FAQ: Green Civil War: Projects vs. Preservation

Environmentalists are more openly at odds over two goals: the preservation of wide open spaces vs. the use of public lands for renewable energy projects.

via Green Civil War: Projects vs. Preservation – Room for Debate Blog – NYTimes.com.

This is a question that gets asked a lot, so it is refreshing to see different perspectives on how to manage needs for more clean energy with the desire to preserve pristine land. Of course, given the diversity of opinions offered, some are better than others. I, for one, don’t see this as a dichotomy, so I prefer ideas that avoid the binary choice frame of the question and suggest real solutions that will try to optimize both “choices”.

I liked David Roberts’ and Ileene Anderson’s opinions quite a bit, plugging for getting away from the large scale, utility centric model to a distributed paradigm. Daniel Kammen pitches for aggressive efficiency measures. Vaclav Smil says “Use less”, amen! Randy Udall deals mostly in cliches and says nothing very meaningful other than “we should optimize” and “some people will always complain”. Winona LaDuke makes a very important point that this is a good opportunity for Native Americans shut out of the conventional energy process to be involved in the wise stewardship of wind and solar energy. She does not provide any policy suggestions to make it happen.

Anyway, it looks like most of the panelists chosen avoided the binarification of the problem, good job! Will preserve this for a link every time someone asks me about this.

BC's Election

Is over and the centre-right Liberals won. Many in the traditional environmental movement are trumpeting it as a referendum on the BC Carbon Tax. I am not so sure. The so called people who were supposed to vote for the opposition left leaning NDP, but did not because of their (admittedly stupid) opposition to the “gas tax” also gave the Green Party their lowest share of the vote in the last few years. I am finding it hard to imagine a left leaning voter voting for the Liberals instead of the NDP, rather than throwing her vote on the Green Party.

The truth is probably a lot simpler. Carole James of the NDP did not resonate with voters as an alternative for many reasons, poor campaign positioning, lack of vision, poor media coverage, etc. and in tough economic times, BC just made what it considered a safe choice.

Of course, BC also made a “safe” choice and rejected a proportional representation system for the province. More will be known once any exit poll data is released, but a proposal which came within a couple of percentage points of passing in the last election failed roundly this time. There is early speculation that it was how the question was asked. I would have preferred a multi-party proportional system to reduce the stranglehold of the two major parties and get some Green Party representation in the legislature.

Anyway, full speed ahead for BC’s puny Carbon Tax, which will go all the way to $30 a ton in a couple of years, let’s see what that does to compensate for The Liberal’s penchant for massive road building, offshore drilling ideas and “business friendly” privatization of the commons approach to governance.

Pothole power for cars

Via the TNR E&E blog comes this story of capturing some of the energy wasted when a vehicle moves over bumps and potholes on the road. Indian drivers are waiting with bated breath for this prototype to become a reality! The takeaway messages are that most of the mechanical devices we use today have many points where waste energy can be captured and put to use.

A team of MIT undergraduate students has invented a shock absorber that harnesses energy from small bumps in the road, generating electricity while it smoothes the ride more effectively than conventional shocks. The students hope to initially find customers among companies that operate large fleets of heavy vehicles. They have already drawn interest from the U.S. military and several truck manufacturers.

Gulf States spending more on Clean Energy than Canada

Gasoline sells for 45 cents a gallon. There is little public transportation and no recycling. Residents drive between air-conditioned apartments and air-conditioned malls, which are lighted 24/7

Still, the region’s leaders know energy and money, having built their wealth on oil. They understand that oil is a finite resource, vulnerable to competition from new energy sources.

So even as President-elect Barack Obama talks about promoting green jobs as America’s route out of recession, gulf states, including the emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are making a concerted push to become the Silicon Valley of alternative energy.

They are aggressively pouring billions of dollars made in the oil fields into new green technologies. They are establishing billion-dollar clean-technology investment funds. And they are putting millions of dollars behind research projects at universities from California to Boston to London, and setting up green research parks at home.

Meanwhile, we in Canada are pushing hard to completely ignore environmental concerns as we push to expand the incredibly dirty tar sands. I read an interesting New York Times article recently, summarizing the issues with this dirty oil. Of course, the CO2 emissions, and the incredibly nasty effects of mining, water pollution, etc. are well documented. One fact stuck in my head – The cost to replace one tire in one of the earth moving vehicles is $60,000. What a wasteful enterprise on such a grand scale, whose only purpose is to carry on business as usual when business as usual is going to result in catastrophic climate change in the not so distant future.


Vote Strategically for the Environment

via Vote For Environment / Voter Pour l’Environnement.

This site wants you to vote strategically to avoid splitting the anti-conservative vote on the assumption that all things being equal, the conservatives are much worse for the environment than any of the other parties. This is not really how you want an election to be decided, but a party that represents the minority of Canadians should not get a parliamentary majority simply because of a flawed voting system.

I would heartily endorse a preferential ballot system for us. How does this work?

Instant-runoff voting (IRV) is a voting system used for single-winner elections in which voters have one vote and rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate receives a majority of first preference rankings, the candidate with the fewest number of votes is eliminated and that candidate’s votes redistributed to the voters’ next preferences among the remaining candidates. This process is repeated until one candidate has a majority of votes among candidates not eliminated. The term “instant runoff” is used because IRV is said to simulate a series of run-off elections tallied in rounds, as in an exhaustive ballot election.

Under this system, if you like the Green Party the best because of their environmental policies, but know they cannot win, you can still vote for them. Just have the liberals/NDP as the second choice. It is overwhelmingly likely that if you like the Green Party policies, you like the policies of the conservatives more than the policies of the liberals or the NDP. With our current system, that’s exactly what your vote will say. Your vote for a Green Party candidate in this election is essentially a vote for the Conservatives.

In the absence of the preferential ballot, or instant runoff voting, using web 2.0 methods to vote strategically is the next best thing, and a great idea!

Do compact fluorescent bulbs reduce mercury pollution?

In places that rely heavily on coal for electricity, such as West Virginia or China, the researchers say switching to CFLs can reduce mercury emissions significantly. But cleaner-powered places like California and Norway would do better to stick to incandescent bulbs when it comes to reducing mercury. “The places known for sustainability are the places that have the potential to do the most harm by bringing this technology in,” says environmental engineer Julie Zimmerman of Yale, a coauthor of the study.

Do compact fluorescent bulbs reduce mercury pollution?.

The good news is that in general, CFLS reduce mercury emissions significantly compared to using regular bulbs in most cases. Very unfair on CFL mercury! This works if you assume that every mg of mercury in a CFL is going to be released into the air, which is bogus. They can be, and are recycled, or they end up being landfilled, where they will not escape for a while. I’ve never broken one in many years of use. This is not a fair comparison at all, and if you have to reach to California and Norway to make a point, you’ve lost it. The reason California and Norway (more about Norway in a later blog post) are more energy efficient is because they use more energy efficient systems (like CFLs) in the first place. Therefore, they do not have to rely on coal for energy requirements. Of course, they are also lucky to have hydroelectric/geothermal sources, but they avoid coal for good reason.

If you reduce power usage by increasing efficiency, you don’t have to build more power plants (clean or otherwise) and that is good for everyone concerned.

Yes, the take home message is that due to the presence of a hazardous ingredient, CFLs need to be viewed as a bridge technology to LEDs. Point taken, but given that they have all those advantages over regular light bulbs, this is no bridge to nowhere!

Coal-to-Liquid: Useless

Liquid transportation fuels derived from coal and natural gas could help the United States reduce its dependence on petroleum. The fuels could be produced domestically or imported from fossil fuel-rich countries. The goal of this paper is to determine the life-cycle GHG emissions of coal- and natural gas-based Fischer−Tropsch (FT) liquids, as well as to compare production costs. The results show that the use of coal- or natural gas-based FT liquids will likely lead to significant increases in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared to petroleum-based fuels. In a best-case scenario, coal- or natural gas-based FT-liquids have emissions only comparable to petroleum-based fuels. In addition, the economic advantages of gas-to-liquid (GTL) fuels are not obvious: there is a narrow range of petroleum and natural gas prices at which GTL fuels would be competitive with petroleum-based fuels. CTL fuels are generally cheaper than petroleum-based fuels. However, recent reports suggest there is uncertainty about the availability of economically viable coal resources in the United States. If the U.S. has a goal of increasing its energy security, and at the same time significantly reducing its GHG emissions, neither CTL nor GTL consumption seem a reasonable path to follow.

Comparative Analysis of the Production Costs and Life-Cycle GHG Emissions of FT Liquid Fuels from Coal and Natural Gas.

To summarize, no cost benefits, increased GHG emissions, a lot of uncertainty, let’s not follow this madness of trying to make coal into gasoline.


What's the matter with Canada?

But beneath the calm exterior, Canada’s political system is in turmoil. Since 2004, a succession of unstable minority governments has led to a constant campaign frenzy, brutalizing Canada’s once-broad political consensus and producing a series of policies at odds with the country’s socially liberal, fiscally conservative identity. Canada is quietly becoming a political basket case, and this latest election may make things even worse.

What’s the matter with Canada? – By Christopher Flavelle – Slate Magazine

I don’t necessarily agree with the whole “basket case” assertion, it is a fundamentally strong country with a broad consensus on what the country should be.

The current set of political parties is rewarding a minority set of policies (the conservatives) by fragmenting the majority centre-left of centre consensus between 4 different political parties, none of which will talk to each other. This is not exactly new, the conservatives only merged their parties a few years back.

The liberals suffer from Dion’s non Englishness, he gets little traction from the English media (no idea about the French, I don’t know any). He’s not that charismatic, nor does he orate well in English, and so like the American election, it is all optics. The liberals also seem to have no understanding of what it takes to win a modern election. The conservatives get in the news all the time, their ads are all over TV, the liberals seem to be MIA.

Harper on the other hand is “strong”, strength of course being defined as sounding decisive and declaratory, even though he usually just sounds alarmist and hyperbolic all the time. Somehow, this is interpreted as leadership. I guess the only good quality of leadership is being loud.

Dion also made a gamble by selling something called the Green Shift, a carbon tax, to increase efficiency in energy consumption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even though the tax is designed to increase efficiency in a country notorious for its very poor efficiency (27th among the 29 OECD countries in energy use/capita), it is being demonized as a tax that will destroy the country (just like every other environmental regulation destroyed every other country). It is also bad timing, as energy prices have soared recently, and Canada’s economy sputters to a halt due to falling resource prices and the American housing market bust (destroyed the BC lumber industry). The last thing people want to hear is “tax”, even though the middle class will get more than sufficient rebates to cover any tax increases. The liberals seem to have overplayed this hand. Elections are never won on environmental issues, too easy to attack.

The conservative pitch thus far has only been to attack Dion while offering some incremental changes. But as Harper is flirting with a majority, this Toronto Star editorial asks the right questions.

While Harper is presenting himself as a kinder, gentler Conservative these days, in the past, as a Reform MP, head of the National Citizens’ Coalition and leader of the Canadian Alliance (successor party to Reform), he staked out quite radical positions. He has called Canada “a northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term,” has denounced the “moral nihilism” of the Liberals and the left for opposing the Iraq war, has suggested building a “firewall” around Alberta, and has called for “market reforms” for health care, “further deregulation and privatization,” and “elimination of corporate subsidies.”

With a Conservative majority in sight, it is fair for Canadians to ask Harper whether he still holds these views and would implement them once in office. And if the answer is No, Harper should use the remaining four weeks of this election campaign to tell voters just what he would do with a majority.

The media lets Harper get away with sounding “presidential”, his proposals are very vague, and that is worrying. It is clear, however, that from an environmental standpoint, he will be a disaster. A combination of a slowing economy and reduced social support programs (conservatives hate safety nets for regular people) will be bad for the not so well off Canadians. We shall see what happens in a few weeks.


Clothianidin and the Colony Collapse Disorder

Clothianidin is the pesticide at the center of controversy. It is used to coat corn, sugar beet and sorghum seeds and is part of a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids. The pesticide was blamed for bee deaths in France and Germany, which also is dealing with a colony collapse. Those two countries have suspended its use until further study. An EPA fact sheet from 2003 says clothianidin has the potential for toxic chronic exposure to honey bees, as well as other pollinators, through residues in nectar and pollen.

Lawsuit seeks EPA pesticide data

Interesting story. For more on the Colony Collapse Disorder...


India's Environmental Portal

Home | India Environment Portal

This is a very useful undertaking by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) to gather up a lot of technical information about India’s environmental research and activism.

They have a small multimedia section as well and I found this movie, appropriately titled Faecal Attraction to be an informative watch…