Monday, August 31, 2009

An alliance of red and green politics would transform the landscape of Britain

My friends and I often joke that what we need to to propel the clean energy economy into existence is a benign dictator. The climate change clock is ticking and we are rapidly approaching a global ecological tipping point of no return. A point when change becomes so chaotic and unpredictable that events like the ones describing New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina(in yesterday's post) become commonplace.

Are there alternatives to the vision of a friendly eco-dictator? Some activists who are convinced that capitalism and sustainability are incompatible, are offering up the concept of "Green Socialism" (GW)

How green socialism can save the UK

Britain is ideally placed to lead the world on renewable energy. But a free market lacks the nerve to avert climate change crisis

By Neal Lawson

The Guardian

August 30, 2009

It may be a crisis that is too good to waste but we have to move fast to define and win support for a progressive response to the failures of the market. But a new socialism can only be built on the politics of sustainability.

We must remember that it is not just banks that have failed. Two years into the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, with more than 2.4 million already without work, the official closure earlier this month of Britain's only wind turbine blade manufacturing plant, Vestas, is a sharp reminder of the failure of blind reliance on free markets to solve the economic and climate change crises. The plant's closure, with the loss of 400 jobs, was blamed on the slow pace of growth in the UK's wind turbine market and the drawn out local planning process to agree projects.

It has brought home the reality that the changes needed to protect us from catastrophic climate change are exactly the opportunities that can catalyse an upturn in our economy. Clean, fuel-free renewable energy is a huge international growth sector – allowing countries to achieve energy security, protect themselves against volatile fossil fuel prices and stimulate economic development without the consequence of dangerous carbon emissions that are the primary cause of climate change.

Worldwide in 2008, at $155bn (£95bn), more was invested in sustainable than conventional energy production. It is no coincidence that it is the world's most economically dynamic countries – such as Germany and China – that are shaping markets and driving investment to benefit from an almost exponential growth in renewable technologies.

Britain almost couldn't be better placed to profit from this emergent sector. We are one of the windiest countries anywhere in the world. We already have engineering expertise for offshore windfarms from exploiting our dwindling gas and oil reserves. The skill sets of our ailing car manufacturing industry, together with our aerospace industry, are easily transferable to wind turbine manufacturing. Research from the business advisory group the Carbon Trust shows that by 2020, the UK could capture 45% of the global offshore wind energy market, and that by 2050 our wind energy industry alone could be worth £65bn to the UK economy. Our badly hit construction sector is well placed to lead the energy efficiency revolution needed for our aged housing and public building stock. The UK wave and tidal power research and development industry is already a world leader.

We have a serious road map to deliver some of these economic and climate solutions set out by the energy and climate change secretary, Ed Miliband, in July's Low Carbon Transition Plan and Renewable Energy Strategy. The plan, which rhetorically at least has cross-party support, could create up to half a million more jobs in the UK. But, as a legacy of the free-market fundamentalist, non-strategic approach of previous energy ministers, the UK still languishes near the bottom of Europe's renewable energy league table. The sector in the UK has been hit hard by the slump in investment, including problems accessing finance.

What we need now is support for the scale of investment needed to jump start the industry, and confidence that the bumper crop of neo-Thatcherite Tory MPs heading for parliament next spring will let more than a tiny handful of wind turbines through the planning process. Figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change show Conservative-run councils have been blocking three times as many windfarms as they approve. Unless David Cameron publicly commits to meeting the government's target to generate 15% of energy from renewable sources by 2020 – and sets out a convincing strategy for how this will be achieved – his blue-green agenda will look to the public and investors like nasty party brand decontamination rather than long-term commitment.

Bold Keynesian bailouts by Alistair Darling and Lord Mandelson of other parts of the economy, notably the finance sector and car industries, have saved them from catastrophe. Along with other major bailouts internationally, they have also ended the disastrous era where state intervention was taboo. But, only £405m was allocated in the budget for developing green industries – just £108m of which is for direct funding of renewable energy development. Even the failed RBS bankers reportedly won £775m for bonuses from the chancellor. This is still nowhere near the scale of support needed capitalise on the competitive advantage we could have in clean energy.

The passion of the protesting workers and the obvious synergy of economic and environmental interests has helped to make the campaign against the Vestas plant closure a cause celebre for both the trade union and environmental movements this summer. In other parts of Europe and the US the benefits to ordinary working people are already manifest – new skilled jobs, training, more comfortable insulated homes, measures to alleviate fuel poverty and protection from spikes in fossil fuel bills. These are the kind of benefits that can be achieved here too, but only with the kind of ambition and sustained, political commitment that will attract rapid investment and overcome a knee-jerk rejection of windfarm developments.

The stakes are too high to left to anonymous free market forces driven by fossil fuel and nuclear interests. The economic cost of inaction – laid out in the authoritative Stern Review report – is bleak. Stern estimated the cost to the world economy of unabated climate change would be around 5% to 20% of gross domestic product per year – a figure that would dwarf the cost of the banking crisis. An alliance of red and green politics would transform the landscape of Britain. The moment to do it is now.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

“This place is going to look like Little Somalia"

Believe it or not, it was four years ago that Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf of Mexico and led to the the most devastating natural disaster in the nation's history. Many residents there are still trying to pull their lives back together.

Even with the passage of time, I continue to learn more interesting -- and often disturbing -- facts about just what happened in the aftermath of Katrina's making landfall in Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005. Some of what transpired are stark reminders why freedom should never be taken for granted.

I discovered the following article right after I finished reading Dave Egger's new book entitled Zeitoun. Some of what I read in the book shook me so much I had to do a little Google fact-checking. I discovered that the book only depicts a snapshot of the egregious assaults on the freedoms of Blacks,Muslims (and others?) that unfolded.

It makes me wonder if this was a preview of how the effects of global climate change can lead to the unravelling of our social fabric. (GW)

Katrina Was No Less Than a War

James Ridgeway

New America Media

August 28, 2009

Editor's Note: The poverty and blackness of New Orleans residents turned Katrina from a natural disaster to a war-torn city in which the victims were treated as enemies of the state, writes NAM contributor James Ridgeway.

Confronted with images of corpses floating in the blackened floodwaters or baking in the sun on abandoned highways, there aren’t too many people left who see what happened following Hurricane Katrina as a purely “natural” disaster.

The dominant narratives that have emerged in the four years since the storm are of a gross human tragedy, compounded by social inequities and government ineptitude—a crisis subsequently exploited in every way possible for political and financial gain.

But there’s an even harsher truth, one some New Orleans residents learned in the very first days but which is only beginning to become clear to the rest of us: What took place in this devastated American city was no less than a war, in which victims whose only crimes were poverty and blackness were treated as enemies of the state.

It started immediately after the storm and flood hit, when civilian aid was scarce — but private security forces already had boots on the ground. Some, like Blackwater (which has since redubbed itself Xe), were under federal contract, while a host of others answered to wealthy residents and businessmen who had departed well before Katrina, and needed help protecting their property from the suffering masses left behind.

According to Jeremy Scahill’s reporting in The Nation, Blackwater set up a headquarters in downtown New Orleans. Armed as they would be in Iraq, with automatic rifles, guns strapped to legs, and pockets overflowing with ammo, Blackwater contractors drove around in SUVs and unmarked cars with no license plates.

“When asked what authority they were operating under,” Scahill reported, “one guy said, ‘We’re on contract with the Department of Homeland Security.’ Then, pointing to one of his comrades, he said, ‘He was even deputized by the governor of the state of Louisiana. We can make arrests and use lethal force if we deem it necessary.’ The man then held up the gold Louisiana law enforcement badge he wore around his neck.”

The Blackwater operators described their mission in New Orleans as “securing neighborhoods,” as if they were talking about Sadr City. When National Guard troops descended on the city, the Army Times described their role as fighting “the insurgency in the city.” Brig. Gen. Gary Jones, who commanded the Louisiana National Guard’s Joint Task Force, told the paper, “This place is going to look like Little Somalia. We’re going to go out and take this city back. This will be a combat operation to get this city under control.”

Ten days after the storm, the New York Times reported that although the city was calm, with no signs of looting (though it acknowledged this had taken place previously), “New Orleans has turned into an armed camp, patrolled by thousands of local, state, and federal law enforcement officers, as well as National Guard troops and active-duty soldiers.”

The local police superintendent ordered all weapons, including legally registered firearms, confiscated from civilians. But as the Times noted, that order didn’t “apply to hundreds of security guards hired by businesses and some wealthy individuals to protect property…[who] openly carry M-16’s and other assault rifles.”

Scahill spoke to Michael Montgomery, the chief of security for one wealthy businessman, who said his men came under fire from “black gangbangers” near the Ninth Ward. Armed with AR-15s and Glocks, Montgomery and his men “unleashed a barrage of bullets in the general direction of the alleged shooters on the overpass. ‘After that, all I heard was moaning and screaming, and the shooting stopped. That was it. Enough said.’”

Malik Rahim, a Vietnam veteran and longtime community activist, was one of the organizers of the Common Ground Collective, which quickly began dispensing basic aid and medical care in the first days after the hurricane. But far from aiding the relief workers, Rahim told me this week, the police and troops who began patrolling the streets treated them as criminals or “insurgents.” African-American men caught outside also ran the risk of crossing paths with roving vigilante patrols that shot at will, he says. In this dangerous environment, Common Ground began to rely on white volunteers to move through a city that had simply become too perilous for blacks.

In July, the local television station WDSU released a home video, taken shortly after the storm hit, of a local man, Paul Gleason, who bragged to two police officers about shooting looters in the Algiers section of New Orleans.

“Did you have any problems with looters,” [sic] asked an officer.

“Not anymore,” said Gleason.

“Not anymore?”

“They’re all dead,” said Gleason.

The officer asked, “What happened?”

“We shot them,” said Gleason.

“How many did you shoot?


“Thirty-eight people? What did you do with the bodies?”

“We gave them to the Coast Guard,” said Gleason.

Gleason told his story with a cup of red wine in one hand and riding a tractor from Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World.

Although the government’s aid efforts were in chaos, those involved in the self-generated community rescue and relief efforts were often seen as a threat. Even so, Common Ground, founded in the days after Katrina hit, eventually managed to serve more than half a million people, operating feeding stations, opening free health and legal clinics, and later rebuilding homes and planting trees. But they “never got a dime” from the federal government, says Rahim. The feds did, however, recruit one of Common Ground’s founders, Brandon Darby, as an informant, later using him to infiltrate groups planning actions at the 2008 Republican National Convention.

And while the government couldn’t seem to keep people from dying on rooftops or abandoned highways, it wasted no time building a temporary jail in New Orleans.

Burl Cain, the warden of the notorious Angola Prison, a former slave plantation that’s now home to 5,000 inmates, was rushed down to the city to oversee “Camp Greyhound” in the city’s bus terminal. According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the jail “was constructed by inmates from Angola and Dixon state prisons and was outfitted with everything a stranded law enforcer could want, including top-of-the-line recreational vehicles to live in, and electrical power, courtesy of a yellow Amtrak locomotive. There are computers to check suspects’ backgrounds and a mug shot station — complete with heights marked in black on the wall that serves as the backdrop.”

In the virtual martial law imposed in New Orleans after Katrina, the war on the poor sometimes even spilled over into the war on terror. In his latest book, Zeitoun, published in July, Dave Eggers tells the story of a local Syrian immigrant who stayed in New Orleans to protect his properties and ended up organizing makeshift relief efforts and rescuing people in a canoe. He continued right up until he was arrested by a group of unidentified, heavily armed men in uniform, thrown into Camp Greyhound, and questioned as a suspected terrorist. In an interview with Salon, Eggers said:

Zeitoun was among thousands of people who were doing “Katrina time” after the storm. There was a complete suspension of all legal processes and there were no hearings, no courts for months and months and not enough folks in the judicial system really seemed all that concerned about it. It really could have only happened at that time; 2005 was just the exact meeting place of the Bush-era philosophy towards law enforcement and incarceration, their philosophy toward habeas corpus and their neglect and indifference to the plight of New Orleanians.

Through all the time that the federal and local governments, in concert with wealthy New Orleanians, were pitching their battle, there was virtually no one fighting on the other side. Reviewing the “available evidence” a month after Katrina, the New York Times concluded that “the most alarming stories that coursed through the city appear to be little more than figments of frightened imaginations.” The reports of residents firing at National Guard helicopters, of tourists being robbed and raped on Bourbon Street, and of murderous rampages in the Superdome — all turned out to be false.

Since then, it has become increasingly clear that the truth of what happened in New Orleans — vigilantism and racially tinged violence, a military response that supplanted a humanitarian one — is equally sinister.

James Ridgeway has been reporting on politics for more than 45 years. He is currently senior Washington correspondent for Mother Jones, and recently wrote a blog on the 2008 presidential election for the Guardian online.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A matter of asking 'who cares about water?'

We live, it seems, in a constant state of crisis. It is unclear if we have successfully weathered the international economic crisis or our national housing crisis. The energy crisis has been with us so long we almost take it for granted. There is scientific consensus that the global climate crisis is real and getting more serious each day we delay in taking meaningful actions to mitigate it. And for some time now scientists have warned that water quality and supply are the next major crises looming on the horizon.

In fact, these phenomena are all intimately interrelated. This is both alarming and reassuring. Alarming because it suggests that many of Spaceship Earth's life support systems are dysfunctional. Reassuring because we know that a relatively small number of systemic solutions (trimtabs) capable of synergistically addressing many if not all of these pressing problems. (GW)

Water experts pour on pressure for Copenhagen deal

25 August 2009

At the World Water Week conference, held last week (16-22 August) in Sweden, political leaders and experts called for water to be a key part of the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this December.


The annual event, organised by the Stockholm International Water Institute, acts as a forum for the exchange of a international range of views and experiences from scientific, business, policy and civil society sectors.

The week's discussion culminated in the 'Stockholm Statement', which sends a message to the member states of the Conference of the Parties (COP 15) - part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change - "that importance of water must be properly and adequately reflected within the COP-15 agreement, and in processes beyond".

In a statement addressed to global representatives negotiating a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol, conference participants agreed that "water is a key medium through which climate change impacts will be felt and it is therefore central to planning and adaptation surrounding climate change".

The interconnected nature of water in economic, social and environmental issues is highlighted in the document, which insists that a firm and fair agreement is "crucial in order to secure future water resource availability". This opinion reinforces an earlier message sent to world leaders at the World Water Forum meeting in March (EurActiv 20/03/09).

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) predicts that by 2030, 47% of world population will be living in areas of high water stress, if no further action is taken.

In the conference's opening address, Gunilla Carlsson, Swedish minister for international development cooperation, said that adaptation to climate change was particularly important in developing countries, as they are "more dependent on and exposed to the vagaries of the weather".

Sweden, current holder of the EU presidency, is putting adaptation to climate change high on the agenda of the upcoming UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen in December this year, Carlsson said, adding that "the hydrological cycle is an integral part of the climate system" and that "adaptation therefore naturally evolves around water".

The EU has begun to shift its focus on the issue of climate change adaptation to put more emphasis on water policies, but has previously been criticised for lacking a global vision on the subject (Euractiv 06/04/09).

An example of action within the EU comes from Italy's Emilia-Romagna region, which has taken various water management initiatives of the River Po. Remo Tavernari, policy officer at the region's representation in Brussels, told EurActiv that the river basin "has experienced a dramatic water-decrease since 2003".

In response, enhanced cooperation between the different institutions and economic sectors involved has allowed Emilia Romagna to put "monitoring, conservation and water-demand control amongst its priorities" and a "more proactive, preventive approach" at the centre of its river basin management.

The Stockholm experts also emphasise the importance of more research into the vulnerability of water resources to climate change and additional funding to support the development of adaptive strategies for vulnerable groups and eco-systems.

On the controversial topic of who should bear the cost of climate change in terms of prevention and adaptation, the conference argued for the initial financing of vulnerable, low-income countries to mitigate effects already underway. It underlined this should then be followed up by the establishment of a "well-resourced mechanism for funding adaptation as part of ongoing climate negotiations".


In its working paper on climate change and water, which accompanies the White Paper on Adapting to Climate Change published April 2009, the European Commission makes plain that "there is clear evidence that climate change will have a significant impact on water quantity and quality".

The 3rd UN World Water Development Report, published this year, estimates that 90% of the three billion people who are expected to boost world population by 2050 will be in developing countries. Many of these will be in regions already experiencing water stress, where the current population does not have sustainable access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.

"Water quality and its sustainable use is an urgent global problem. There is a pressing need for clear principles and tools for achieving and demonstrating progress towards sustainable water management," said Anne-Léonore Boffi, assistant project manager for water at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

Her comments coincided with the launch of a new report, 'Water for Business: Initiatives Guiding Sustainable Water Management in the Private Sector', jointly developed by WBCSD and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

"Many initiatives have emerged around sustainable water management for business. This is a positive signal that water is moving up the corporate agenda. We aim to help companies identify which initiative will best suit their needs," said James Griffiths, managing director for sustainable forest products, water and ecosystems at the WBCSD.

"It is true that Europe is not showing its great potential as global leader on water issues. But Europe does have a vision (Water Vision for Europe - 2030) and a strategy (Aquawareness) to achieve sustainable and effective water management. It's just a matter of asking 'who cares (about water)?" argues Lucilla Minelli, communications and project officer the European Water Partnership, a Brussels-based NGO.

Friday, August 28, 2009

True costs of climate change

There is yet another report that attempts to predict the costs of adapting to climate change. These numbers will undoubtedly continue to be revised and will, in all probability never come close to being accurate. That's because trying to predict how Nature's complex interdependent systems will respond to climate change is well beyond our grasp.

Unfortunately some measure of adaptation is going to be necessary because climate change is clearly already underway. We should, however not surrender and give up on efforts designed to mitigate the impacts as much as possible. (GW)

Annual cost of climate change 'will be £190bn'

UN has underestimated financial burden of global warming, study finds

By Steve Connor, Science Editor
The Independent
August 28, 2009

The true global cost of adapting to climate change is likely to be many times greater than official United Nations' estimates: in 2030 alone, the world could be spending more than three times the annual budget of the NHS, a study has found.

A team of British experts has discovered that the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has seriously underestimated the expected annual cost of dealing with climate impacts. It suggests that the true cost could be at least two or three-fold greater, and possibly much more if other hidden factors are taken into account.

Estimates of how much the world will have to spend annually on adapting to some of the worst impacts of climate change have varied widely, but the UNFCCC has suggested that typically it could be about $70bn or $100bn (£44bn and £63bn) by 2030, the cost of about three Beijing Olympics. But other scientists have now suggested that the true annual cost could easily reach $300bn or more.

"Just looking in depth at the sectors the UNFCCC did study, we estimate adaptation costs to be two to three times higher, and when you include sectors the UNFCCC left out, the true cost is probably much greater," said Professor Martin Parry, the lead author of the report, Assessing the Cost of Adaptation to Climate Change. "The amount of money on the table at Copenhagen is one of the key factors that will determine whether we achieve a climate-change agreement. But previous estimates of adaptation costs have substantially misjudged the scale of funds needed," added the professor, a visiting fellow at the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London.

Adaptations to climate change include the additional spending needed to improve measures such as building new flood defences and transporting water for agriculture, treating an increase in the range and severity of diseases, and replacing buildings and other infrastructure affected by rising temperatures or water levels.

The UNFCCC had commissioned a series of studies to address the estimated costs of several adaptation measures but it was under pressure to produce results in a short time period and the studies were not fully reviewed by outside experts, Professor Parry said.

"Many of the previous estimates, it would be fair to say, were based on back-of-the-envelope calculations. In fact, one person said they were written on the back of a metro ticket. We think these numbers are underestimates... they don't stack up," Professor Parry said.

The authors of the report said that the costs of adapting to climate change begin to soar aftere other sectors of the economy not dealt with by the UNFCCC are taken into consideration. They includes tourism, energy and manufacturing. The sectors the UNFCCC did deal with were treated in only a partial manner, the report says.

One of the biggest underestimates is the additional cost of building new homes, offices, roads and other infrastructure affected by climate change. This cost alone could be many times higher than previous estimates.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Extracting oil with solar power

We know that oil and water do not mix. Never have, never will. Many of us thought the same holds true for fossil fuels and renewable energy -- inherently incompatible. Well, apparently that's not the case based on a recent (and surprising) announcement that a company called BrightSource plans to construct a massive solar thermal project at a California oil field that will provide heat to aid in the extraction of oil.

There is, of course the Beatrice project -- the Scottish offshore wind demonstration that has two offshore wind turbines providing electricity to an adjoining oil platform. But that's just a demonstration -- the full-scale project would provide electricity to ratepayers via the grid.

These examples are worth keeping in mind as we hopefully continue to advance towards a clean energy economy. The fossil and nuclear energy industries will not bow out quietly. In fact, it's obvious that they are willing to co-opt renewables to help with their bottom lines and public images. (GW)

Chevron and BrightSource team up to extract oil with solar power

Unlikely partnership will see 29MW solar thermal plant installed at Californian oil field

25 Aug 2009

They might make for pretty unlikely bed fellows in the eyes of many environmentalists, but that has not stopped solar energy firm BrightSource Energy and oil giant Chevron teaming up to work on an innovative new project to extract oil using solar power.

Under the new proposals, solar thermal specialist BrightSource is to install more than 7,000 mirrors and a 323ft tower at Chevron's oil field in central California as part of a 29MW solar thermal plant.

However, unlike conventional solar thermal plants where the mirrors focus the sun's rays on a central tower in order to create steam that then drives a turbine, the resulting steam from the Chevron plant will be injected into wells to heat up the oil and make it easier to extract.

According to Reuters' reports, Chevron unveiled the plans late last week at a city council meeting in Coalinga, California.

Sergio Hoyos, a business developer at Chevron Technology Ventures, which is also an investor in BrightSource, said that construction work on the 100 acre site would begin before the end of the year with a goal of completing the plant by the end of 2010.

The company said that the pilot project would replace some of the steam currently generated using natural gas, and if successful it could provide a model for similar projects at other oil fields.

The project will also add another string to the bow of BrightSource, which has emerged as one of the leading players in the fast-expanding US solar thermal market after signing 2.6GW worth of deals to sell power from planned solar plants to Californian utilities.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Think globally, eat locally

In my past lives I have worked for grass roots nonprofit organizations dedicated to developing local sustainable food systems and for the Massachusetts Department of Food and Agriculture which was committed to revitalizing local agriculture. My experiences convinced me that strategies designed to reestablish local food production must be top-down/rural-urban affairs.

It is also important to understand what is realistically achievable and manage expectations. Having said that there is clearly much that can be done to regain meaningful measures of control over the means for meeting this very basic need. (GW)

The promise and limits of local food

By Brian Donahue
Boston Globe
August 26, 2009

EATING LOCAL is all the rage. As someone who dropped out to become a community farmer in the 1970s, and still farms, I am delighted. As someone who later dropped back into academia to become an environmental historian, I have my doubts about how much we can grow in New England. Watching some of my best students head down the same path, I feel I owe their parents an explanation.

The idea that we should grow all our own food locally is easy to dismiss. By 1800, with barely a million people, New England was already importing grain. More and more arrived from the Midwest in the following decades to help feed booming mill cities, even as three-quarters of New England was rapidly cleared for meat, milk, and wool. Local farmland was pressed past the ecological limit, and by the end of the 19th century much of it was returning to forest.

Today New England’s population approaches 15 million, while only 7 percent of our land remains in agriculture. To come even close to feeding ourselves we would have to cut down a large part of our recovered forest - not something we want to repeat. But there are still good reasons to move toward more local food production. We need to determine which crops to grow here. What were we growing a century ago, when New England was already an urban, industrial society?

On that question, history is more encouraging. New England farming did not collapse when the railroad delivered a flood of cheap grain from the Midwest in the middle of the 19th century. Dairy farmers let millions of acres of degraded pasture grow up to pines not because they went broke, but because they were feeding Midwestern grain to their cows to increase the flow of milk. Local poultry production took off. New England apples held their own, and intensive market gardening boomed around the region’s cities. New England food production actually peaked just after 1900, even as the forest was returning.

This sensible regional food system was destroyed by the 20th-century rise of cheap oil. Industrial agriculture brings not only grain and meat, but milk, fruits, and vegetables from distant feedlots and fields, by methods that are at best unpalatable. Presuming a post-oil future, the agriculture that flourished here before the age of oil provides both inspiration and warning. The revival of intensive local production of fruits and vegetables in urban and suburban areas is well underway; that doesn’t require much acreage. But we can’t subsist entirely on parsnips and kale. What about animal products, and grain?

Good pasture management eluded our forebears, who fell into grain addiction. We need to put our dairy production, along with whatever beef and lamb we grow, back onto a foundation of local grass. That is what ruminants should mainly eat (for their health and ours), and that is what best suits our soil and climate. We can produce all our own milk, butter, and cheese in New England again, sustainably, with only a modest reduction in forest - if we can master productive rotational grazing.

But New England will still need to import grain, both for our own consumption and for feed. Even “pastured’’ chickens and pigs mostly eat corn. And it makes good sense to import grain, along with vegetable oil, and the bulk of our meat. Grain ships at very low cost, so we don’t need to grow much here. Given our large urban population and limited acreage, sustainable farming and eating in New England will always require sustainable farming in the Midwest.

We need a targeted expansion in local production of foods that really belong in New England, tied to reforms throughout our global agricultural system - and certainly, some reduction of meat in our diets. This would bless us with healthier food, an attractive landscape, and opportunities for people to become more engaged with how their food is grown. Yes, we can shrink our carbon footprint, too, if we farm with that in mind. But in the end those connections, not some chimera of local self-sufficiency, are the real benefits of local farming.

Brian Donahue, an associate professor of American environmental studies at Brandeis University, is the author of “Reclaiming the Commons: Community Farms and Forest in New England.’’

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Prius Desert

Europe's eyes are focusing on Africa deserts as a possible endless supply of energy to
meet its (that is, Europe's) future energy needs. If this sounds like a bad idea to you, welcome to my world. No matter how I dissect the Desertec idea, I can't make it fit into any kind of sustainable energy scenario.

Is it me? Or is it Desertec?

Cadillac Desert was a landmark book that exposed the U.S. government's abuse of the west's water systems to benefit the interests of big business (including agribusiness). Those water systems are rapidly disappearing.

European politicians propose to take control of Africa's landscapes in the name of clean energy.

How do you spell exploitation?(GW)

The Big Question: Should Africa be generating much of Europe's power?

By Daniel Howden
The Independent
August 25, 2009

Why are we asking this now?

Two hugely ambitious power-generating schemes have been launched in recent weeks, one offering to create the world's largest solar farm and the other to create the biggest hydroelectric dam on the planet. In both cases the location for the mega-projects is Africa: the solar-power scheme envisages harnessing the sun in the Moroccan and/or Algerian Sahara; while the hydroelectric plan centres on damming the mighty Congo River. What the two projects have in common is that they seek to export the majority of the power they intend to generate from impoverished countries to more developed economies. In the case of the Sahara to Southern Europe and in the case of Congo to South Africa, foreign mining interests inside the Democratic Republic of Congo and again, Europe. Even in the best-case scenario neither project will be up and running for 15 years.

How would it work?

Planners behind the Desertec scheme point out that the solar energy that falls on the Sahara in six hours would power Europe for one year. Although the difficulty in harnessing, storing and transferring that electricity means that the eventual aim is to supply 15 per cent of Europe's power needs. The Inga Dam project in DRC aims to generate 40,000MW, meaning twice the capacity of the giant Three Gorges dam in China, which would be more than the output of South Africa's entire troubled national power industry. In terms of how it works, however sophisticated power stations become, they all do broadly the same thing as a bicycle dynamo - they either boil water or harness moving water to turn turbines that generate resistance and charge. In the Sahara it would be done by a new concentrated solar power (CSP) technology which is in effect a vast field of mirrors which collect heat, boil water and turn turbines. The electricity generated would be channelled through direct current cables under the Mediterranean and into Europe. In the case of the Congo it would involve absorbing the extraordinary power of the Inga Falls to power the turbines. The same cables would then transfer that electricity as far afield as South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt and southern Europe.

What would the cost be?

The Desertec plan has been costed at €400bn, while the Grand Inga Dam would weigh in at $80bn, always assuming that the projects are delivered on budget. The main backers of the Sahara scheme are a dozen finance and industrial firms, mainly from Germany, including household names such as Siemens. One of the biggest cost factors will be the direct current cables which will cost as much as $1bn each, even to cross from the Sahara to Southern Europe and at least 20 of them are needed. There are a host of risk factors involved in both that stretch from political and regional instability in the Maghreb to prolonged conflict in the DRC. Add to these Saharan sandstorms and the costs of providing the water necessary to clean solar panels and cool turbines in a desert.

Why are developed economies shopping for power in the third world?

The simplest answer is that there are no equivalents of the Saharan solar power or the roaring waters of the Inga Falls in southern England, or anywhere else in crowded Europe. But another aspect is the difficulty that governments and private investors have had in establishing large renewable energy projects in Europe. Some, such as Portugal, have forged ahead with widespread windfarms but others, such as the UK, have met with organised, local resistance to big projects that would transform the environment. By contrast, the Sahara offers proximity to Europe, a tiny population and intense sunlight.

How will Europe benefit?

In Europe the energy question is a strategic one. Most governments are looking for ways to reduce their reliance on Russian gas which some would argue has given too much power to Moscow. Many administrations are pursuing the nuclear option but often without being honest about the timescale involved in launching next-generation civilian reactors - at least 20 years from now in most cases. All of this is happening while the long-term goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent below 1995 levels before 2050. In any case, many EU countries are behind on their commitments to switch at least 15 per cent of their energy needs to renewable resources by 2015.

How will Africa benefit?

According to the World Bank, The Grand Inga project has the potential to bring electricity to 500 million homes in Africa. It would solve at a stroke the electricity crisis in South Africa which has seen the continent's biggest economy plunged into darkness for days at a time. However, there are two previous Inga dams, which were costly and corrupt failures. If it worked, it could also deal with the energy needs of DRC's mining sector in Katanga, power Namibia and fill the shortfall in Nigeria's generating capacity. A quick look at satellite images of the Earth at night are sufficient to show that Africa remains in an electrical dark age. Fewer than 30 per cent of African households have access to electricity and that number plunges to one in 10 in many countries.

So why the controversy?

A new report by Usaid this week estimated that there are now one billion people living in Africa. Despite urbanisation, the majority of them live outside cities, or without access to basic services. Exporting African electricity to Europe's businesses and consumers strikes some as grotesquely wrong. Many development agencies favour a patchwork of smaller projects using existing solar technology - photovoltaic - which is cheaper and more suited to a dispersed population. In contrast, an open energy market would see Africans competing with far richer Europeans for electricity generated from their natural resources. Considering the scant benefits that have accrued to ordinary people from other natural boons such as oil and minerals, these projects can be seen as a power grab. Then there is climate change, to which Africa contributes least and suffers the worst consequences. In Kenya climate change is contributing to a drought that has crippled the hydropower the country relies on. A similar crisis in Uganda means the country is running on generators. Rich industrial nations are already committed to setting up global-warming adaptation funds and technology transfer through the UN climate talks. Critics of the mega-projects believe the billions would be better spent there than in indirect subsidies to Western multinationals under the guise of helping Africa.

Should Europe be allowed to continue its power-generating schemes in Africa?


*Europe needs renewable energy and Africa needs massive investment, it's a win-win situation

*The Sahara is empty and barraged with more solar power every morning than Europe needs in a year

*A new grand dam on the Congo River would power up to 500 million African homes


*These mega-schemes are huge indirect subsidies from rich nations to multinationals seeking mega-profits

*The centralised grand designs don't meet Africa's dispersed power needs and are a huge distraction

*Africa is full of Western-funded white elephants, two of them already on the Congo River []

Monday, August 24, 2009

Get in touch with your survival instinct

The bad news is: Americans should not look to the federal government to for assistance or relief in times of natural disasters. I don't think you'd find too many people in New Orleans or Mississippi who would argue that point. The good news is that Americans are incredibly resourceful and resilient in times of extraordinary hardship.

So two posts today. The first is from the current issue of The Atlantic describes FEMA's warning to the country to be prepared to fend for itself when the next Katrina strikes. The second from the Washington Post is a review of a new book by Rebecca Solnit entitled "A Paradise Built In Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster".
The first is a sobering dose of reality. The second a source of inspiration. (GW)

FEMA’s new administrator has a message for Americans: get in touch with your survival instinct.

In Case of Emergency

By Amanda Ripley

The Atlantic

September 2009

Craig Fugate, the new head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under President Barack Obama, is an unusual choice for the job, historically speaking. Unlike many of his predecessors, most famously Michael “Heckuva Job” Brown under President George W. Bush, Fugate (pronounced few-gate) has experience in the relevant subject matter. A former firefighter, Fugate managed disasters for 20 years in Florida, the fiasco capital of America.

Even more bizarrely for FEMA, often a dumping ground for friends of the powerful, Fugate has no political connections to Obama. Instead, he got his job the old-fashioned way—when Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was looking for candidates, people kept mentioning his name. He has a reputation for telling it like it is—in a field where “it” is usually bad. And what Fugate has to say may come as strong medicine for his fellow citizens, nine out of 10 of whom now live in a place at significant risk for some kind of disaster.

A bear of a man with a white goatee, an aw-shucks accent, and a voice just slightly higher than you expect, Fugate has no university degrees but knows enough to be mistaken for a meteorologist by hurricane experts. He grew up in Alachua County, smack in the middle of Florida. Both of his parents died before he graduated from high school. As a teenager, he followed his father’s example and became a volunteer firefighter. Then he became a paramedic, earning the nickname “Dr. Death” for having to pronounce more people dead on his first day than anyone before him. But he found his calling when he moved into emergency management, in 1989. Obsessively planning for horrible things he could not really control seemed to inspire him. “He is emergency management,” says Will May Jr., who worked with Fugate for more than 20 years and is now Alachua’s public-safety director. “That’s what he does. He spends practically all his waking life working in it, thinking about it, talking about it, planning how to do things better.”

Fugate is well respected, which is not the same thing as being well liked. “If they wanted a politician, Craig’s not your man,” says Ed Kennedy, who drove ambulances with him in Alachua. “Craig’s personality is more ‘Speak straight, don’t powder-puff it.’” Already, Fugate is saying things most emergency managers say only in private.

“We need to change behavior in this country,” he told about 400 emergency-management instructors at a conference in June, lambasting the “government-centric” approach to disasters. He learned a perverse lesson in Florida: the more the federal government does in routine emergencies, the greater the odds of catastrophic failure in a big disaster. “It’s like a Chinese finger trap,” he told me last spring, as a hailstorm fittingly raged outside his office. If the feds do more, the public, along with state and local officials, do less. They come to expect ice and water in 24 hours and full reimbursement for sodden carpets. But as part of a federal system, FEMA is designed to defer to state and local officials. If another Katrina hits, and the locals are overwhelmed, a full-strength federal response will inevitably take time. People who need help the most—the elderly, the disabled, and the poor—may not get it fast enough.

To avoid “system collapse,” as he puts it, Fugate insists that the government must draft the public. “We tend to look at the public as a liability. [But] who is going to be the fastest responder when your house falls on your head? Your neighbor.” A few years ago, Fugate dropped the word victim from his vocabulary. “You’re not going to hear me refer to people as victims unless we’ve lost ’em. I call them survivors.” He criticizes the media for “celebrating” people who choose not to evacuate and then have to be rescued on live TV—while ignoring all the people who were prepared. “This is a tragedy, this whole Shakespearean circle we’re in. You never hear the media say, ‘Hey, you’re putting this rescue worker in danger.’”

At his first all-staff meeting with FEMA employees, Fugate asked for a show of hands: “How many people here have your family disaster plan ready to go? [If you don’t], you just failed your first test … If you’re going to be an emergency manager, the first place you start is at home.” Already, Fugate is factoring citizens into the agency’s models for catastrophic planning, thinking of them as rescuers and responders, not just victims. And he has changed FEMA’s mission statement from the old, paternalistic (and fantastical) vow to “protect the Nation from all hazards” to a more modest, collaborative pledge to “support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together.”

In Florida, Fugate was notorious for what he called “Thunderbolt” drills. Once a month, he’d walk into the office with a large Starbucks coffee and tell everyone to stop what they were doing and respond to a catastrophe baked in his imagination. Sometimes it was a blackout; other times it was a small nuclear bomb.

“People are afraid to fail. I’m seeking failure,” he told me. “I want to break things. I want to see what’s going on so we can fix it.”

By the five-month mark of his administration, President Obama had declared 31 major disasters, from Alaska to Arkansas. And Fugate had already held his first Thunderbolt drill in Washington. At 6 a.m. on a rainy Thursday, he sent word to FEMA staff: a major earthquake had struck in California. Staffers, awoken from sleep, scrambled to get to the office. Many did not make it. Communications broke down, as they usually do in real life. For a man seeking failure, it was a fine start.

Extraordinary communities

The Better Angels of Our Nature

By Dan Baum

Washington Post

August 23, 2009


The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster

By Rebecca Solnit

Viking. 353 pp. $27.95

In "A Paradise Built in Hell," Rebecca Solnit presents a withering critique of modern capitalist society by examining five catastrophes: the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906; the little-remembered explosion of an ammunition ship in Halifax, Nova Scotia, harbor in 1917; the Mexico City earthquake of 1985; the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack in New York; and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Her accounts of these five events are so stirring that her book is worth reading for its storytelling alone.

But what makes it even more fascinating is Solnit's demonstration that disasters give rise to small, temporary utopias in which the best of human nature emerges and a remarkable spirit of generosity and cooperation takes over. "Disaster," she writes, "along with moments of social upheaval, is when the shackles of conventional belief and role fall away and the possibilities open up." People suffering unimaginable misfortune often revert not to savagery but to an almost beatific selflessness, comforting themselves in extremis by aiding others. Solnit cites many examples of those who remember a disaster as, paradoxically, one of the great moments of their lives. The reaction is similar to that of some who recall the Great Depression as a time of spiritual and social richness.

Solnit explains this phenomenon by suggesting that everyday life is "already a disaster of sorts, from which actual disaster liberates us." She argues that capitalism is premised on scarcity and requires all of us to compete against each other relentlessly. The mental and spiritual energy we might pour into perfecting society is channeled instead into perfecting our own individual lives -- as by shopping or undergoing psychotherapy.

Endlessly focused on ourselves, we become bored, alienated and unhappy. Our natural state, Solnit maintains with a nod to the anarchist Peter Kropotkin, is tribal and communal. "The possibility of paradise is already within us as a default setting," she writes. A disaster returns us temporarily to that state of grace, which is why people remember the experience with surprising appreciation.

Solnit also addresses the way authorities behave during disasters. Those in charge assume "we are all easily activated antisocial bombs waiting to go off," she writes. "Belief in panic provides a premise for treating the public as a problem to be shut out or controlled by the military." She adds that "Hollywood eagerly feeds those beliefs," citing laughable examples in "Earthquake," "The Day After Tomorrow" and many other movies. More to the point, she describes actual incidents, such as soldiers firing on civilians after the San Francisco earthquake and authorities hiding the true conditions at Three Mile Island for fear of creating a stampede. False assumptions of panic "reinforce particular institutional interests," she writes. And she quotes with approval University of Colorado sociologist Kathleen Tierney's description of elite panic: "Fear of social disorder; fear of poor, minorities and immigrants; obsession with looting and property crime; willingness to resort to deadly force; and actions taken on the basis of rumor."

Which brings Solnit to Hurricane Katrina. "Elite panic" perfectly describes the disaster within the disaster in New Orleans. The public assertions of Mayor Ray Nagin and Police Chief Edwin Compass that babies were being raped in the Superdome and armed gangs were running riot made a hideous situation immeasurably worse. As I saw as a reporter on the ground covering the disaster, when the military finally showed up after five days, all they brought were guns and a lot of rhetoric about taking back the city. The authorities painted the victims as the villains. The reported mayhem simply didn't happen, and almost all the alleged looting was in fact people taking what food, water and medicine they needed. (I've never forgotten an image from those days: intact liquor shelves in an otherwise cleaned-out supermarket.) But even if some people took consumer goods, Solnit offers the best riposte I've encountered: "Who cares if electronics are moving around without benefit of purchase when children's corpses are floating in filthy water and stranded grandmothers are dying of heat and dehydration?"

In one respect, Solnit may be trafficking in the kind of overheated rumor she decries. She maintains that a mob of elderly white people in Algiers Point massacred an unknown number of black men. Illegal killings may have happened; they've been the subject of speculative news reports, and the FBI is investigating. But twice she claims to have evidence. All she has, though, is one black man with shotgun-pellet scars and a conversation in which some white folks boast about killing blacks. She is right to raise the issue, but she fails to turn rumor into proof. That chapter is a pity because it mars an otherwise exciting and important contribution to our understanding of ourselves.

Dan Baum is the author of "Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans."

Friday, August 21, 2009

“Don’t dump on us’’

I've posted a few stories about the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) over the years. That's because the this incredible Boston community is responsible for pulling off one of the most inspiring examples of resident-driven community development in this nation's history. What makes their story so powerful is the successful battle residents waged against the forces of racism and prejudice in bringing their once-devastated neighborhood back to life.

A group of local young artists believe that those who live and work in the neighborhood should never forget the struggle or take their success for granted. They proposed to paint a mural that would capture that history and inspire residents to continue their successful revitalization efforts.

Not everyone thought that was a good idea. (GW)

For weeks, a group of Boston youths in a summer jobs program has been researching and painting a mural celebrating the history of Dudley Street’s reclamation, a 25-year story of loss and resurrection in one of the city’s most neglected communities.

But the MBTA, which owns the East Cottage Street wall where the mural is located, told them their depiction of the neighborhood’s roughest days was too negative, that images of fires and words such as disinvestment and arson could not be used, according to the artists, members of Cape Verdean Community Unido. In essence, they said, they were asked to whitewash history.

And they would not do it.

The young people have left the first panel of their four-part mural blank, the portion that was supposed to show the years of neglect in the early 1980s. And even a last-minute peace offering from the state transportation secretary yesterday may be too late, because money for the city-funded jobs program expires today and many of those in the program will be going back to school or leaving town.

“It wouldn’t make sense’’ to leave out part of the history, said Adriana Lobo, a 16-year-old from Roxbury, wearing an orange MBTA reflective vest as she worked on the mural located beneath a Fairmont line overpass. “They just want to show all the good things that happened, and I guess the truth will never be told.’’

The group submitted two proposals for the first panel of the mural.

Their initial sketch depicted fires, the result of arson in the community. They were told that it was too violent, they said, and that a silhouette of a person pointing at the flames looked too much like a youth holding a gun, something many of them perceived as a hurtful stereotype.

On their second proposal, a text version describing the same issues, they were told to strike out the words disinvestment, abandon, and arson from their description of the problems that plagued the neighborhood, they say.

“I don’t get this,’’ said Suely Neves,’’ the 26-year-old project coordinator for the mural program. “The beauty of it all is that we went from something so heartbreaking, so devastating.’’

The mural is the seventh in a community jobs program that began in 2004 as a way to give young people jobs while they learn cultural history and community pride. Others have depicted Puerto Rican, African-American, and Cape Verdean culture, as well as messages of peace. This year, the artists spent weeks researching the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, a 25-year-old community organization, before they began painting the latest mural.

“It gives you like an important feeling,’’ said Randy Vicente, an 18-year-old from Hyde Park. “You don’t want to put just anything on the wall. It seemed like we had the perfect idea.’’

Carlos Santiago, the 25-year-old lead artist, refers to his fellow painters as “my crew,’’ and relishes the speckles of paint on his plaid shorts, T-shirt, and white Nike high-tops. He conceived not only of the first frame, representing the neglect, but also the subsequent frames that showed members of the community picking up trash, turning vacant lots into community gardens, holding signs that say, “Don’t dump on us,’’ and admiring yellow and purple affordable houses “that are actually nice, that you can live in.’’

Santiago said he did not mind it when the MBTA’s design and construction department suggested that he add people to the fourth frame, which depicts a celebration of the future, the opening of a planned community center. But the suggestion that vacant lots had to go, that fires had to go, that a boy’s finger had to go - that disturbed him.

“They said he’s holding a gun,’’ Santiago said. “I don’t know where they see that.’’

He added: “They were discriminating towards art. They were discriminating towards a community.’’

Neves said she asked MBTA staff members, who had been speaking with her privately over the past few weeks, to meet with the entire group. But T management could never find the time, she said.

So the students mailed letters to Governor Deval Patrick yesterday. And today at 1 p.m., they plan to debut their incomplete work to the community, while holding a speak-out about the MBTA’s actions.

After the MBTA received calls from a Globe reporter yesterday, state Transportation Secretary James A. Aloisi Jr. called one of the project’s coordinators, John Barros, to apologize on behalf of the T.

Aloisi’s spokesman, Colin Durrant, said the secretary plans to show up at the speak-out today to meet with the students in person. He has also agreed to allow them to paint their second proposal, the one with the text of the community’s troubled past.

“He feels strongly that this compromise design is fine, and he agreed to meet with the youth tomorrow and attend their event,’’ Durrant said.

Durrant said the official who rejected the old designs at the MBTA was Kris Erickson, the chief of staff fired last week after general manager Daniel A. Grabauskas resigned under pressure. Erickson could not be reached for comment last night.

Aloisi’s compromise may be too late.

“These jobs have a window so they tried to work with the T to get this mural up,’’ said Barros, executive director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative. “We’ve still got this half-done mural.’’

Noah Bierman can be reached at

Competing Visions Of The Future

Eight years of rigorous review and Cape Wind -- the first proposed offshore wind project in the U.S. -- is still awaiting its final federal permits that would allow it to begin constructing 130 turbines on Horseshoe Shoal off the coast of Cape Cod.

A number of offshore wind projects (off the coasts of Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island), have been proposed since Cape Wind arrived on the scene back in 2001. However, it seems clear that none of these could be built before President Obama's first term in office expires. This is important to note given the excitement and expectations that Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has generated with the release of his agency's rules for developing renewable energy projects on the Outer Continental Shelf. Among other things, the Secretary has stated that offshore wind energy will lead the nation's clean energy revolution.

Let the revolution begin! (GW)

Obama Vacations In Clean-Energy Battleground

Activists Hope The President's Trip To Martha's Vineyard Will Shine A Light On A Controversial Wind Farm

By Amy Harder
National Journal
August 19, 2009

With President Obama vacationing in Martha's Vineyard next week, local activists plan to soak up the national spotlight as the first family soaks up the sun.

Nantucket Sound, where plans to build a 130-turbine wind farm have sparked heated resistance, has become ground zero for a larger debate about offshore renewable energies. Whether the wind farm -- the first of its kind in the nation -- is a catalyst for similar projects or an impediment could be settled if the president takes sides.

Clean Power Now, one of the groups spearheading support for the wind farm project, hopes the president will do just that. They're tapping their grassroots -- the approximately 165 members who live on Martha's Vineyard -- to query the president about the issue and have been in contact with members who work at ice cream shops, farms and other local establishments they hope Obama will visit.

"We are hoping for him to speak out about this issue specifically because of the national significance of this," said Barbara Hill, executive director of Clean Power Now. The project, she went on to add, "could literally jump-start a new industry in this country. Once we get the first one out there, it's going to open up the gates."

The Alliance To Protect Nantucket Sound, a group that opposes the wind farm, says it too will "definitely have a presence" throughout the first family's vacation. "It's an opportunity for President Obama to understand firsthand how special Nantucket Sound is," said Audra Parker, chief operating officer and executive director of the alliance.

Competing Visions Of The Future

The top rendering is provided by Cape Wind, and the bottom image is being circulated by the Alliance To Protect Nantucket Sound. Both depict what the view might look like from different parts of the nearby shoreline.

Similar projects have been proposed up and down the Northeastern seaboard since this one was introduced in 2001, but Cape Wind remains furthest along in the permitting process. The political landscape surrounding the wind farm is knotty, however: Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy has opposed Cape Wind nearly since it was proposed, and Rep. Bill Delahunt (D) is also against it.

Obama has spoken in favor of wind energy as a whole, both as a candidate and president. At an event honoring Earth Day in April, he outlined the country's first-ever program to authorize and regulate offshore projects to generate electricity from wind turbines, waves and ocean currents. He hasn't, however, talked directly about the Nantucket project.

So what happens if the president enthusiastically embraces Cape Wind? That will be more than just music to Hill's ears. It will mean potential funding for her group's project. "It would send a signal to the investment community," Hill said. "If the president is going to be talking specifically about the project, it has the potential to launch an entire new industry."

Laurie Jodziewicz, an offshore wind expert at the American Wind Energy Association, said that the Interior Department's decision, slated to be released any day now, is expected to come back positive given that previous environmental reviews have been favorable.

For their part, the plan's opponents point to a new oceanic zoning policy the administration announced in June that will designate which areas of the ocean could be developed. Cape Wind should, at the very least, "be put on hold until this plan is put into place," Parker argued. (That won't happen until December, at the earliest, according to a White House memo.) But even if the area is approved for development, "there have been multiple projects proposed in better locations," she said.

AWEA's Jodziewicz maintained that if the project is delayed further or scrapped entirely, it would be a significant setback for offshore wind in general. "A huge amount of money has been invested, and Cape Wind developers have really put themselves out there as being the test case," Jodziewicz said. "To put the idea out that they wanted to do this, and not being able to make it through that process -- that would be a step back."

It's a case activists hope to make when the president arrives on Sunday. "I would love to be able to sit down with him for five minutes and say, 'President Obama, what you're hearing are proposals that are 10 years away,'" Hill said, and "'nothing will be built in your first administration'" if Cape Wind fails.