studies have dismissed the research report as "extremely biased" and based on misleading information.

Their accusations follow the recent release by the CSIRO and the Centre for Low Emission Technology of the joint report on public perceptions, and support for, low greenhouse gas emission technologies including solar, wind, biomass, nuclear and clean coal in NSW and Queensland. The report which claims to be based on findings from "one of the most detailed research projects undertaken into public perceptions of new power generation technologies" was prepared by the CSIRO's division of exploration and mining for the NSW Minerals Council and the Australian Coal Association.

It claims that while about 89 per cent of survey participants preferred solar power, after being informed of "some of the problems associated with generating and storing solar, they were willing to consider a range of alternatives", including nuclear energy and carbon capture and storage. The report states that once participants were "included in discussions about subjects such as carbon capture and storage, they were likely to be more positive towards the technology".

Australian Greens climate change spokeswoman, Senator Christine Milne, said the report represented "an absolutely low point in the history of CSIRO" and compromised the organisation's scientific independence and integrity. "I find it quite shocking that CSIRO, as a peak science body for which Australians have so much respect, has allowed itself to be caught up in push-polling for the coal industry. This is not research into public opinion it is a strategy designed to manipulate and change public opinion."

Enviromission's solar tower project in Victoria looks like being delayed even further.
Plans for a green energy solar tower near Mildura, in north-west Victoria, could be deferred until after the development company gets a similar project up in the United States.

Australian company Enviromission is considering a merger with its US partner company Solar Mission after the companies made a combined bid for two American projects. Enviromission's Buronga solar tower proposes to generate green energy from thermal currents, using technology it has been developing for 10 years.

Spokeswoman Kim Forte says Enviromission is frustrated the Australian Government seems to be missing the point about the need to find alternative energy sources. "That does clearly seem to be low emissions/clean coal and nuclear, and as a renewable energy developer there is a high degree of frustration, there doesn't seem to be enough for large scale renewable energy development projects," she said.

Red Herring has a report on Wal Mart's venture into solar energy to power their stores. As always, they seem to have a close eye on the dollars, signing up for solar power that is cheaper than the usual rate they pay...
Wal-Mart, the retail chain purveyor of ultra-cheap goods, announced Monday it has contracted to buy solar energy to power nearly two dozen of its stores and distribution centers in Hawaii and California. If all goes well, solar energy providers BP Solar, SunEdison, and SunPower subsidiary, PowerLight, will supply a total of 20 million kilowatt-hours per year to 22 stores, supercenters, Sam’s Club’s and distribution centers, the company said. Wal-Mart said the systems could reduce greenhouse gas emissions that would otherwise be spewed from power plant smokestacks by up to 10,000 metric tons a year. ...

The sun power pilot project is the latest iteration in the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer’s widely publicized campaign to make its 4,046 U.S. stores more energy efficient, less dependent on conventional fuel sources, and less wasteful. But that’s a gargantuan task. Wal-Mart has blanketed the globe with its outrĂ© big box stores, the most typical of which, the Wal-Mart Supercenter, averages 187,000 square feet, according to the company web site. Its move to boost energy efficiency and explore renewable energy sources is driven as much by environmental goals as by the economic necessity of reducing costs.

The retail chain plans to give solar a try in sunny California and Hawaii, where retail electricity rates are particularly high. Wal-Mart wouldn’t disclose the prices locked into the 10-year power purchase agreements. But spokesperson Kevin Thornton acknowledged the price of electricity generated by the solar systems will be less than what the company currently pays for electricity from the grid. That because, under the power purchase agreements, the burden of fronting the capital costs of building the solar systems and running them will fall on the suppliers. ...

Wal-Mart is hardly alone in its exploration of green alternatives and PR campaign to make a big deal about them. But it is perhaps one of the more creative companies in its approach to energy alternatives. The company is also recycling oil used to fry chicken at its stores for use as a fuel and installing more efficient LED lights in its refrigerated cases, among other projects, Mr. Thornton said. But it could be a long slog to redemption. As for Wal-Mart’s solar initiatives: 22 stores down; 4,024 to go.

Alaskan oil services company VECO has apparently failed in attempt to corner the market in the asses of local politicians.
The chief executive and part owner of Alaska's largest oil-field services company and one of his vice presidents pleaded guilty on Monday to charges that they tried to bribe Alaska legislators to secure favorable state oil policies.

VECO Corp. Chief Executive Bill Allen and Richard Smith, vice president for community affairs and government relations, pleaded guilty to charges of bribery, extortion and conspiracy. If convicted on all counts, each face as much as 20 years in prison and fines of $750,000. The officials entered their guilty pleas in federal court in Anchorage on Monday after reaching plea agreements last week.

Arrested last Friday in Juneau were a current state legislator, Rep. Vic Kohring, and two former legislators -- Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch and former House Speaker Pete Kott. All three Republicans were charged with seeking money and jobs from Anchorage-based VECO in exchange for pushing the company's preferred version of an oil-tax bill. If convicted on all charges, the legislators each could face as maximum of 70 years in prison and fines of up to $1 million.

"I own your ass," Allen told Kott, the former house speaker, according to the indictment released last Friday.

It looks like China's "one child" policy is breaking down, as people become richer, they can afford to pay the penalties for having more children.
China's top family planning official has warned that the country, the world's most populous, could face a population rebound as the newly rich pay to have more children.

Zhang Weiqing, director of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, also said rural residents were still marrying below the legal marriageable ages of 22 for men and 20 for women, contributing to more births. "Early marriages are still prevailing in some parts of the country, especially rural areas, which goes against the family planning policy," Xinhua news agency quoted Zhang as saying.

China, which is home to 1.3 billion people, introduced strict family planning policies more than 25 years ago to try to curb population growth. Most urban residents are restricted to one child, while those in rural areas are encouraged to have one but allowed more in some circumstances. Those who have babies in violation of the restrictions are punished with heavy fines.

But Zhang said China's wealthy were showing disdain for the policy by paying to have as many children as they wanted. "The number of rich people and celebrities having more than one child is on a rapid increase, and nearly 10 per cent of them even have three," Xinhua cited a survey by the Family Planning Commission as saying.

The Oil Drum (Canada) has an old-school doomer article on population growth called "Peak Oil, Carrying Capacity and Overshoot: Population, the Elephant in the Room". I think its worth noting that world population is expected to peak at 9 billion and the way to stabilise the population is to (1) educate girls, (2) encourage people to live in cities and (3) make sure everyone has economic opportunities. "Problem" solved. What's that ? You say that I'm ignoring the linkage between oil production and past rapid population growth, and that peak oil will demonstrate that we are in overshoot ? Well - the way I see it, there is far more energy available from renewable sources than we currently extract from fossil fuels, so as far as I'm concerned, the switch from old to new is easily achievable and rules out that line of reasoning (I think you could also make a similar argument purely around efficiency gains even if we did stay trapped in the dirty energy present)...
At the root of all the converging crises of the World Problematique is the issue of human overpopulation. Each of the global problems we face today is the result of too many people using too much of our planet's finite, non-renewable resources and filling its waste repositories of land, water and air to overflowing. The true danger posed by our exploding population is not our absolute numbers but the inability of our environment to cope with so many of us doing what we do.

It is becoming clearer every day, as crises like global warming, water, soil and food depletion, biodiversity loss and the degradation of our oceans constantly worsen, that the human situation is not sustainable. Bringing about a sustainable balance between ourselves and the planet we depend on will require us, in very short order, to reduce our population, our level of activity, or both. One of the questions that comes up repeatedly in discussions of population is, "What level of human population is sustainable?" In this article I will give my analysis of that question, and offer a look at the human road map from our current situation to that level.

As I have mentioned elsewhere, the concepts of ecological science are the most effective tools for understanding this situation. The crucial concepts are sustainability, carrying capacity and overshoot. Considered together these can give us some clue as to what the true sustainable population of the earth might be, as well as the trajectory between our current numbers and the point of sustainability.

The New York Times has an article on the Silver Lining to Impending Doom.
ACROSS the world, doomsayers are smiling. The mounting signs of climate change have forced onto center stage the challenges of reducing carbon emissions and quickly adapting human activities to thrive in higher temperatures and more unpredictable weather.

Alas, the bad news about climate change is good news for business.

A curious feature of capitalism is that threats, or more precisely, the human response to them, are economically and technologically stimulating. Or, to put it another way, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

There will always be doomsayers, and fantasies about the end of human society are a staple of Hollywood and science fiction. But these days, a lot of smart people are seriously contemplating the looming destruction of human society, whether through a cascade of natural disasters, nuclear wars, uncontrolled terrorism, novel pandemics or, of course, climate change.

Because I attended the Woody Allen school of futurism and generally find humanity poised between the horrible and the terrible, I always remember the childhood story of the boy who cried wolf. Cry too often about ill-formed threats and you lose all credibility.

But there are good reasons to believe that crying wolf is exactly what the brightest innovators ought to be doing, and not only in response to the challenge of climate change. As a general matter, high anxiety will lead to more intense pursuit of innovation.

AlwaysOn has announced a schedule for the Going Green conference in September. Don't forget the OReilly "Energy Innovation" conference in August as well.
Panel: The Green Energy of Tomorrow
Green technology is about to deliver an era of energy abundance. This panel of venture capitalists predicts what energy technologies, wind, solar, biofuel, geothermal, and others, along with clean conventional fuels and energy efficiency technologies, will emerge to power the world in the 21st century.
• Raj Atluru, Partner, Draper Fisher Jurvetson
• Samir Kaul

Panel: The Green Water of Tomorrow
Creating and managing abundant water for the world requires investment and innovation. This panel of venture capitalists predicts what industries and technologies are driving us to the next level in global water technology—home water systems integration, distributed runoff cisterns, utility interties, desalinization and treatment of waste from desalinization, micro-treatment plants, water system integration with green power sources.

Panel: The Smart Green Home
Buildings of the future will generate their own energy, and recycle all of their water. High technology is going to deliver the totally green building which of course will also be a smart building. Who are the pioneering architects and innovators, and where is this huge industry headed?
• Ron Hicks, CEO, Perform Wall, LLC

Panel: Photovoltaics—What Technology Will Dominate?
Costs for traditional crystalline photovoltaics have never been lower, and the shortage of polysilicon is about to end. Meanwhile, thin film and concentrator technologies have finally arrived. Which technology is better, and are photovoltaics destined to become the best alternative energy solution?
Moderator: David Edwards, Partner, ThinkEquity Partners
• Richard Swanson, President & CTO, SunPower
• Dave Shannahan, President, Silicon Valley Solar

Lunch Panel: The Biofuel Revolution
It turns out virtually anything that ever lived is a fuel feedstock. Ethanol comes from crops such as corn and sugar cane, or, eventually, from cellulose. Diesel fuel comes from oil palms and jatropha. There is potential to extract diesel fuel from factory farmed algae; methane from biomass. What is coming soon, what is down the road, and what cautions and constraints may apply to this huge emerging industry?
• Doug Cameron, CEO, LS9, Inc.
• Cary Bullock, CEO, GreenFuel Technologies
• Glen Nedwin, Chief Scientist, Dyadic

Panel: Clean Fossil Fuels
With 80% of the world's energy coming from fossil fuels, and world energy production likely to increase in the near term faster than non-fossil fuel alternatives can keep up, what companies are poised to revolutionize the utilization of fossil fuel?
Moderator: Michael Horwitz, Partner, Pacific Growth Equities
• Chris Poirier, CEO, CoalTek
• Hunt Ramsbottom, CEO, Rentech, Inc.

Panel: Water Innovators—Replacing Scarcity with Abundance
Biotech, nanotech, energy and water technologies are converging to yield new ways to produce, store and recycle water. Who is in this space and where are the opportunities for investors and entrepreneurs?

Panel: Distributed Power Generation and the Virtual Utility
Decentralized electrical generating systems are being installed at residential and commercial sites around the world. Not only will property owners sell their surplus power, but aggregators may create virtual power utilities. The "smart grid" is here. What are today's hottest innovations and who is in this huge, game-changing space?
• Tim Healy, CEO & Founder, EnerNOC

Panel: Electrical Storage Systems
For stationary applications, batteries and fuel cells have both come a long way. For automotive applications batteries have gotten recent attention. Ultra-capacitors and other novel energy storage devices show promise. Where will each of these electrical storage solutions will dominate; which has the brightest future?
• David Vieau, CEO, A123 Systems
• Saroj Sahu, CTO & Founder, Deeya Energy
• Alan Gotcher, CEO, Altair Nanotechnologies

Panel: The Next-Generation Automobile
Parallel hybrids, series hybrids, 100% battery-powered, hydrogen power, ultra-efficient and ultra-clean diesels—what will power the cars of the future? What about smart cars? What about ultra-safe cars? Who are building the green cars?

Panel: Energy Efficiency Innovations—Industrial Strength
Stretching each unit of energy—particularly in industrial and commercial venues—yields the quickest financial payback of any green investment to-date. Technological innovations are delivering new, smarter ways to manage energy to get more with less. From server farms to transmission grids, sweeping changes are imminent.
• Chandrakant Patel, Hewlett Packard Fellow, Director HP
Thermal Cooling Labs

Panel: The Green City—Fuel from Waste
Eventually 100% of municipal waste streams will be recycled into new sources of energy, water, and useful materials. Countless entrepreneurs are on the trail of a process to turn solid waste into clean energy, and better ways to process biowaste, chemical waste, grey water and sewage, using biotechnology, nanotechnology, energy and information technology in new ways. Who are the interesting companies and trends?
• Rob Spurling, Global Director, New Venture Group, Dow Chemical
• Brian Appel, Chairman, Changing World Technologies

Panel: Where's the Money? Financing Green Innovation
Green technology entrepreneurs are disrupting and transforming heavily regulated, taxed, subsidized, mega-industries, at the same time as green innovations promise to repair global ecosystems. But in many cases, application of new green technologies requires staggering sums of money. When does venture philanthropy help fund green investments? When does government pay?
• Justin Adams, Director Long Term Technology, BP

Panel: Mega-Projects—Water & Power for the World
Even with conservation and achieving unprecedented energy intensity, the water and energy requirements of a growing world economy will grow dramatically in the next twenty years. A panel of businesspeople, engineers, scientists and climatologists put forward their biggest ideas to water and power the world—upgrade electrical transmission grids, refill the Aral Sea, refill Lake Chad, irrigate huge new forests, desalinate seawater.

Panel: Green Micro-Tech and Nano-Tech
What are the enabling technologies—and who are developing them—to allow distributed power sources, mini-water treatment plants, and other pollution and energy management devices that used to require industrial scale installations?
• Arthur Chait, CEO, EoPlex Technologies, Inc.

Panel: Public & Private: Who is Greenest?
How can you have environmental protection with no government? Now the government is going to tax CO2 emissions. With existing trillion-markets, can innovators scale to size without government funds? Can markets such as carbon trading help privatize regulatory processes?

Another upcoming event is the "world naked bike ride", for those those who enjoy flapping in the breeze...

Dave Roberts points to a Wall Street Journal article on bike riding in Europe. Now I've been riding to work for a few months I'm finding its by far my favourite way to get there - its a shame its getting dark and cooler now (well - today was 6 degrees above average so its not exactly winter yet, but riding in the darkness amongst the traffic can be a bit perilous).
About eleventy-hundred people have written to draw my attention to an article in the Wall Street Journal about bike living in the Netherlands and Denmark. It's worthy of the attention -- it's rare to see biking taken so seriously and written about with such an eye for detail and color, at least in a U.S. paper. Hats off to Nancy Keates.
People bike while pregnant, carrying two cups of coffee, smoking, eating bananas. At the airport, there are parking spaces for bikes. In the emergency room at Frederiksberg Hospital on weekends, half the biking accidents are from people riding drunk. Doctors say the drunk riders tend to run into poles.

Flat, compact and temperate, the Netherlands and Denmark have long been havens for bikers. In Amsterdam, 40% of commuters get to work by bike. In Copenhagen, more than a third of workers pedal to their offices. But as concern about global warming intensifies -- the European Union is already under emissions caps and tougher restrictions are expected -- the two cities are leading a fresh assault on car culture. A major thrust is a host of aggressive new measures designed to shift bike commuting into higher gear, including increased prison time for bike thieves and the construction of new parking facilities that can hold up to 10,000 bikes.

The rest of Europe is paying close attention. Officials from London, Munich and Zurich (plus a handful from the U.S.) have visited Amsterdam's transportation department for advice on developing bicycle-friendly infrastructure and policies. Norway aims to raise bicycle traffic to at least 8% of all travel by 2015 -- double its current level -- while Sweden hopes to move from 12% to 16% by 2010. This summer, Paris will put thousands of low-cost rental bikes throughout the city to cut traffic, reduce pollution and improve parking. ...

in the U.S., bike commuters face more challenges, including strong opposition from some small businesses, car owners and parking-garage owners to any proposals to remove parking, shrink driving lanes or reduce speed limits. Some argue that limiting car usage would hurt business. ...

People haul groceries in saddle bags or on handlebars and tote their children in multiple bike seats. Companies have indoor bike parking, changing rooms and on-site bikes for employees to take to meetings. Subways have bike cars and ramps next to the stairs.

Riding a bike for some has more cachet than driving a Porsche. Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende sometimes rides to work, as do lawyers, CEOs (Lars Rebien Sorensen, chief executive of Danish pharmaceutical giant Novo Nordisk, is famous for his on-bike persona) and members of parliament, often with empty children's seats in back. Dutch Prince Maurits van Oranje is often seen riding around town. "It's a good way to keep in touch with people on the streets," says Tjeerd Herrema, deputy mayor of Amsterdam. Mr. Herrema's car and driver still make the trip sometimes -- to chauffeur his bag when he has too much work to carry. ...

Grist also has a post on our environmental lab rats - children.
Pesticides could make kids dumb, diesel emissions make them sick

You know how we say we shouldn't wreck the planet for "future generations"? Turns out we're wrecking them too! A study from Indiana University says children conceived in the summer score lower on tests in school, and suggests that in-womb pesticide exposure may be to blame. "To recognize that what we put into our environment has potential pandemic effects on pregnancy outcome and possibly on child development is a momentous observation, which hopefully will help transform the way humanity cares for its world," says IU's James Lemons. Meanwhile, states are struggling to clean up school-bus diesel emissions -- linked to asthma and lung cancer -- in the absence of $1 billion in cleanup funds pledged by Congress in 2005. More than 100,000 of the nation's 390,000 diesel school buses don't meet emissions regulations; California approved a $200 million cleanup, while a similar plan in Texas stalled out -- partly because, says the state's appropriations committee chair, "the science is not very good."

Cryptogon points to an AP article on how "Organic Food Production Could Secure Global Food Supplies with Reduced Environmental Impacts", commenting "In any sane system, most people would produce, trade, buy and sell small amounts of a large variety of unprocessed fruit, vegetables and other foods. This system would be decentralized, localized and in balance. In other words, the opposite of what we see today".
Organic food has long been considered a niche market, a luxury for wealthy consumers. But researchers told a U.N. conference Saturday that a large-scale shift to organic agriculture could help fight world hunger while improving the environment.

Crop yields initially can drop as much as 50 percent when industrialized, conventional agriculture using chemical fertilizers and pesticides is converted to organic. While such decreases often even out over time, the figures have kept the organic movement largely on the sidelines of discussions about feeding the hungry.

Researchers in Denmark found, however, that food security for sub-Saharan Africa would not be seriously harmed if 50 percent of agricultural land in the food exporting regions of Europe and North America were converted to organic by 2020.

While total food production would fall, the amount per crop would be much smaller than previously assumed, and the resulting rise in world food prices could be mitigated by improvements in the land and other benefits, the study found.

A similar conversion to organic farming in sub-Saharan Africa could help the region’s hungry because it could reduce their need to import food, Niels Halberg, a senior scientist at the Danish Research Center for Organic Food and Farming, told the U.N. conference on “Organic Agriculture and Food Security.”

Farmers who go back to traditional agricultural methods would not have to spend money on expensive chemicals and would grow more diverse and sustainable crops, the report said. In addition, if their food is certified as organic, farmers could export any surpluses at premium prices. …

“These models suggest that organic agriculture has the potential to secure a global food supply, just as conventional agriculture today, but with reduced environmental impacts,” Scialabba said in a paper presented to the conference.

TreeHugger has a post on a black Google.
A few months ago, TreeHugger Mark Ontkush wrote a post on his blog EcoIron titled Black Google Would Save 750 Megawatt-hours a Year. The post lays out the following train of thought. “An all white web page uses about 74 watts to display, while an all black page uses only 59 watts.” Google, which has a white background and gets about “200 million queries a day” could reduce global energy use by 750 Megawatt-hours a year by simply changing the color of its homepage to black. (For more detailed calculations and assumptions check out the original post here.)

In response to this post a black version of Google emerged called According to Blackle’s homepage at publication time, 4,408.917 Watt hours have been saved by. The site encourages users to “make a difference today [by] … Blackling "energy saving tips" or visit[ing] a great blog dedicated to environmental awareness.” Nice ideas. But how does the search measure up? Very well indeed. Give it a whirl yourself and start saving energy one search at a time

WorldChanging has a post on greening urban buildings in Seattle.
The city of Seattle recently approved a proposed modification in building codes which would set a new bar for U.S. standards in urban development. Based on similar models in Sweden and Germany, the Green Factor is part of Seattle's plan to bring more greenery to the streets of commercial districts, and to compensate for the limitations urban density imposes on green space. The plan encourages a site-appropriate package of greening possibilities, including green roofs, interior green walls, exterior vertical landscaping, and rain gardens, which can help with building insulation, shading, air filtration, and stormwater runoff management. The city will offer incentives which will grant developers credit against open-space requirements when they install more compact or innovative landscape features, either on their site or in nearby public spaces, which improve environmental health and urban livability.

An article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that the proposal has raised some skepticism among builders and building owners who worry about things like rat-infestation in the thick vegetation of green roofing or walls, as well as the potential that mitigating runoff in such a rain-soaked region can't be done with these solutions alone. But designers have come a long way in creating effective and beautiful systems for architectural greenery. By looking at models in varying climates, these systems can be intelligently adapted to suit their local weather conditions. ...

I'll close with Past Peak commenting on a rally in LA.
Footage of the LAPD attack on the peaceful May Day immigration rights rally in LA. I recommend you watch it. The LAPD decided it was time for the people to leave and go home — "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances" apparently having expired. They waded in with batons and shotguns firing rubber bullets.

Bradblog (via Feral Scholar) has some amateur video, too, via the participatory panopticon. An LAPD helicopter flies over for a few minutes telling people to go home, then the black-uniformed lines of police march into the park and begin clubbing everyone within reach and firing rubber bullets at the almost universally peaceful crowd that included many families, women, children. You've probably read about it. But watch the video.

It's food for thought on a number of levels.

For one thing, it's a stark reminder of the ongoing militarization of the nation's police forces. The police put on their black SWAT gear and inevitably their mindset is transformed. "To protect and to serve" becomes "to intimidate and to coerce." See also this — SWAT team deployments were once the last resort but are now happening more than 100 times a day, on average. Police forces everywhere want to play "war on terror."

For another thing, the usual rationale for the deployment of non-lethal weapons — that they will decrease the level of violence — clearly has it backwards. If the choice were between rubber bullets and real bullets, rubber bullets are better. Of course. But when it comes to domestic crowd control, that's almost never the choice. Instead, it's a choice between asking people to move along or opening fire with rubber bullets to force them to. Give a militarized police force non-lethal weapons and their use soon becomes the default. But "non-lethal" is light years away from appropriate, let alone harmless.

But the point I most want to make is this. In his masterful two-volume critique of civilization, Endgame, Derrick Jensen lists the twenty premises that inform his work. Here's the premise Jensen calls his favorite:
Premise Four: Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.

One group of Americans puts on black uniforms and attacks another group of Americans who have done nothing to provoke the attack. But because the first group is directing its violence down the hierarchy, it is, at worst, regarded as a bit excessive. But imagine if the people in the park had attacked the police with batons and shotguns firing rubber bullets. The response would have been apocalyptic.

Premise Four is such a fact of life that we scarcely notice it. But once it's pointed out to you, things never look the same again.


Anonymous   says 8:58 AM

Victoria is not Australia's second largest state. It's the second smallest.

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