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August 28, 2007

Canadian Parties Compete for Greens in Ontario

The major political parties in Canada have all accepted the science of climate change and are now rolling out their green plans in an effort to gain political support from environmentalists. This is unlike the situation in the U.S., where the two major parties seem to accept the science but continue to do little more than offer lip service and rhetoric. Is this another sign of the U.S. lagging behind in terms of environmental initiative?

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August 20, 2007

Survey Finds Overwhelming Support for Wind

New and Improved! Now with Even More Empirics!

The political back-and-forth in the Cape Wind debate rolls on. Renewable Energy Access has just shed some light on a new iteration of a Massachusetts energy survey.The Opinion Research Corporation poll for the Civil Society Institute has found that Massachusetts citizens are, perhaps, not as divided over wind energy development as they have been portrayed by the media and opposition groups.

From ecopolitology

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August 12, 2007

Ditch Your Dryer, Save the World: Civic Greenwashing

Media coverage of issues related to global climate change and resource conservation has been steadily increasing over the last few years. Articles and advertisements ranging from how to green your back-to-school purchases to where to buy the best free-range, organic, pesticide-free, sustainably-produced, and "natural" products have become commonplace as consumers are bombarded with suggestions that buying some sort of product or another will somehow have the cumulative effect of saving the planet. In a world where eco-friendliness is increasingly obscured by corporate greenwashing, it can be refreshing to see media coverage of issues that don't necessarily equate buying things with environmental beneficence. On that note, and in terms of a different type of greenwashing altogether, the Fort Collins Coloradoan ran a story about how some people in the Choice City choose to hang dry their clothes, and how one man's efforts to save some money might just save the world [Alright, now that I've got your attention, I apologize for hamming it up a bit much; and I won't exactly be saving the world, but you should really read on]. The following was excerpted from a piece written by reporter Kelli Lackett from the Fort Collins Coloradoan on 8/11/2007:

Tim Hurst, a 35-year-old graduate student at Colorado State University, has been using a clothesline exclusively for the past five years. He said he started hanging his clothes on the line because the dryer was broken. "Primarily I was too lazy to get it fixed. But now it's more about the environmental impact. Third, it's about saving money on the electric bill," Hurst said. "On the really nice hot sunny days, the lightweight clothes dry in under half an hour." Hurst lives west of Horsetooth Reservoir where no one objects to hanging clothes on the line “You can look around and several houses around here have clothes hanging out,” he said...
(I like how they included my comment about being too lazy to get the drier fixed. I had a feeling when those words slipped out of my mouth they would end up in the paper.)

August 9, 2007

The Beetles Return to Colorado

The last time beatles invaded Colorado was 1964 and they only made it to the foothills of the Rockies. As the story goes, they were here for less than a day. And although they appeared at the storied Red Rocks amphitheater in Morrison for only about 35 minutes, they were able to inflict a considerable amount of their brand of "destruction" in that short time.

In terms of the most recent beetle invasion, however, it appears the visitors will be around for much longer -- and inflict a brand of destruction on the Rocky Mountain landscape that will, in retrospect, make John, Paul, George, and Ringo look merely like four harmless, long-haired kids from Liverpool who smoke cigarettes and play some newfangled kind of music that all the kids seem to love. And yes, even these beetles will not be loved by Boulderites.

I am speaking of course about the ubiquitous mountain pine beetle which is happily chewing its way through the vast coniferous forests of the North American continent. These beetles have yet to make their way to Red Rocks, but by the time they do, the damage will have been done.

Pine beetles, bark beetles and spruce beetles have always been part of the ecosystemic processes in the forests of Colorado. However, within the last 10 years, beetle populations have proliferated. Why? The answers range from the possibility that small increases in the temperature of the earth have created a more hospitable climate for the bugs; to a culture of fire suppression within the US Forest Service, that for over one hundred years took every effort possible to prevent and extinguish forest fires. But fire is a healthy and necessary part of some ecological systems, and perhaps we are beginning to see one of the consequences of its prevention. pine beetle, beetle kill, summit county, lodgepole pines, red, bark beetle

About 44 percent of the state’s 1.5 million acres of lodgepole pine are now infested by beetles, or about 660,000 acres. The dry, dead trees, which have a rusty red color, pose the biggest fire risk in the year or two before their needles fall off. The debate rages on concerning this epidemic which cannot be stopped. Some groups argue that the dead trees should be left standing, and that they will eventually fall to create the space and nutrients necessary for the flourishing of new ones. But others are fearful that this approach is far too risky. People who live in the resort towns like Steamboat, Vail, and Breckenridge (not to mention the resorts themselves), fear the potential devastation that could be wreaked by catastrophic, region-wide fires. Direct injury to property is hard to prevent because it is hard to anticipate; indirect injury and the concomitant economic losses are also likely but difficult to predict. Many high country residents would much rather see aggressive thinning programs aimed at reducing the fuel-wood in and around the urban-wildland interface. This might help, but thinning would seem to be only a drop in the bucket. With all but 100,000 acres of the dead trees in Colorado on federal land, the bulk of the thinning falls to the U.S. Forest Service, which plans to treat 18,000 acres of dead trees this year.

So if you have never had the opportunity to be awed what appears to be a never-ending expanse of lodgepole pine, or if you just haven't made it out west in a while, I would recommend you do so pretty soon -- before what people think of as the Rocky Mountain landscape, is only a distant memory.

thinning, forestry, fire-mitigation, pine-beetle

August 8, 2007

Small Wind on the Cape: A Joke or a Stroke of Political Brilliance?

[Here's some more juicy Cape Wind fodder]

Is Christy Mihos joking or is he using some some of that well placed "strategery." Mihos owns two properties on Great Island in West Yarmouth, supposedly within sight of the proposed Cape Wind location. And now the former gubernatorial candidate of Massachusetts, and present co-chair of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound has suggested an alternative to the original Cape Wind plan. Mihos has volunteered the sites of his convenience stores as spots for wind turbines. Here's the details from the AP: "The turbines proposed for Mihos’ Hyannis store will rise 31 feet above the pavement, according to plans filed with the town. Each turbine would generate about 2,600 kilowatts per year."

Wendy Williams, co-author of the unambiguously one-sided book, Cape Wind, believes Mihos is setting up an elaborate practical joke. She writes in an e-mail: "Let's do the math. One of Cape Wind's 3.6-megawatt turbines in Nantucket Sound would be equal to how many of Christy Mihos' 1.5-kilowatt toys? About 2,400. So to replace the [Cape Wind] project, Mihos would have to put up about 312,000 of his little jokes all around the Cape."

However, I'm not so sure that Ms. Williams gets it. Quite often, political strategy is considered "political theater," and this is a perfect example By showing that he is willing to erect small wind on-site at his many stores, he is publicly displaying that he is not opposed to (the concept) ofwind energy as a potential power source. Said Mihos: "I think wind power is a wonderful idea."

Whether or not I agree with Mr Mihos' politics, I think it is a rather brilliant move on his part.

Stay tuned for more on small wind v. big wind...

August 6, 2007

"House energy bill, this is Senate energy bill. Say hello"

On a Saturday flurry that encroached one day into their summer vacation, the people's house passed an energy bill that should have put a smile on a few faces. For those who believe that we have not seen decent renewable energy incentives in the U.S. since the Carter administration, there is reason to feel somewhat victorious. But before you pop the cork on that bottle of Cold Duck or, as Fred Sanford liked to call it, "the good stuff," I must remind everyone that the Senate passed a different collection of energy bills, and now the two must be reconciled into a bill that President George W. Bush might just veto. That is, unless the most significant language in the bills is tempered rather considerably in an effort to get it past the White House.

The differences between the two bills are many. Some of the highlights include a solar energy tax incentive and the elimination of a multi-billion dollar tax break for big oil companies (coupled with a redistribution of those funds toward renewable energy research/production.). But the most significant piece of legislation in the Senate energy bill was completely omitted in the House version; the House did nothing in terms of raising automobile fuel efficiency standards. The Senate bill increases the requirement to 35 mpg by 2020 for cars, SUVs and small trucks, about a 40% increase. Simply put, the House dropped the ball, and the fact that they whimped out on CAFE standards is not particularly surprising.

Oddly, the part of the House legislation which had the most potential for inducing any sort of real change, was also the most yawn-inducing. The House bill energy mandates that investor-owned utilities purchase 15% of their power from renewable sources by 2020. Beside the point that this renewable portfolio standard (RPS) may get by fillibustered by senate Republicans, the language of it has considerable weaknesses.

I am not as optimistic as some that: a) The bill is an effective policy tool, and; b) The bill will even be passed by Congress. First, RPSs are a little clunky as a policy mechanism; they lack flexibility, and do not incentivize renewable energy prodcution the way European and Canadian mechanisms do. The EU, and parts of Canada have used renewable energy tariffs, feed laws, and fee schedules that mandate utilities to purchase renewable energy from any provider at a (fairly high) fixed rate; a rate high enough that makes buying solar panels and sticking them on your roof fiscally attractive. This very aggressive yet somewhat draconian provision has pushed Germany to the forefront of micro-scale renewable energy generation. Just last month, the German Ministry of Environment announced that the targets for 2020 had increased to 27% from the previous 20% and had added a target of 45% by 2030. If there is to be a substantial increase in renewable energy generation, this is perhaps the fastest way to achieve that goal--but politically it is unlikely.

The second shortcoming of the House RPS is that it is only for investor-owned utilities. The House RPS exempts rural electric cooperatives, municipal utilities, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the state of Hawaii from the mandate. Not surprisingly, the investor-owned utility lobbies were a little disappointed for being singled out in the house's legislation; Thomas Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute, called the House vote “very disappointing.” (I bet you're disappointed, Thomas.)

The third reason I am disappointed with the house RPS is that several states have already enacted renewable energy standards that are considerably tougher than the federal mandate. The cartographic wizards over at the Pew Center on Climate Change have put together the handy little map below that shows the states which have enacted some sort of renewable standard. Doesn't it look strikingly similar to another map of the U.S. you saw last November? Well I have news for everyone, even that map is a little misleading. Can we break those units down a little more? Try this more detailed map from 2004 on for size! (to be continued...)

Two-strokes to Get Worked Over by Envirofit

One of the more influential green technologies coming out of Colorado State University was given some props by Treehugger today:

Envirofit, an independent, non-profit company established at Colorado State University in 2003, is now working to develop and distribute affordable retrofit kits that will improve the fuel efficiency of two-stroke engines, commonly used in many of the two-wheeler taxis and three-wheeler auto-rickshaws in the Philippines, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and other parts of South Asia.

August 5, 2007

Cape Wind on The Daily Show

Daily Show Covers Cape Wind!

The Daily Show has aimed its brilliant satirical gaze on the Cape Wind project--a fascinating political stew brewing in the shallow water of Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound. The first in a two part segment is tentatively set to begin on Monday or Tuesday August 6/7th.

This from Cape Cod Today:

"The Daily Show selected Jason Jones, the correspondent most likely to take his shirt off, to send to the Cape. Brace yourselves for shots of a shirtless Jones sunning himself on a yacht or splashing around on a beach.

Individuals for and against Cape Wind were interviewed. The people for Cape Wind felt more comfortable with the Daily Show camera crew, although they may have been duped. Audra Parker, who is with the anti-Cape Wind Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, said of her Daily Show interview: "I wouldn't say it was pleasant.""

Well, I bet it wasn't pleasant Audra. However, I am guessing that some, perhaps many, will find it quite pleasant watching you sweat, evade and squirm as the Daily Show exposes your alliance as the aesthetically narrow-minded, NIMBYist, self-serving, special interest group that it is. Pleasant indeed!


August 4, 2007

Fences and Boundaries: Is the grass always greener?

What is that old adage about the grass being greener on the other side? Well, there is certainly some truth to that statement, but it depends on which side the person is on when those words are uttered. A little while back I attended a lecture given by conservation biologist Michael Soule. He showed several slides the land bordering fencelines along park boundaries. The images he showed were of highly overgrazed lands next to much more healthy lands on the other side of the fence. Surprisingly, the overgrazed land was within park boundaries, while the healthy land was outside the boundaries. The images Soule showed were of Rocky Mountain National Park in central Colorado, where the dominant land management practice in the park has been to let the elk populations thrive. With wolves all but erradicated from the Colorado landscape, the elk have no ecological forces keeping their populations in check. But in terms of the wolf, there are myriad political forces keeping their populations in check. There are many options on the table, ranging from birth control for elk, to allowing limited hunting. But one of the more controversial proposals would bring wolves back to Colorado. Why is it controversial? Because a wee bit of politics has mixed with some science to create (no, not political science)-- the strikingly familiar dynamics of environmental politics in the U.S.

Let me explain: elk have become the meal-ticket for RMNP, the National Park Service, and the firmly entrenched tourism industry in the gateway town of Estes Park. Elk parade through the streets of Estes, munching on grass at McDonalds and lazing on the lawn of the Stanley Hotel. Tourists stop and snap photos of the large, charismatic herbivores; sometimes the lucky folks can even do so from the air-conditioned comfort of their adventurously named Land Rovers, Explorers, Expeditions, and Navigators; or perhaps their more aptly named Suburbans. Additionally, a rather vociferous alliance of anti-wolf forces (mostly ranchers fearing the cow-snacking tendencies of the gray wolf)has gained a stable foothold in the ag-friendly state of Colorado.

My point is not that there is something wrong with elk, actually I find them to be rather stunning creatures. Nor is my point that people should actually get out of their cars to appreciate wildlife (at least not my central point). My point is that we must be watchful of the power politics can have over scientific evidence. Science may not always be able to provide the "best" answer, but we must be watchful of our political leaders obscuring empirical evidence necessary to sound policymaking. Sound familiar?

I could not locate the slides that Prof. Soule showed that day, but I am often reminded of the landscape and ecological impacts of fences, borders and boundaries. These images are absolutely stunning examples of how land management practices around the world can have a sometimes devastating effect on ecological systems. Enjoy these images, my guess is that you will not always be able to guess on which side the park sits! Looks can be deceiving!

August 3, 2007

In Support of a Federal Solar Tax Credit

The House of Representatives will soon vote on HR2776, which will extend and enlarge vital tax credits for solar energy installations. Please call your Representative today and urge a 'YES' vote for this vital bill.

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Spain Passes Law Legalizing Offshore Wind Farms

Spain -- the world's second leading producer of wind power -- has passed a new law allowing wind parks to be built off its coast. It is predicted that the offshore wind parks will generate between 2,000 and 3,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity by 2020. That would represent a major contribution to Spain's future wind power production.

Meanwhile in the U.S., we stand idly by and watch as the world erects offshore wind facilities off their coasts.

August 1, 2007

Fox News: Fair and Balanced

This from the good folks over at Grist...

And Rupert Murdock is buying Dow Jones? This should get pretty interesting.