Tuesday, August 16, 2011

We are all astronauts

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Ecological globalization

After reading the following WSJ article, and Mann's "1492: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus" it's apparent that today's crop of politicians in this country lack an understanding of the chaotic/synergistic, entropic/syntropic nature of socioeconomic evolution/developments that would enable them to engage in the kind of enlightened policymaking needed to transcend the kind of pitiful performance we just witnessed around the debt ceiling fiasco.

This blog turns five years old later this month. Time to take a short break to assess, recalibrate and consider a reformatting that I've been batting around in my head for a while now. (GW)

The Real Story of Globalization

Trade is an economic activity, but its greatest impact may be biological. Charles C. Mann on stowaway earthworms, far-flung potatoes and the world made by Columbus.

By Charles c. Mann
Wall Street Journal
AUGUST 6, 2011
In the great tropical harbor of Manila Bay, two groups of men warily approach each other, their hands poised above their weapons. Cold-eyed, globe-trotting traders, they are from opposite ends of the earth: Spain and China.

The Spaniards have a big cache of silver, mined in the Americas by Indian and African slaves; the Chinese bring a selection of fine silk and porcelain, materials created by advanced processes unknown in Europe. It is the summer of 1571, and this swap of silk for silver—the beginning of an exchange in Manila that would last for almost 250 years—marks the opening salvo in what we now call globalization. It was the first time that Europe, Asia and the Americas were bound together in a single economic network.

The silk would cause a sensation in Spain, as the silver would in China. But the crowds that greeted the returning ships had no idea what they were truly carrying. We usually describe globalization in purely economic terms, but it is also a biological phenomenon. Researchers increasingly think that the most important cargo on these early transoceanic voyages was not silk and silver but an unruly menagerie of plants and animals, many of them accidental stowaways. In the sweep of history, it is this biological side of globalization that may well have the greater impact on the fate of the world's people and nations.

Some 250 million years ago, the Earth contained a single landmass known as Pangaea. Geological forces broke up this vast expanse, forever splitting Eurasia and the Americas. Over time the two halves of Pangaea developed wildly different suites of plants and animals.

Before Columbus sailed the Atlantic, only a few venturesome land creatures, mostly insects and birds, had crossed the oceans and established themselves. Otherwise, the world was sliced into separate ecological domains. Columbus's signal accomplishment was, in the phrase of the historian Alfred W. Crosby, to reknit the seams of Pangaea.

After 1492, the world's ecosystems collided and mixed as European vessels carried thousands of species to new homes across the oceans. The Columbian Exchange, as Mr. Crosby called it, is why we came to have tomatoes in Italy, oranges in Florida, chocolate in Switzerland and chili peppers in Thailand.

A growing number of scholars believe that the ecological transformation set off by Columbus's voyages was one of the establishing events of the modern world. Why did Europe rise to predominance? Why did China, once the richest, most advanced society on earth, fall to its knees? Why did chattel slavery take hold in the Americas? Why was it the United Kingdom that launched the Industrial Revolution? All of these questions are tied in crucial ways to the Columbian Exchange.

Where to start? Perhaps with the worms. Earthworms, to be precise—especially the common nightcrawler and the red marsh worm, creatures that did not exist in North America before 1492.

Well before the start of the silk-and-silver trade across the Pacific, Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors were sailing the Atlantic in search of precious metals. Ultimately, they exported huge supplies of gold and silver from Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, vastly increasing Europe's money supply. But those homebound ships contained something else of equal importance: the Amazonian plant known today as tobacco.

Intoxicating and addictive, tobacco became the subject of the first truly global commodity craze. By 1607, when England founded its first colony in Virginia, London already had more than 7,000 tobacco "houses"—cafe-like places where the city's growing throng of nicotine junkies could buy and smoke tobacco. To feed the demand, English ships tied up to Virginia docks and took in barrels of rolled-up tobacco leaves. Typically 4 feet tall and 2½ feet across, each barrel weighed half a ton or more. Sailors balanced out the weight by leaving behind their ships' ballast: stones, gravel and soil. They swapped English dirt for Virginia tobacco.

That dirt very likely contained the common nightcrawler and the red marsh worm. So, almost certainly, did the rootballs of plants that the colonists imported. Before Europeans arrived, the upper Midwest, New England and all of Canada had no earthworms—they had been wiped out in the last Ice Age.

In worm-free woodlands, leaves pile up in drifts on the forest floor. Trees and shrubs in wormless places depend on litter for food. When earthworms arrive, they quickly consume the leaf litter, packing the nutrients deep in the soil in the form of castings (worm excrement). Suddenly, the plants can no longer feed themselves; their fine, surface-level root systems are in the wrong place. Wild sarsaparilla, wild oats, Solomon's seal and a host of understory plants die off; grass-like species such as Pennsylvania sedge take over. Sugar maples almost stop growing, and ash seedlings start to thrive.

Spread today by farmers, gardeners and anglers, earthworms are obsessive underground engineers, and they are now remaking swathes of Minnesota, Alberta and Ontario. Nobody knows what will happen next in what ecologists see as a gigantic, unplanned, centuries-long experiment.

Before Columbus, the parasites that cause malaria were rampant in Eurasia and Africa but unknown in the Americas. Transported in the bodies of sailors, malaria may have crossed the ocean as early as Columbus's second voyage. Yellow fever, malaria's frequent companion, soon followed.

By the 17th century, the zone where these diseases held sway—coastal areas roughly from Washington, D.C., to the Brazil-Ecuador border—was dangerous territory for European migrants, many of whom died within months of arrival. By contrast, most West Africans had built-in defenses, acquired or genetic, against the diseases.

Initially, American planters preferred to pay to import European laborers—they spoke the same language and knew European farming methods. They also cost less than slaves bought from Africa, but they were far less hardy and thus a riskier investment. In purely economic terms, the historian Philip Curtin has calculated, the diseases of the Columbian Exchange made the enslaved worker "preferable at anything up to three times the price of the European."

Did the Columbian Exchange cause chattel slavery in the Americas? No. People are moral agents who weigh many considerations. But anyone who knows how markets work will understand the pull exerted by slavery's superior profitability.

Much more direct was the role of the Columbian Exchange in the creation of Great Britain. In 1698, a visionary huckster named William Paterson persuaded wealthy Scots to invest as much as half the nation's available capital in a scheme to colonize Panama, hoping to control the chokepoint for trade between the Pacific and the Atlantic. As the historian J.R. McNeill recounted in "Mosquito Empires," malaria and yellow fever quickly slew almost 90% of the 2,500 colonists. The debacle caused a financial meltdown.

At the time, England and Scotland shared a monarch but remained separate nations. England, the bigger partner, had been pushing a complete merger for decades. Scots had resisted, fearing a London-dominated economy, but now England promised to reimburse investors in the failed Panama project as part of a union agreement. As Mr. McNeill wrote, "Thus Great Britain was born, with assistance from the fevers of Panama."

But Scots could hardly complain about the consequences of the Columbian Exchange. By the time they were absorbed into Britain, their daily bread, so to speak, was a South American tuber now familiar as the domestic potato.

Compared with grains, tubers are inherently more productive. If the head of a wheat or rice plant grows too big, the plant will fall over, killing it. There are no structural worries with tubers, which grow underground. Eighteenth-century farmers who planted potatoes reaped about four times as much dry food matter as they did from wheat or barley.

Hunger was then a familiar presence in Europe. France had 40 nationwide food calamities between 1500 and 1800, more than one every decade, according to the French historian Fernand Braudel. England had still more. The continent simply could not sustain itself.

The potato allowed most of Europe—a 2,000-mile band between Ireland and the Ukraine—to feed itself. (Corn, another American crop, played a similar role in Italy and Romania.) Political stability, higher incomes and a population boom were the result. Imported from Peru, the potato became the fuel for the rise of Europe.

The sweet potato played a similar role in China. Introduced (along with corn) from South America via the Pacific silver trade in the 1590s, it suddenly provided a way for Chinese farmers to cultivate upland areas that had been unusable for rice paddies. The nutritious new crop encouraged the fertility boom of the Qing dynasty, but the experiment soon went badly wrong.

Because Chinese farmers had never cultivated their dry uplands, they made beginners' mistakes. An increase in erosion led to extraordinary levels of flooding, which in turn fed popular unrest and destabilized the government. The new crops that had helped to strengthen Europe were a key factor in weakening China.

The Columbian Exchange carried other costs as well. When Spanish colonists in Hispaniola imported African plantains in 1516, the Harvard entomologist Edward O. Wilson has proposed, they also brought over some of the plant's parasites: scale insects, which suck the juices from banana roots.

In Hispaniola, Mr. Wilson argues, these insects had no natural enemies. Their numbers must have exploded—a phenomenon known as "ecological release." The spread of scale insects would have delighted one of the region's native species: the tropical fire ant, which is fond of dining on the sugary excrement of scale insects. A big increase in scale insects would have led to a big increase in fire ants.

This is only informed speculation. What happened in 1518 and 1519 is not. According to an account by a priest who witnessed those years, Spanish homes and plantations in Hispaniola were invaded by "an infinite number of ants," their stings causing "greater pains than wasps that bite and hurt men." Overwhelmed by the onslaught, Spaniards abandoned their homes to the insects, depopulating Santo Domingo. It was the first modern eco-catastrophe.

A second, much more consequential disaster occurred two centuries later, when European ships accidentally imported the fungus-like organism, native to Peru, that causes the potato disease known as late blight. First appearing in Flanders in June 1845, it was carried by winds to potato farms around Paris in August. Weeks later it wiped out fields in the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and England. Blight appeared in Ireland on Sept. 13.

The Irish were more dependent on potatoes than any other Western nation. Within two years, more than a million died. Millions more fled. The nation never regained its footing. Today Ireland has the melancholy distinction of being the only nation in Europe, and perhaps the world, to have fewer people within the same boundaries than it did more than 150 years ago.

The Columbian Exchange continues to this day. The Pará rubber tree, originally from Brazil, now occupies huge swathes of southeast Asia, providing the latex necessary to make the tires, belts, O-rings and gaskets that invisibly maintain industrial civilization. (Synthetic rubber of equal quality still cannot be practicably manufactured.)

Asian rubber plantations owe their existence to a British swashbuckler named Henry Wickham, who in 1876 smuggled 70,000 rubber seeds from Brazil to London's Kew Gardens. Rubber-tree plantations are next to impossible in the tree's Amazonian home, because they are wiped out by an aggressive native fungus, Microcyclus ulei. Much as the potato blight crossed the Atlantic, M. ulei will surely make its way across the Pacific one day, with consequences as disastrous as they are predictable.

Species have always moved around, taking advantage of happenstance or favorable circumstances. But the Columbian Exchange, like a biological Internet, has put every part of the natural world in contact with every other, refashioning it, for better or worse, at a staggering rate.

The consequences are as hard to predict as those of globalization itself. Even as plantations of Brazilian rubber take over tropical forests in Southeast Asia, plantations of soybeans, a Chinese legume, are replacing almost 80,000 square miles of the southern Amazon, an area almost the size of Britain. In dry northeastern Brazil, Australian eucalyptus covers more than 15,000 square miles. Returning the favor, entrepreneurs in Australia are now attempting to establish plantations of açaí, a Brazilian palm tree whose fruit has been endorsed by celebrities as being super-healthful.

All of these developments will yield positive economic results—soy exports, for instance, are making Brazil into an agricultural powerhouse, lifting the fortunes of countless poor farmers in remote places. But the downside of the ongoing Columbian Exchange is equally stark. Forests in the U.S. are being devastated by a host of foreign pests, including sudden oak death, a cousin of potato blight that is probably from southern China; the emerald ash borer, an insect from northern China that probably arrived in ship palettes; and white pine blister rust, a native of Siberia first seen in the Pacific Northwest in 1920.

Forests full of dead trees are prone to catastrophic fires, a convulsive agent of change. New species will rush in to replace those that are lost, with effects that cannot be known in advance. We will simply have to wait to see what kind of landscape our children will inherit.

Today our news is dominated by stories of debt deals and novel computer applications and strife in the Middle East. But centuries from now, historians may well see our own era as we have started to see the rise of the modern West: as yet another chapter in the unfolding tumult of the Columbian Exchange.

—Mr. Mann is the author of "1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created," which will be published next week.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Operation Shady Rat

Hey, of course I'm a little suspicious of a report on the threat if "Cyber Espionage" conducted by a major producer of computer security software, but I also have to admit that the vulnerability of the Internet is something I think about a lot.

While I realize that the reports in today's post are about attempts to crack some of the world's most power institutions and corporations, the possibility of a major cyber-crash is one of the reasons why I will always have clutchable copies of my favorite books and CDs. (GW)

Worldwide Cyber Espionage Revealed

The attacks are evidence of a growing political motivation among hackers.

By Erica Naone
Technology Review
August 4, 2011

Details of a highly organized, sustained campaign of computerized attacks against businesses and governments across 14 countries were disclosed yesterday by the security company McAfee.

The attacks stretch back almost five years, and ranged in duration from one month to 28 months. They affected 32 types of organizations, including government agencies and defense, construction, information technology, and accounting firms.

McAfee believes the attacks were orchestrated by a nation-state, but it has not named that country. The attackers stole information and intellectual property that could be used for both political and military gain. "With the majority of the data, we don't fully know what it's being used for," Dmitri Alperovitch, vice president of threat research for McAfee, said during a press conference on Wednesday.

Corporate hacking has become a prominent issue in recent months. A spate of attacks have been aimed at companies including RSA, Lockheed Martin, and Sony. But Alperovitch says the attacks announced this week—McAfee is calling them, collectively, Operation Shady RAT (for "remote access tool")—have been less well-publicized, but are more significant. In many cases, attackers used sophisticated, carefully tailored techniques to beat the companies' defenses over a period of time—a type of attack known as an "advanced persistent threat."

McAfee's report says the operation involved extensive infiltration of 72 identifiable victims—and some others that the security company couldn't identify. Some of the information stolen through the attacks was sensitive enough to have a significant impact on a country's entire economy, according to Alperovitch. "This is really the critical issue we need to be worried about," he said.

McAfee hasn't been able to publicly discuss details of the operation until now because of confidentiality agreements with its clients. This changed when the company independently discovered a command-and-control server involved in the attacks. Alperovitch said the company wanted to show how widespread and pervasive advanced persistent threats are. "Even we were surprised by the enormous diversity of the victim organizations and were taken aback by the audacity of the perpetrators," Alperovitch wrote in a blog post.

This week, Cisco released a report that corroborates McAfee's, suggesting that advanced persistent threats are widespread and serious. "If you're in a sensitive sector, you will become a victim of an advanced persistent threat, if you aren't already," says Cisco senior security researcher Mary Landesman.

Landesman sees the increase in this type of threat as part of a shift in attackers' focus. Political motivations are increasingly driving attacks.

To pull off attacks that are "very surreptitious, very silent, and long-lasting," Landesman says, attackers use a combination of automation and artistry. They typically start by infecting as many computers as possible with malware. Once a computer is infected, the attackers examine its IP address, and the information stored on it, to determine whether the machine is in a desirable geographic location, or belongs to an important company.

Computers deemed interesting are placed under the management of a special command-and-control server geared toward particularly important operations. The data on the computer may then be examined in more detail, or it may be used to launch a broader attack—from a receptionist's computer to a machine within the CEO's office, for example.

Both McAfee and Cisco agree that defending against advanced persistent threats is difficult. The defenses need to be as targeted and specialized as the attacks, Landesman says. "Ferreting out an advanced persistent threat can't be done through a passive tool," she says. Organizations have to map out normal traffic and behavior within their systems, and perform ongoing forensics to recognize changes that could be warning signs.

Alperovitch added that while many of the companies affected by Operation Shady RAT have plugged the holes that were leaking information, some may still not know the extent of the damage done. And that won't be clear until the attackers begin to use the information they've stolen.

Copyright Technology Review 2011.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

New leases on life

Ironies of ironies. Have the environmentalists/conservationists/protesters shifted their efforts towards land-based and offshore wind farms?

It sure feels like it at times. (GW)

Protests of onshore leases down significantly in 2011

Phil Taylor
August 3, 2011

The Interior Department is facing far fewer environmental protests of oil and gas leases on public lands in 2011 than in the previous several years, according to recent data obtained by Greenwire.

The decline comes as the Bureau of Land Management implements a suite of reforms designed to increase oversight of the impacts of leasing and give the public a greater role in environmental reviews.

The reforms, while criticized by industry and some Western lawmakers who argue they will result in delays and a net decrease in leases, will provide greater certainty to developers that leases sold will be issued on time, said BLM Director Bob Abbey.

"I am very pleased with the early results of our leasing reforms," Abbey told Greenwire after a House hearing in late July. "We're seeing less protests on the number of parcels we're offering, and I think it's because of the amount of work we're doing in analyzing these parcels prior to offering them up for lease."

Protests were filed on 8 percent of the 786 parcels BLM has proposed for oil and gas leasing from January through the end of July, down significantly from an average of 36 percent over the past six years, according to BLM data. But the agency is on pace to issue fewer lease parcels this year than any of the past six years, according to separate data from BLM.

The leasing reforms, which were scheduled to be fully implemented in May, give stakeholders more time to evaluate parcels before they are offered for sale and encourage BLM to conduct site-specific reviews of parcels that could harm sensitive lands. The reforms also seek to overhaul BLM's use of categorical exclusions, which allow the agency to shortcut environmental reviews for low-impact projects.

That policy faces a legal challenge from the Denver-based Western Energy Alliance (WEA) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming, which is scheduled to hear arguments Aug. 12.

Kathleen Sgamma, WEA's director of government and public affairs, said that she is not surprised the number of protests have gone down considering BLM is putting fewer leases up for sale.

"Now that we're seeing BLM not offer anything with the least bit of controversy, no wonder protests have gone down," she said. "When you don't offer much, there's not much to protest, is there?"

Abbey said the leasing reforms -- and a continued decline in protests -- will help the agency comply with a May ruling by the court that found the agency has violated the Mineral Leasing Act by failing to issue leases within 60 days of their sale at auction to the top qualified bidders (Greenwire, May 30).

The decision by U.S. District Judge Nancy Freudenthal was in response to a WEA complaint that BLM had failed to issue 118 leases that had been sold between 2002 and 2005. BLM tries to resolve environmental protests before issuing leases.

But the protests are blamed for delaying the issuance of roughly 1,500 oil and gas leases in Wyoming in recent years, stranding some $100 million in capital investment and stifling domestic energy development, industry has argued.

A Government Accountability Office report last fall found that BLM took too long to resolve more than 90 percent of the protests filed against oil and gas leases in four Western states but that the delays did not appear to affect the price companies were willing to pay for the leases (Land Letter, Sept. 9, 2010).

"One of the primary motivations of going forward with the leasing reforms was to try to never find ourselves in this kind of situation again, where areas are actually leased and then are precluded from moving forward," Abbey said.

Abbey said BLM has offered to reimburse the companies affected in the WEA case and would comply with Freudenthal's deadline for issuing a decision on the leases.

But the leasing reforms continue to draw the scrutiny of Western Republican lawmakers who have recently accused them of locking up access to public lands at a time of high unemployment and decreasing government revenue.

In a July letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, the lawmakers argued that BLM's newly proposed "master leasing plans" for oil and gas in Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana are being used to obstruct responsible exploration and that the existing land-use planning process is adequate to protect wildlife and other users.

"The administration's MLP process has cut out public input and created a duplicative review targeting only oil and natural gas," said the letter signed by Republican Sens. John Barrasso and Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch of Utah, and John Hoeven of North Dakota as well as Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah.

"We are also concerned that the MLP policy will further restrict our nation's ability to develop its natural resources at a time when oil sits near $100 per barrel and energy prices continue to weigh down our fragile economic recovery," the lawmakers said.

The Wilderness Society blasted the letter, arguing that industry currently has more than 6,500 drilling permits that remain unused. The group pointed to an Interior report that found the oil and gas industry has yet to develop 57 percent of its current onshore leases.

"They've got tens of millions of acres on the shelf," said Dave Alberswerth, senior policy adviser for the Wilderness Society. "BLM is taking a closer look before jumping into leasing."

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

It's Super Planet!

Pluto has been demoted and is now classified as a "dwarf planet". Enter a new classification of planets (not of this solar system, of course) called "Super Planets".

"Man Gave Names to the Animals" sang Bob Dylan. He/She also gave names to the planet classfications. (GW)

Astronomers Define New Class of Planet: The Super-Earth

Rocky planets that are almost as big as Uranus seem far more common than anyone suspected.

Technology Review
August 3, 2011

In our Solar System, planets fall into two types. First, there are the rocky planets like Earth, Mars, and Venus, which are similar in size and support gaseous atmospheres. Then there are the gas giants, like Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus. These huge puff balls are two or more orders of magnitude bigger than their rocky cousins.

Perhaps strangest of all, there are no planets in between; nothing that sits on the borderline between rocky minnow and gas giant.

This sharp distinction has driven much of astronomers' thinking about planet formation. One of the main challenges they have faced is to come up with a theory that explains the formation of two entirely different types of planet, but no hybrids that share characteristics of both.

That thinking will have to change. It now looks as if we've been fooled by our own Solar System. When astronomers look elsewhere, this two-tiered planetary division disappears.

Astrophysicists have now spotted more than 500 planets orbiting other stars and all of these systems seem entirely different to our Solar System. They've seen entirely new class of planets such as the Super-Jupiters that are many times larger than our biggest planet with orbits closer than Mercury.

But the one we're interested in here has a mass that spans the range from Earth to Uranus, exactly the range that is missing from our Solar System.

Astronomers are calling these new types of planet Super-Earths, and so far they have found more than 30 of them.

Today, Nader Haghighipour at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu reviews what we know about Super-Earths and shows they are changing the way astronomers think about planet formation. Their mere existence, for example, should allow astrophysicists to reject a large portion of current theories about planet formation.

Of course, the question about Super-Earths that generates the most interest is whether they can support life. To that end, Haghighipour discusses the possibility that these planets may be rocky with relatively thin atmospheres, that they have dynamic cores that generate a magnetic field and that they may support plate tectonics. Above all, there is the question of whether they can support liquid water.

It makes for fascinating reading. But when all this new information has been absorbed by the community, astronomers will still be left with an important puzzle. That is why our Solar System is so different from all the others we can see, why it has this sharp distinction in planet type and what relevance this has to the question of habitability.

This is a mystery that astronomers are only just getting their teeth into.

Ref: http://arxiv.org/abs/1108.0031: Super-Earths: A New Class of Planetary Bodies

Copyright Technology Review 2011.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Fighting "renewable energy sprawl"

It seems clear that wind developers along with municipal and state governments must do a better job of planning for the buildout of large-scale renewable projects in response to the fears of project creep/sprawl.

But the ultimate question to all those communities who oppose the construction of windfarms withing their "viewshed" is: what kind of energy infrastructure would they agree to be placed in their backyards?

Coal? Natural Gas? Nukes? Oil?

Or should we just turn off our iPads?(GW)

If Gov. Jerry Brown Wants to "Crush" Opponents of Wind Energy, He'd Better Pack a Lunch

By Robert Bryce
Huffington Post
August 1, 2011

Last week, California Gov. Jerry Brown declared that he would "crush" citizen groups who oppose large-scale renewable energy projects. Well, governor, here's some advice: you'd better pack a lunch.

The global backlash against the energy sprawl that comes with renewable energy projects is growing and it is fierce. Brown's comments, made during a speech at the University of California, Los Angeles, were aimed at citizens who oppose a large solar project in San Luis Obispo. But solar remains a relatively small player in the renewable energy business. (Total solar photovoltaic generation capacity is about 40,000 megawatts. Global wind generation capacity is about 200,000 megawatts.)

The friction can be found by looking at the wind energy sector, which is facing fierce resistance from California to Copenhagen. Indeed, if Brown had bothered to look at last Sunday's Los Angeles Times, he would have read an insightful story by Tiffany Hsu about the residents of Tehachapi, a small town located a few miles southeast of Bakersfield, that is being overrun by wind energy developers.

A local resident, Donna Moran, said that "Once, you could see stars like you wouldn't believe. Now, with the lights from the turbines, you can't even see the night sky." Hsu also addressed the issue of property values, writing that "Each new project causes nearby property values to plunge as much as 40%, city officials say."

Last month, Terra-Gen, a major wind energy developer, halted a 150-turbine wind project in Tehachapi due to what the company said were "several important development concerns, including local opposition."

Ah yes, local opposition. Consider these numbers: the European Platform Against Windfarms now has 485 signatory organizations from 22 European countries. In the UK, where fights are raging against industrial wind projects in Wales, Scotland, and elsewhere, some 250 anti-wind groups have been formed. In Canada, the province of Ontario alone has more than 50 anti-wind groups. The US has about 170 anti-wind groups.

Anti-wind groups are active, particularly in Denmark, a country that is supposed to be paradise for wind energy. On July 22, 2010, the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten reported that there are about 40 anti-wind groups in Denmark and that "more and more neighbors are protesting against new, large wind turbines." It cited the Svendborg city council which recently refused to provide a permit for turbines over 80 meters high, after a local group "protested violently against two wind turbines" that had been erected a few months earlier.

The story continued, saying that "neighbors complain especially about the noise" from the turbines. It then quoted the town deputy mayor as saying that due to "the violent protests and the uncertainty of low-frequency noise" coming from the turbines, the town would "not expose our citizens" to large wind turbines.

Last September, the Copenhagen Post reported that "State-owned energy firm Dong Energy has given up building more wind turbines on Danish land, following protests from residents complaining about the noise the turbines make."

Or consider what's happening in the UK. On May 27, in Wales, the BBC reports that 1,500 protesters descended on the Welsh assembly, the Senedd, demanding that a massive wind project planned for central Wales be halted.

There's enormous opposition to industrial wind here in the US. Last November, five people, several of them from Earth First! were arrested near Lincoln, Maine, after they blocked a road leading to a construction site for a 60-megawatt wind project on Rollins Mountain.

On May 12, the first industrial wind facility proposed for rural Connecticut was rejected by the state's siting council, which said the "visual effects" of the project were "in conflict with the policies of the state." The project had been vigorously opposed by Save Prospect, a group founded by an affable high school teacher named Tim Reilly.

Residents of Falmouth, Massachusetts, a small town on Cape Cod, continue to complain about noise coming from a 1.65 megawatt turbine that was installed in their town. The July 12 issue of the Cape Cod Times quotes Falmouth resident Neil Andersen, who says that at certain times, the turbine "gets jet engine loud... To put it simple, they drive one crazy."

I could easily provide dozens of other examples -- from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and other places -- of opposition to industrial wind projects. Jerry Brown and other promoters of renewables can talk all they like about their desire to crush the citizen groups who are fighting energy sprawl.

That's not going to happen.
Follow Robert Bryce on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pwrhungry

Monday, August 01, 2011

A political environment laced with lunacy

This whole debt-ceiling affair has been disgraceful. Forget about adult supervision. There's a total lack of vision on Capitol Hill. Maybe the children should be in charge. They couldn't possibly do any worse.

What we are witnessing is an example of politics at its absolute worst!!! (GW)

To Escape Chaos, a Terrible Deal

New York Times
July 31, 2011

There is little to like about the tentative agreement between Congressional leaders and the White House except that it happened at all. The deal would avert a catastrophic government default, immediately and probably through the end of 2012. The rest of it is a nearly complete capitulation to the hostage-taking demands of Republican extremists. It will hurt programs for the middle class and poor, and hinder an economic recovery.

It is not yet set in stone, and there may still be time to make it better. But in the end, most Democrats will have no choice but to swallow their fury, accept the deal and, we hope, fight harder the next time.

For weeks, ever since House Republicans said they would not raise the nation’s debt ceiling without huge spending cuts, Democrats have held out for a few basic principles. There must be new tax revenues in the mix so that the wealthy bear a share of the burden and Medicare cannot be affected.

Those principles were discarded to get a deal that cuts about $2.5 trillion from the deficit over a decade. The first $900 billion to a trillion will come directly from domestic discretionary programs (about a third of it from the Pentagon) and will include no new revenues. The next $1.5 trillion will be determined by a “supercommittee” of 12 lawmakers that could recommend revenues, but is unlikely to do so since half its members will be Republicans.

If the committee is deadlocked, or its recommendations are rejected by either house of Congress, then a dreaded guillotine of cuts would come down: $1.2 trillion in across-the-board spending reductions that would begin to go into effect by early 2013.

Negotiators have tried to make this penalty mechanism as unpalatable as possible to provide an incentive for the supercommittee and Congress to avert it. For Democrats, the penalty would include cuts to Medicare providers. The penalty for Republicans should have been new tax revenues, but of course they refused to consider that and got their way. Instead, their incentive will be trying to avoid large cuts in the military budget.

Democrats won a provision drawn from automatic-cut mechanisms in previous decades that exempts low-income entitlement programs. There is no requirement that a balanced-budget amendment pass Congress. There will be no second hostage-taking on the debt ceiling in a few months, as Speaker John Boehner and his band of radicals originally demanded. Democratic negotiators decided that the automatic cut system, as bad as it is, was less of a threat to the economy than another default crisis, and many are counting on future Congresses to undo its arbitrary butchering.

Sadly, in a political environment laced with lunacy, that calculation is probably correct. Some Republicans in the House were inviting a default, hoping that an economic earthquake would shake Washington and the Obama administration beyond recognition. Democrats were right to fear the effects of a default and the impact of a new recession on all Americans.

President Obama could have been more adamant in dealing with Republicans, perhaps threatening to use constitutional powers to ignore the debt ceiling if Congress abrogated its responsibility to raise it. But this episode demonstrates the effectiveness of extortion. Reasonable people are forced to give in to those willing to endanger the national interest.

Democrats can look forward to the expiration of the Bush tax cuts next year, and will have to make the case in the 2012 elections for new lawmakers who will undo the damage.