Friday, April 30, 2010

The Universe in your pocket

Buckminster Fuller defined Universe as "the aggregate of all humanity's consciously apprehended and communicated (to self or others) experiences." That's where he began all of his problem-solving thinking. It's the best way to ensure that you've considered all relevant considerations.

Although no one has a database that captures the entirety of Universe as defined by Bucky, there are now apps that put the physical Universe within the grasp of anyone with a smart phone. (GW)

When You Wish Upon a Star, Now You Can Call It by Name

By Bob Tedeschi
New York Times
April 28, 2010

Choose a clear night and hold your phone skyward, and the heavens suddenly make sense — that is, with the help of a stargazing application.

If ever there were a type of mobile software guaranteed to elicit a grin, this is it.

These apps — like Starmap, Star Walk, Pocket Universe, Google Sky Map and others — are part of a category known as “augmented reality.” The idea is to point a mobile device toward an object and let an app show you more about what you’re seeing than your own eyes could.

At the moment, the category is in its nascent stages, with one exception — the stargazing apps.

As for which app you should buy, it depends on your level of astronomical expertise, and what device you have. Pocket Universe ($3) and Star Walk ($3) offer great experiences for beginners with an iPhone. Google Sky Map (free) will do the same for Android users. Starmap ($12) and Starmap Pro ($19) will probably appeal to more experienced astronomers.

IPad owners, meanwhile, can download Star Walk for iPad ($5). You don’t even need a starry night — or, for that matter, a view of the night sky.

Open the app in your bedroom and point the iPad skyward, and it will show you whatever you would have seen if you were looking through a telescope in that very direction. Even better, it will label stars, planets and constellations, and offer up details about them in terms that amateurs will easily absorb.

Ever wonder about the constellation that’s tied to your astrological sign? Search for Gemini, for instance, and it will display the constellation as it currently looks in the sky, even if it isn’t visible from your particular vantage point.

Touch “Pollux,” Gemini’s brightest star, and then tap on the information icon. A dropdown box displays a brief description of the star — which, it turns out, is a mere 34 light years from Earth.

The box also includes data that few people other than telescope owners will need, like the RA positioning and the object’s visual magnitude. Such people will find this app useful, but these users are better suited to the Starmap apps, which offer a depth of astronomical information that others lack.

For serious astronomers, Starmap Pro can be a great source of help. Use it as a remote control for pointing a telescope to distant objects, or change the view to reflect how stars might look with different lenses. At, see a video of its other capabilities.

Star Map also works in conjunction with, by showing images in the app that other users have uploaded to the Web site.

The app is so dense with information and options that stargazing novices may want a guide to help navigate it. Do you want to set the navigation options to show the Azimuthal grid? Should “Target is Telrad” be turned on?

Less ambitious astronomers might consider StarMap 3-D ($2 for iPhone), which, among other things, puts you at the controls of a simulated deep-space flight. For someone with no ambition to discover the next comet, this was more my speed.

Pocket Universe is in the same vein. The app is designed to be intuitive, so you can turn it on, point it toward the sky and start learning. Pocket Universe also features a “Tonight’s Sky” option, showing you a list of planets you can spot with the naked eye.

Like other apps, you can filter the view in other respects, to show only constellations or deep-sky objects. And as with the other top competitors, you can alter the lighting of the app so you are not compromising your night vision with bright white light.

John Kennedy, the app’s creator, said an Android version would probably appear eventually. On that front, though, he faces extremely stiff competition from Google’s Sky Map.

Google has built a business by offering very good software free, and Sky Map is no exception. Type “Jupiter,” or “M83” into the search box, for instance, and it will tell you which way to point the phone until you’ve found it.

Sadly, there is no way to learn more about the stars or planets that you’ve selected.

There is one other limitation. If you are on the move, you’ll have a hard time. I tried to zero in on the planets while on a train, and was hopelessly lost. Why anyone would want to use it on a train, though, is beyond me. Maybe the passenger seat of a convertible.

Or a boat, perhaps. Drifting in the open water on a cloudless night, wondering what exactly the celestial navigators of the past would think of a world where people need a $500 gadget to find Gemini.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

“America needs offshore wind power"

In the shadows of the recent Gulf of Mexico oil rig explosion/oil leak (now estimated to be as much as 5,000 barrels a day) and the West Virginia mining disaster, Ken Salazar, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior approved the Cape Wind project. In doing so he has taken a significant step towards weaning the nation from its addiction to fossil fuels.

One can only hope that nearly a decade's worth of rigorous review will derail any further frivolous attempts to delay this critically important project. (GW)

Cape Wind OK’d in a first for the nation

Opponents vow lawsuit to continue nine-year battle

By Beth Daley
Boston Globe
April 29, 2010

US Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar yesterday approved the nation’s first offshore wind farm, the controversial Cape Wind project first proposed nine years ago in the beloved waters of Nantucket Sound, and proclaimed the dawn of a new era of clean energy in the United States.

“This will be the first of many projects up and down the Atlantic Coast,’’ Salazar said at a State House press conference with Governor Deval Patrick at his side.

Cape Wind Associates, the developer, said it planned to begin construction of the 130 turbines about 5 miles off Cape Cod by the end of the year, even as the main opposition group announced that it would immediately file a lawsuit in an effort to block the $1 billion project.

Proposed at a time of increasing awareness of the threat of manmade global warming, Cape Wind became a cause célèbre for politicians and environmentalists who want the United States to move away from its reliance on fossil fuels for electricity. But the project drew just as passionate opposition from many residents of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket, some of them moneyed and influential, who do not want their pristine views disturbed.

Big names, from Senator Edward M. Kennedy (against) to Walter Cronkite (against, then for) joined in the long battle. Neither man lived to see its resolution.

“America needs offshore wind power, and with this project Massachusetts will lead the nation,’’ Patrick said, adding that Cape Wind will create 1,000 construction jobs and help the state in its goal to be a national clean energy leader.

The project is also a critical milestone for President Obama, who pledged during his election campaign to make America a leader in clean energy but then failed to broker an international climate deal in Copenhagen last year. So far, the president has also been unable to sign an energy and climate bill into law. Even as the federal government developed offshore energy rules and as a suite of other projects were proposed off the East Coast in recent years, the Cape Wind decision loomed as a test of what kind of energy future the country would choose.

Salazar’s decision, first expected a year ago, was delayed because of complaints from two Wampanoag Native American tribes that the turbines, which would stand more than 400 feet above the ocean surface, would disturb spiritual sun greetings and possibly ancestral artifacts and burial grounds on the seabed. Nantucket Sound was once exposed land before the sea level rose thousands of years ago.

While Salazar said yesterday that he had ordered modifications to the project to avoid impacts on historic and cultural properties, most of them were announced years ago by Cape Wind, including a requirement that the turbines be painted off-white and reduced in number from 170 to 130. Salazar will require Cape Wind to conduct far more extensive archeological surveys in Nantucket Sound, although he indicated in federal filings that he doubts that many, if any, artifacts or ancestral remains will be found.

Salazar also said in federal filings that his agency wanted to consult with the tribes to determine any financial compensation for impacts on cultural resources. One possibility, he said, would be for Cape Wind to give the tribes $200,000 annually for the life of the 21-year project. In addition, the tribes could receive some of the $3.5 million the state of Massachusetts has set aside from Cape Wind to address impacts on historical and cultural resources.

Mashpee Wampanoag tribal chairman Cedric Cromwell said he was pleased Salazar would reopen government-to-government consultation, but said, “No amount of mitigation will change the fact that this is a site of great historical and cultural significance for our tribe.’’

The Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe on Martha’s Vineyard posted a short statement on its website saying it was disheartened and indicated it would probably go to court to stop the project.

The main opposition group, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, wasted little time in launching the next salvo, vowing to seek an injunction in court to prevent construction while the case is played out.

“We will win in the courts based on fact, not politics,’’ Audra Parker of the alliance said angrily, shortly after Salazar’s announcement.

Yet for Jim Gordon, the often unemotional president of Cape Wind, the day unfolded like a dream. Gordon got a call from Salazar a half-hour before the interior secretary announced the decision.

“I was overwhelmed with emotion,’’ Gordon said at a press conference at the Park Plaza Hotel yesterday afternoon. “It was like a film of nine years of events that went through my head.’’

Gordon said he hopes construction will begin by the end of this year and be completed by 2012. The wind farm is expected to produce enough wind power to handle three-quarters of the electric needs of the Cape and Islands, although the price of its electricity is expected to be higher than current prices now for traditional coal and gas power.

The project has undergone years of environmental review and been the subject of intense political maneuvering, including formidable opposition from Kennedy, whose Hyannis Port family compound overlooks Nantucket Sound. While opponents’ main concern is aesthetics — the turbines would be visible on the horizon off Cape Cod — the battle was fought by raising other issues, including possible effects on property values and harm to birds, fishing, aviation, and historic and cultural sites.

Paul Kirk, a close friend of the late Senator Kennedy’s who served as interim senator after Kennedy’s death, said the veteran lawmaker would have been profoundly upset at yesterday’s announcement.

“He would have been gravely disappointed,’’ Kirk said. “I think this is seriously misguided. To me, this is like putting a big box store in West Barnstable Village before you figure out what the total zoning plan is for the town.’’

Yesterday, Senator John F. Kerry said he was convinced any concerns have been dealt with.

“I believe the future of wind power in the Massachusetts and the United States will be stronger knowing that the process was exhaustive,’’ Kerry said in a statement. “This is jobs and clean energy for Massachusetts.’’

Senator Scott Brown, however, called Salazar’s announcement misguided.

“With unemployment hovering near 10 percent in Massachusetts, the Cape Wind project will jeopardize industries that are vital to the Cape’s economy, such as tourism and fishing,’’ the Republican lawmaker said in a statement.

Martin Finucane, David Abel, Matt Viser, Susan Milligan, and Jonathan Saltzman of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

“We always recognized that this would not be an easy path”

By now Ken Salazar, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior (and followers of this blog) must certainly be aware of the fact that his decision on Cape Wind -- the nation's first proposed offshore wind energy project -- will have implications for a variety of stakeholders across the country and around the world.

The Secretary's self-imposed deadline for a decision on Cape Wind's application for a lease to construct 130 turbines on horseshoe shoal expires at the end of this week. (GW)

Cape Cod Wind Project Is Crucial Step for U.S. Industry

By Tom Zeller, Jr.
New York Times
April 26, 2010

More than 800 giant wind turbines spin off the coasts of Denmark, Britain and seven other European countries, generating enough electricity from strong ocean breezes to power hundreds of thousands of homes. But despite a decade of efforts, not a single offshore turbine has been built in the United States, The New York Times’s Tom Zeller Jr. writes.

Experts say progress has been slowed by a variety of factors, including poor economics, an uncertain regulatory framework and local opposition.

When the Obama administration announces a decision this week on the most prominent project — Cape Wind, off the coast of Massachusetts — it could have implications from Long Island to Lake Erie. An approval from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar might well nudge the project to completion as the nation’s first offshore wind farm. On the other hand, some developers say a thumbs-down could gut America’s offshore wind industry before it ever really gets started.

“It is imperative that Cape Wind gets built — we need the momentum,” said Peter Giller, chief executive of OffshoreMW, an upstart developer with ambitions to build two 700-megawatt projects off the shores of New Jersey and Massachusetts.

At least half a dozen offshore wind projects that could provide electricity for hundreds of thousands of customers have already been proposed in the shallow waters off the East Coast and the Great Lakes. Even more are in the paper-napkin stage, including a project that would place a bank of turbines about 13 miles off the Rockaway peninsula in New York.

Although offshore wind farms are roughly twice as expensive as land-based ones, developers and advocates say offshore projects have several advantages. Sea and lake breezes are typically stronger, steadier and more reliable than wind on land. Offshore turbines can also be located close to the power-hungry populations along the coasts, eliminating the need for new overland transmission lines. And if the turbines are built far enough from shore, they do not significantly alter the view — a major objection from many local opponents.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has estimated that about 90,000 megawatts of electricity could be extracted from offshore winds in United States coastal waters less than 100 feet deep, the easiest and most cost-effective depths. Most of that potential lies in New England, the mid-Atlantic and the Great Lakes.

If the handful of American projects on the drawing board are built as planned, they would produce some 2,500 megawatts, according to the American Wind Energy Association, or about as much as two midsize nuclear power plants.

The Cape Wind project would place 130 turbines, each 440 feet tall, over 24 square miles of Nantucket Sound at a likely cost of more than $1 billion.

Opponents have argued that the venture is too expensive and would interfere with local fishermen, intrude on the sacred rituals and submerged burial grounds of two local Indian tribes and destroy the view.

“Cape Wind’s oversized costs do not represent a reasonable return on the public’s investment,” wrote Joseph P. Kennedy II, the former congressman and president of the Citizens Energy Corporation, a Boston nonprofit group, in a letter to The Cape Cod Times in February. Mr. Kennedy’s family owns property that looks out on the proposed wind farm site.

“Citizens Energy has been involved in alternative energy development for decades,” Mr. Kennedy continued, “but we do not include in our business model a plan to pick the public’s pocket.”

But proponents of the project, which include major environmental organizations like the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, point to a February study by Charles River Associates, a consulting firm hired by Cape Wind’s developers, suggesting that the project could save New England ratepayers $4.6 billion in energy costs over 25 years. They also say that the project has undergone two separate environmental impact analyses, neither of which found significant downsides.

The governors of six East Coast states — Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island — last week called on Mr. Salazar to approve the project.

But even if Mr. Salazar gave the approval, opponents of Cape Wind would probably continue to challenge it in court and the company would still need to strike a deal with a utility to buy the power.

Jim Gordon, president of Energy Management, the firm heading the Cape Wind project, is weary but resigned. “It’s hard whenever you’re a pioneer trying to do a first of a kind,” he said. “We always recognized that this would not be an easy path.”

Despite Cape Wind’s struggles, a small but determined wind industry has emerged elsewhere, proposing several ocean projects off the shores of New Jersey, Delaware and Rhode Island, as well as freshwater projects in the Great Lakes near Cleveland and Chicago.

The industry got a boost last Wednesday when the Obama administration asked for formal expressions of interest from companies that might want to build wind projects off the Delaware coast.

Still, many hurdles remain.

Regulatory uncertainty has made offshore wind development a haphazard affair. It was only last year that the Interior Department approved final regulations for granting leases, easements and rights-of-way for renewable energy development in federal waters. Within three miles of the Atlantic coast, or on the Great Lakes, states have jurisdiction — and some have not even begun the rule-making process.

An even bigger impediment has been the high cost of building and maintaining turbines in a harsh marine environment, where equipment must be fortified to withstand crashing waves, hurricane winds, corrosive salt and, in the case of the Great Lakes, winter ice.

The current price tag for a fully installed offshore wind system is estimated at $4,600 a kilowatt, nearly double the $2,400-a-kilowatt price for a land-based system, according to the U.S. Offshore Wind Collaborative, a coalition of public and private organizations and institutions promoting the industry.

“The reason there are no offshore wind farms in the U.S. has more to do with the fact that there are plenty of land sites yet to be developed,” said Sam Jaffe, an energy analyst at IDC Energy Insights, a market research and consulting firm. “Why on earth would you go offshore, which is more expensive, when you still haven’t developed North Dakota?”

In Rhode Island, a $200 million, 28.8-megawatt demonstration project being developed in state waters by Deepwater Wind was tripped up late last year when the local utility, National Grid, declined to enter into an agreement to buy power from the project, citing its “unreasonable” cost.

After the governor, Donald L. Carcieri, intervened, National Grid agreed to buy the electricity for 24 cents a kilowatt-hour. But late last month, the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission rejected the deal as too expensive for ratepayers, who would bear the cost.

By comparison, production tax credits and other incentives have driven the cost of land-based wind power to less than 5 cents a kilowatt-hour in some places, and that’s still more expensive than other sources like coal and hydropower.

Despite the upfront costs, proponents say offshore wind power is worth it if it can reduce the reliance on carbon-intensive sources of electricity like coal.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Forests for the trees

We humans are curious creatures. We crave fresh fruits and vegetables while at the same time make it increasingly difficult for local farmers to survive. We're addicted to our cell phones and iPods but don't want wind turbines spoiling our view. We take pride in our beautiful homes with their hardwood floors and lovely furniture, but we don't want to cut down trees from our forests.

We've got to figure out the right strategies for achieving sustainability and work hard to put them in place. There's a need for some serious yen-yang-inspired comprehensive design science here. (GW)

For loggers, a way of life teeters

Distressed industry hit hard by new rules on Mass. forests

By Sarah Schweitzer
Boston Globe
April 26, 2010

All his working life, Richard Hawley Jr. has marched into the forests at sunrise, hauling the equipment and the measure of stamina required to extract the stuff of his livelihood: logs of pine and ash, oak and maple.

“Some people go to a desk job and work and work, then they go get in a wood pile when they get home and get their frustration out,’’ said Hawley, a resident of Otis in Western Massachusetts whose father and grandfather before him were also loggers. “Me, I get paid to work in the woods.’’

Hawley is among the ranks of the state’s little-known forestry industry, a sector that has come into the spotlight with a state decision to more than quadruple the forested state land that is off-limits to commercial logging. Today, about 40,000 acres, or 13 percent of the forests and parks managed by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, are off-limits to logging. Under the new plan, logging will be banned on at least 185,000 acres, or 60 percent of the lands.

The decision is designed to tamp down the long-simmering controversy between logging and preservation interests, which have increasingly clashed. The new policy has been met with criticism from loggers and forestry workers, many of them located in Western Massachusetts.

Despite being the eighth most-forested state in the nation, Massachusetts is a somewhat minor player in the forest products industry. Its output of forestry products ranks 27th in the nation. The 16,800 residents employed in the industry ranks 28th among states, according to 2006 figures from the American Forest & Paper Association.

Loggers are slowly disappearing, from 586 in 2001 to 521 today, according to the DCR. The 100 sawmills in the state in 1987 has dwindled to 33, said David Kittredge, a professor of forestry at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The state produces just 3 percent of what it consumes in wood products, according to Kittredge — a figure that makes Jim Kelly, a forestry consultant, skeptical of the new regulations.

“The human demand for wood products has not changed. People still use toilet paper. Everyone likes wood molding. If we are not cutting wood on a sustainable basis in Massachusetts, we will have to truck it in,’’ Kelly said.

He said that the needs of forests should be the first consideration when the state decides whether to thin, clear, or leave alone land it owns.

“Not cutting does not equal forest protection,’’ said Kelly, who is president of the Massachusetts Association of Professional Foresters.

Richard Sullivan, the DCR commissioner, responded, “We recognize the importance of sustainable wood products but at the same time, society places a very high value on open spaces, recreation, and property that’s held in reserves.’’

Unlike in Western states, only a small fraction of forested land in the state — just 38,000 acres, or 1 percent — is owned by the federal government, which permits some logging on its lands. About 70 percent of forests are controlled by individuals, mostly in small parcels, said Kittredge.

That means loggers and foresters tend to work on relatively small projects and are constantly scouting new ones.

Tom Anderson, a forester who lives in Granville, said he spends parts of his days calling individual landowners and inquiring about their interest in selling timber or having their forested land thinned of trees.

“Sometimes a landowner wants as much money as possible, cutting everything that is worth anything. Not leaving anything to grow. Lots of times I have been able to talk them out of cutting everything. So we can usually talk them into doing work where we’re leaving behind good-quality trees,’’ said Anderson, who has a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from the University of Maine.

Once an owner agrees, Anderson marks the boundaries of the property and subcontracts with loggers to do the work. He checks on the loggers from time to time, as he did last week when he had three projects going, two in Connecticut and one in Pittsfield.

Loggers prefer large projects to small ones because of the expense of starting and stopping jobs; getting equipment to and from a work site can cost as much as $1,000.

Tom King, 61, of Hubbardston, has made his living harvesting DCR lands. But with the slowdown of logging on state lands, he and his son, who works for him, have been out of work for seven weeks. “It’s the first time we’ve been shut down,’’ said King, who has been working state lands for 25 years. “It’s basically a bunch of antilogging forestry people who want no cutting at all.’’

He is struggling now: two pieces of machinery worth $900,000 require a $10,000-a-month bank payment. Health insurance costs are high, as is workers’ compensation, for a job that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ranks as one of the most dangerous in the country.

“Governor [Deval] Patrick is selling us down the drain,’’ King said. “He’s promoting things that will create jobs. Well, this won’t.’’

Sullivan said that being from Western Massachusetts makes it possible for him to understand the role that sustainable wood products play in the economy.

“But the DCR properties are a very small part of the overall land that’s available for harvesting,’’ he said

Sunday, April 25, 2010

"The predominant moral issue of the 21st century"

"Our decision about energy will test the character of the American people and the ability of the President and the Congress to govern. This difficult effort will be the "moral equivalent of war" except that we will be uniting our efforts to build and not destroy."
President Jimmy Carter - April 18, 1977

We need to talk about the planet

The Independent
By Joss Garman
April 25, 2010

The three largest parties agree climate change is important. But their shiny green consensus is alarmingly lacking in urgency

The world-leading climate scientist Professor James Hansen of Nasa, said recently, "The predominant moral issue of the 21st century, almost surely, will be climate change, comparable to Nazism faced by Churchill in the 20th century and slavery faced by Lincoln in the 19th century. Our fossil fuel addiction, if unabated, threatens our children and grandchildren, and most species on the planet." When it comes to this climate crisis, the next crop of politicians will be a key determinant in whether or not we solve it.

Since most climate scientists agree we need global emissions to peak and start to go down in the next decade, the next government will decide on whether we slash pollution and build a new, clean energy economy, or instead continue with the dirty industries of the past. Yet judging by the election campaign so far, you could be forgiven for thinking the level of National Insurance or the outfits of our leaders' wives, is the issue that defines our generation. The IoS's poll today shows 59 per cent of voters think the environment is being ignored in this election.

With a third of our power stations coming offline, Britain is at an energy crossroads and the next government will direct the billions of investment flow that will inevitably be needed to keep the lights on. Either we'll see it go into more of the same dirty fossil fuel power stations, or it will go into clean energy sources. This, in turn, has huge implications for our nation's carbon footprint - but also for our energy security, our economy and our energy bills. You might think it would merit a bit more discussion on the campaign trail; especially as clean energy is so popular with voters. A YouGov poll last week found that two-thirds of us agree the next government should boost investment in green industries. So why does it go undiscussed?

All three main party leaders have described the need to deal with the rapid shifts in our climate as "the great challenge of this generation". But do we know if any of them have a strategy and a vision to address it?

Take cleaning up the power sector. In his State of the Union address, President Obama recognised what's at stake: "The nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy." China's £34bn investment into clean technology speaks for itself. The economic benefits on offer from these new global markets are clear. If politicians choose to push ahead and make sure we hit our renewable energy target to produce 15 per cent of our heat, transport and electricity fuels from renewable sources by 2020, it will lead to the creation of about 70,000 new jobs and carry a net economic worth of roughly £65bn over the next 40 years. According to Ofgem, ending our reliance on dirty fuels would also benefit consumers through cheaper energy bills. But first, more than £150bn will need to be invested in energy infrastructure and efficiency measures in the next 10 years. That's a staggering investment, unprecedented in modern British history, just when we're told we need drastic cuts in public spending. So how will they square the circle?

On the face of it, there is cross-party agreement. All three main parties say we should create a new infrastructure investment bank to fund energy projects. That certainly sounds good, and made headlines when first Vince Cable, then George Osborne, and finally Alistair Darling, announced they would make it happen. But at a time of austerity, would this be the first new bank with no money in it?

On Monday, Nick Clegg announced he would plough £3.1bn into a fresh green stimulus, including £400m to re-purpose our shipyards for the offshore wind industry. That's more than twice what Labour has promised and three times the Tories' offer. Alistair Darling put forward £1bn for the new infrastructure bank, plus £60m for the upgrade of ports on the east coast to accommodate the new wind energy industry, and to help to leverage another billion in private equity. In contrast, there has been no assurance from David Cameron on protecting or increasing clean energy spending - only ideas to reshuffle existing funds. None of the three parties is pledging the sort of money most energy experts agree will be needed to make the green switch, and no one is explaining how they would leverage funds from private sources such as pension and sovereign funds either.

Yet Labour's relatively tiny cash injection is already beginning to assist our economic recovery. Siemens reacted to the announcement by putting up £75m for a new wind factory with the creation of 700 new jobs, plus 1,500 further down the supply chain. It said that it wouldn't have done this without the new money. General Electric, too, put up £100m and proposed the creation of 2,000 new jobs by 2020, to produce hundreds of wind turbines. There have been similar announcements from Mitsubishi and Clipper. Since nearly all of the companies leading the global clean-tech race are American, Chinese and German, their investment will be at risk without public money. Companies need incentives to come here.

Going green is also about regulation. The Government's advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, argue that unless all coal power plants are operating with fully functioning carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology by the early 2020s, we will not hit the targets outlined in the Climate Change Act. Equally, the committee says we'll need to constrain the demand for flights - we cannot rely on erupting volcanoes. Here, the Conservatives and Lib Dems do better. David Cameron and Nick Clegg have both ruled out new runways at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, and have championed new emissions standards for power stations to stop the most polluting coal plants. But behind the shiny green consensus, even the Conservative leadership is pretty mealy-mouthed about Britain hitting its clean energy target.

According to one poll, only 7 per cent of Tory candidates support onshore wind farms, despite around 80 per cent support for them from the public. Scepticism about the climate science is rife in the party at large. Cameron might need to rely on opposition parties to ensure his climate polices didn't get derailed altogether. Meanwhile, neither Labour nor the Lib Dems can explain how they would raise the investment for a green transition - there is a multibillion-pound black hole that none is being asked to explain.

Those who really "get" climate change are a minority in the three largest parties. That's why for Labour, Ed Miliband's "low carbon transition plan" is the most comprehensive suite of green policies - but why new runways and motorway widening undermine his efforts. The Tories' unique idea to reform the rules that currently force us to destroy the rainforests to put biofuels in our petrol tanks, deserves credit - but where's the support for clean energy? The Lib Dems offer deeper carbon cuts and easily the most progressive policies of the three, overall - but they still want to exploit every drop of North Sea oil.

The truth is that none of the political parties have the policies that will cut emissions as deeply as scientists such as Professor Hansen suggest we need to - and that, surely, is something we need to talk about.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

China launches its offshore wind industry

In December 2007 I participated in a clean energy/life sciences trade mission to China. One of the major topics of discussion was offshore wind energy -- something Chinese energy officials were very interested in and had just begun exploring. The following spring, a delegation of Chinese engineers came to the U.S. to follow-up on the trade mission and the discussions around offshore wind.

This year China became a member of the global offshore wind energy industry when it erected a 100 MW project near the Shanghai East China Sea Bridge. Planning for a cluster of offshore projects in the sea off eastern Jiangsu is now underway.

A decision from the U.S. Department of the Interior on Cape Wind -- the first offshore wind project proposed in the U.S. is expected next week.

Offshore wind power sets sail

By Wan Zhihong
China Daily
April 24, 2010

Beijing - China will choose the sea off eastern Jiangsu province to build the country's first batch of offshore wind power projects, an energy official said on Friday.

The four wind power projects include two near shore plants, each with installed capacity of 300 megawatts (mW), and two built on tidal flats with a capacity of 200 mW each, said Shi Lishan, deputy director of the new energy department under the National Energy Administration (NEA).

Public bidding for the four projects will start at the beginning of next month, he said.

"Construction of offshore wind power projects will be one focus of China's wind power industry in the future. As the country boasts rich offshore wind energy resources, China has great potential in this field," said Shi.

Shi added that the construction of offshore wind power projects costs much more and requires more complex technology compared with wind power projects built on land.

China has finished construction of a pilot offshore wind power project near Shanghai. Investment of the project is 2.5 times of an on land project with the same capacity, said Shi.

China's wind power industry has seen over 100 percent year-on-year growth in the past four years. The country's installed wind power capacity has reached 25 gigawatts (gW), the second-largest in the world.

The country plans to build seven wind power bases with a minimum capacity of 10 gW each by 2020, in a move to further increase the use of the clean energy.

The seven bases are: Jiuquan in Gansu province, Hami in Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, Hebei province, western Jilin province, eastern Inner Mongolia, western Inner Mongolia, and Jiangsu province.

Once completed in 2020, the seven bases will have combined capacity of around 120 gW, when the country's total power capacity is projected to be 1,500 gW, Shi told China Daily earlier.

Construction of these bases would require an investment of around 1 trillion yuan, he said.

However, with the rapid development of the wind power industry, some problems in the sector also emerged. For instance, it is hard for many finished wind power plants to connect to the grid.

Commenting on the issue, Shi said the government needs to improve its planning for the development of wind power and grid capacity.

"In my opinion there is no problem in technology for wind power plants to connect to the grid," he said.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Going with the flow

The nation's oceans and Great Lakes are being increasingly targeted as potential sources of renewable energy. It makes sense given that the vast majority of people live along or very near the coasts. An offshore wind energy industry is trying to emerge in the U.S.

Offshore wind's biggest disadvantages are arguably its variability and the fact that the turbines are large and very visible. Some hydrokinetic technologies (wave and tidal) are designed to operate beneath surface of the ocean, and while they are also intermittent, their variability is more predictable. However, unlike these technologies actually operate in the water which raises concerns about harming marine life and affecting the physical characteristics of the oceans. (GW)

Generating Megawatts Like Clockwork

By Henry Fountain
New York Times
April 21, 2010


WHEN Christopher R. Sauer stands before the swirling waters of the Western Passage and describes his company’s alternative energy vision, he doesn’t see an army of wind turbines or banks of solar cells.

In fact, Mr. Sauer sees nothing at all that could block his view of Canada, just across the channel. For if his plans come to fruition, an array of turbines will be operating out of sight, deep under the water, cranking out power to a substation on shore.

His company, Ocean Renewable Power, is one of a number of start-ups trying to develop tidal energy — water-powered turbines that spin in the current as the tides come and go, turning generators to make electricity that is clean and, they hope, reasonably priced.

“We’re not going to beat out the old coal plants in the Ohio Valley,” said Mr. Sauer, who has decades of experience developing co-generation plants and other power projects. “But we will be competitive with any new power source, including fossil fuels.”

That’s an ambitious goal, but Mr. Sauer, the company’s president and chief executive, has at least gravity and the earth’s rotational energy on his side.

Tides come and go twice a day everywhere around the globe. In places like Eastport — a former sardine capital at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy that is surrounded by deep channels like the Western Passage — tidal power makes the most sense, at least for the moment.

Here the tides are very high and the current strong, reaching about 6 knots, or 7 miles per hour, at peak flows four times a day. “We’ve got the best tidal current on the East Coast,” Mr. Sauer said.

Tidal power is not a new idea. A few tidal generating stations are already operating around the world, including one in France that is more than four decades old. But they represent an older approach, one that employs barrages, or dams, to hold back the high tide. The water is then released through turbines, like a conventional hydroelectric plant, when the tide goes out.

Eastport itself was the site of an elaborate and enormous barrage project, proposed in the 1930s during the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who knew of the great tides here, having spent many summers on Campobello Island nearby. The project, the East Coast’s answer to Hoover Dam, was abandoned after a year.

Dam-building is extremely costly and can create widespread environmental problems — the Eastport project, for example, would have bottled up two bays, forever altering the region’s ecosystem. Mr. Sauer and others say that placing turbines directly in the current is potentially much cheaper and more environmentally sound.

But no one knows for sure, because the underwater approach is in its infancy. While there are a few tidal current projects overseas, including one in Northern Ireland, there are only small development projects in the United States, including one undertaken by Verdant Power in New York’s East River, which also has a strong tidal current. Technologies are still being tested, and environmental questions are as yet unanswered. A tidal plant in Manhattan, Maine or elsewhere in the United States that would feed significant power to the grid is at least a few years away.

In many ways, tidal power is at a stage similar to wind power’s two or three decades ago. “That’s exactly the way wind started out, with fairly small projects,” said Robert Thresher, a research fellow with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, who, after years of wind-power research, now studies what is called marine hydrokinetics, a catch-all term for tidal, wave and ocean thermal energy. “They learned how to operate and maintain their machines. It was somewhat trial and error.”

Now large, efficient wind turbines are arrayed in vast farms. With tidal power, Mr. Thresher said, “I think you’ll see exactly the same kind of evolution” of the technology.

But it might not take as long, said Tim Ramsey, a project officer with the Energy Department, which began putting resources into tidal projects only two years ago.

“I don’t think we’re 20 or 30 years from being where wind is today,” Mr. Ramsey said. “It may only take us or 10 years to catch up.” Computers and other research tools are far better than they used to be, he said, and more accurate software models simulate turbine performance and efficiency.

“Our expectation is there is enough potential there to make it not only feasible but economical,” he said.

Tidal researchers have learned a lot from work on wind power. Flowing water behaves much like flowing air, but because water is denser, it contains far more energy for a given volume. That gives it an advantage over wind, said Paul Jacobson, a project manager with the Electric Power Research Institute, because the turbines can be much smaller.

Over all, however, far more power is potentially available from the wind (and the sun) than from tides. The Electric Power Research Institute estimates that at the sites it has studied — in areas with powerful tides like northern Maine, the Pacific Northwest and, above all, Alaska — a total of about 13 gigawatts is potentially available. By contrast, current estimates of potential wind power in the United States are at least several hundred times higher, and there are already about 35 gigawatts of installed capacity.

But as with offshore wind power, tidal energy would be produced near the coasts, and the coasts are where the people are.

“Cities are all built at the mouth of some estuary because in the good old pioneering days that’s where you could get transportation,” Dr. Thresher said. And estuaries make promising locations for tidal power, particularly if the technology improves and more power could be generated in slower currents.

“The appeal is not how large it is, but that it’s carbon-free and it’s there,” Dr. Thresher said. “You don’t have to build transmission lines.”

Like wind power — and solar power as well — tides are an intermittent resource. Even in areas with strong tides there are times, near low and high tide, when currents are too slow to turn a turbine.

Mr. Sauer estimated that in Eastport, his company’s machines would generate power about 75 percent of the time. “It’s variable,” he said. “It’s not a sole-source solution.”

Neither, he said, is wind or solar. But tides are highly predictable. “We can tell you for the next 100 years what we’re going to produce,” Mr. Sauer said. “With wind you can’t. With solar you can’t.”

That kind of dependability appeals to grid operators, said Mr. Jacobson of the Electric Power Research Institute. “They can ramp up other sources of generation and plan for that.”

In principle, some tidal turbines are very similar to wind turbines. Verdant Power’s East River project, for example, uses axial-flow turbines, in which the axis of rotation is aligned with the direction of water flow. Like wind turbines, they resemble large propellers, although they are stubbier and smaller than their wind counterparts.

Verdant Power in New York operated test turbines in the river, between Roosevelt Island and Queens, for several years. Recently it removed the turbines and is working on a next-generation model. It has applied for a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a project to put an array of up to 30 turbines in the river that would generate up to 1 megawatt at peak times.

Trey Taylor, Verdant’s co-founder and president, said environmental studies should be finished by summer, “and we expect to get that license by the end of this year.” But the project cannot proceed until more financing is obtained.

For its projects — the company is also working in Alaska — Ocean Renewable Power decided to use a different kind of turbine, a cross-flow design in which the axis of rotation is perpendicular to the flow of water. It looks something like the working end of a reel-type lawnmower, only supersize.

A complete unit would have four 20-foot turbine sections, two on each side of a generator capable of producing, at peak, about 250 kilowatts. The units could be mounted on the bottom or moored under water and in some cases could be stacked as many as four high.

The company’s plan is to put one unit in the Western Passage next year, to be followed by more units there and in Cobscook Bay, on the other side of Eastport.

Now, though, the company is testing its turbine and generator system on a barge moored in Cobscook Bay. The turbine — two sections with the generator in the middle — can be raised and lowered into the water using hydraulic booms. With the turbine out of the water, the gray barge, topped by a shack full of power-regulating equipment, looks like a home-built high-tech paddlewheeler.

The company has had some problems — a coupling linking one side of the turbine to the generator broke, for instance — but over all, Mr. Sauer said, the tests are going well. At the same time, researchers from the University of Maine are studying the impact of the turbine on fish.

One concern about tidal turbines is that they could kill or injure fish that swim through them. While the study results are not yet in, Mr. Sauer said his company’s turbine was designed to rotate relatively slowly — about once a second — to minimize the danger.

Mr. Jacobson said that environmental reviews could be a “significant hurdle” for deployment of tidal energy systems. “These devices are going in new places, places where there hasn’t been industrial development,” he said. “So there are lots of questions.”

Cost is another big concern. “At the end of the day, we’re selling electricity, and electricity is a commodity,” Mr. Sauer said. Even with renewable energy credits and other incentives, he said, “clearly our first units in the water are not going to be competitive with coal. Our challenge is to get enough of them in the water and refine the manufacturing processes and other things we have to do to get them cost competitive.”

That will be difficult without financing, and for Mr. Sauer’s company, as for other alternative energy start-ups, raising capital is difficult. The company will soon be looking for $10 million to $12 million to continue development of the system and begin installing it in the Western Passage.

But Mr. Sauer is optimistic that once power starts being produced the company will attract a different kind of investor. “They aren’t going to be technology investors, they’ll be project investors,” he said.

Mr. Sauer’s vision extends far beyond Eastport and the Western Passage, all the way to Florida’s Atlantic Coast. There, the Gulf Stream, known locally as the Florida Current, flows at a constant 3 knots.

There are huge technological and practical hurdles to putting turbines in that current, one being that the water is 1,200 feet deep; another is that it is 20 miles off shore. But Mr. Sauer has his sights on that prize. “That’s the mother lode,” he said.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day 2010

I'm one of those sixty-somethings who tuned into the first Earth Day celebrations forty years ago and never dropped out.

No comment on mid-life crisis. (GW)

Born in 1970, event has cause for celebration -- and a midlife crisis

By David A. Fahrenthold and Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post
April 22, 2010

Before Earth Day became what it is -- a national ritual halfway between a street party and a guilt trip -- it was a bunch of 20-somethings working in an office over a diner in Dupont Circle.

It was 1970. They worked 15-hour days. They stuffed a lot of envelopes.

And, at first, they didn't like the name.

"Who in the hell do they think we are, the Grange?" Stephen Cotton recalled about reading the name an advertising agency had proposed for their national protest. Earth Day sounded like an event for farmers. "But it grew on us."

Earth Day turns 40 on Thursday, making its founders 60-somethings. To this group of about 20, both the day and the country look very different now.

In those four decades, the angrier, more ambitious environmental movement that sprang out of Earth Day made vast changes in Washington. New federal laws took on dirty air and poisoned water -- and won.

But today, American environmentalism is struggling in a new kind of fight.

The problems are more slippery: pollutants like greenhouse-gas emissions, which don't stink or sting the eyes. And current activists, by their own admission, rarely muster the kind of collar-grabbing immediacy that the first Earth Day gave to environmental causes.

"I don't think we've come up with a good way in the conservation movement of making it real for people," said Arturo Sandoval, who was 22 when he organized activities across the West on the first Earth Day.

In 1970, "you could say, 'Have you been down to the river lately?' And people would say, 'Oh my God, I don't even let my kids go there,' "said Sandoval, now 62 and still working on environmental causes in Albuquerque. "Global warming, to most people, is an abstract issue."

A 'human jam'
Earth Day's 40th anniversary will be celebrated across the globe Thursday: There will be children studying pollution in Baltimore Harbor, volunteers cutting down invasive ivy in the District, a coral-reef cleanup in the Virgin Islands, a concert in Rome.

On Sunday, a climate-focused rally on the Mall will include performances by Sting, John Legend and the Roots.

The day's beginnings were much humbler, but not that far away. The first Earth Day was organized from an office at 2000 P St. NW that smelled like hamburger grease and teemed with flies.

"Every so often, someone would go berserk and dash from room to room" swinging a fly swatter at the swarms drawn by the oily fumes rising from the diner downstairs, said Cotton, then 23, who was the press director for the group. "Since we were budding ecologists, we had an unspoken rule against using bug spray."

He and the other young people were working on an idea from then-Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D-Wis.), who died in 2005. In August 1969, Nelson had visited a huge oil spill off Santa Barbara, Calif. He wondered: Why not hold a "teach-in" -- like the campus discussions that focused on the Vietnam War -- on the environment?

Nelson hired Denis Hayes, 25, a graduate student at Harvard and a former student-body president at Stanford. The rest came from a variety of other liberal causes: a veteran of Robert F. Kennedy's presidential campaign, an organizer of antiwar protests in Mississippi, an anti-hunger activist.

At the time, the Potomac River was choked with pollution-fueled algae blooms. Cleveland's Cuyahoga River had recently caught fire. Smog was so bad that, in 1966, a vast cloud of it was blamed for killing more than 150 people in New York City. And even the bald eagle's population had fallen below 1,000 nesting pairs in the continental United States, ravaged by the pesticide DDT.

On P Street, the group mailed out suggested Earth Day activities, called college campuses to set up events, talked to dozens of newspaper and TV reporters.

It worked: On Earth Day itself, there was a "human jam" that filled New York City's Fifth Avenue, a rally near the Washington Monument, a march against a foul-smelling sewage plant in Albuquerque. There were events at college campuses and in classrooms around the country: By one estimate, one in 10 Americans participated.

"A disease has infected our country," one ad for Earth Day said. "It has brought smog to Yosemite, dumped garbage in the Hudson, sprayed DDT in our food, and left our cities in decay. Its carrier is man."

The days after
In the four years afterward, the Environmental Protection Agency was founded and Congress passed a series of landmark laws. The Clean Air Act amendments of 1970 set new limits on pollutants. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 provided new protections for vulnerable animals. And the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 set new restrictions on what could come out of taps.

Today, EPA estimates that the Clean Air Act -- amended in 1990 to crack down on acid rain -- has prevented more than 220,000 premature deaths from air pollution. Other legislation led to pollution cuts that have made both the Cuyahoga and the Potomac run cleaner.

And, with DDT banned, there are now more than 9,700 nesting pairs of bald eagles in the Lower 48.

"We won the argument that the environment needs to be protected," said Michael Brune, the modern-day executive director of the Sierra Club. "The conversation is now about at what pace do we need to reform, what are the most effective policy solutions we need to put in place, what the costs are going to be."

Environmental issues gained a foothold on campus: Williams College established one of the first environmental studies programs in 1967. Now, according to the National Council for Science and the Environment, the number of interdisciplinary environmental programs has reached about 1,235.

Another sign of the group's impact will come Thursday, with Earth Day itself.

The organizers wanted it to be one-time event, but it has become an annual, global celebration. The first one cost about $122,000 to put on; today, the Earth Day Network, which oversees Earth Day worldwide, boasts an $8.5 million budget and a long roster of corporate sponsors, including Underwriters Laboratories, Siemens, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, AT&T Mobile and Procter & Gamble.

In 1970, students at San Jose State buried a car as a protest against consumerism. In 2010, there will be Earth Day events in Washington put on by Chevrolet and Ford.

Facing the future
The group of organizers disbanded after that first Earth Day and went on to careers in law firms, foundations, environmental groups, state government.

They look back now with pride, in both the environmental and psychological changes the day set off. "A lot of people got out of prison that day, and saw a different world ahead of them," said Fred Kent, a New York City organizer in 1970, who now runs a nonprofit.

But since then, they and other observers have seen the American environmental movement struggle to rebuild its momentum. With rare exceptions, like in the 2006 defeat of then-House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), the environment rarely serves as the defining issue in national campaigns.

Public opinion polls show that, while Americans care about the environment, they generally rank it behind other priorities like jobs, terrorism and health care. And, on climate change -- the environmental movement's defining issue now -- polls show Americans seeming less concerned, not more, than in previous years.

"I don't think the environmental movement is deep enough, broad enough, to have the impact we want," said Bill Meadows, president of the Wilderness Society, who, like many of today's most prominent environmental leaders, took part in Earth Day events in 1970. "We're a strong interest group, but we have yet to have the kind of political clout you really need in today's political world."

In fact, many also seem to have absorbed the lesson that the best thing for the environment is to buy things.

This year, a poll conducted by professors at George Mason, Yale and American universities showed that respondents who were most alarmed about climate change were more than eight times more likely to express their concern through shopping for "green" products than by contacting an elected official multiple times about it.

From the anti-consumer bent of the first Earth Day, "we've gone to the opposite extreme. We're too respectful of business," said Adam Rome, a professor at Pennsylvania State University who studies environmental history. He said that Americans have continued to buy more goods and use more energy in the past four decades -- and that, in many ways, American pollution was outsourced, as manufacturing moved overseas.

"Is our environmental footprint smaller than it was in 1970? The answer is no," Rome said.

The best example, and the modern environmental movement's biggest challenge today, is climate change.

When the Earth Day Network began planning this year's events nearly two years ago, organizers thought they would be celebrating the signing of a global climate agreement last December in Copenhagen. That didn't happen. And in this country, efforts to pass a climate-change bill have been mired in the Senate. The group will hold a rally on Sunday, which League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski said "will be the catalyst to pass the climate bill. That's our goal, and that's the challenge we face."

Hayes, who now runs a foundation in Seattle that works on environmental causes, says he remembers the time when the environment was an issue on which "people were winning and losing elections."

Nate Byer, the Earth Day 2010 campaign director, said that's the kind of potency activists want to reclaim. "We want to invigorate the movement this year. We're trying to guide the destiny of this movement, and make it what it was in 1970."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Icelandic eruption promts Europe to look anew at its railroad systems

There are a few silver linings hidden in the plumes of Iceland's Eyjafjallojokull volcano. Carbon emissions are down due to all the cancelled airflights, and now many European Union nations are taking a good hard look at the need to modernize their rail systems. (GW)

Ash cloud prompts Parliament calls for better EU railways

April 21, 2010

A volcanic ash cloud that has grounded flights across Europe has served to highlight the region's dependence on air travel and prompted calls for the European Union to develop a better and faster rail network.


As of 1 January 2010, rail operators are in theory allowed to open international passenger rail routes in all EU countries, challenging powerful state-run companies such as France's SNCF and Germany's Deutsche Bahn.

But few new service offers have been put on the table so far.

European rail freight has been open to competition since 1 January 2007, but the opening of the market has not led to serious increases in competition, nor a substantial shift of freight from road to rail (EurActiv 22/01/09).

In a sometimes heated debate in the European Parliament on Tuesday (20 April), parliamentarians said the 27-country bloc had reacted too slowly to a crisis that had shown an urgent need to bring other forms of transport up to date.

The ash cloud had caused travel chaos in Europe as travellers sought alternative ways to reach their destination.

"Member states should finally learn a lesson from what has happened," centre-right MEP Marian-Jean Marinescu, a member of the Parliament's transport committee, told the assembly in the French city of Strasbourg.

"The modernisation of our railway transportation is a priority. We talk a lot about it but don't do much. In Europe today you can't buy a train ticket to travel in a civilised way from the north of Europe to the south of Europe."

Rail travellers often complain they have to buy tickets for each stage of their journey if travelling between European countries, that it is hard to find clear information about international links and that the cost is often prohibitive.

Onboard conditions are sometimes deplorable. Hannes Swoboda, an Austrian Socialist MEP, said he had in the past few days used trains and roads to travel from Belgrade to Vienna and from Vienna to Strasbourg, and found the trains "pretty grim".

"The toilets on the train were completely blocked because so many people were on the train and using them. The corridors were full of people sitting in them because there weren't enough seats," he said. "It was a pretty big disaster, I can assure you."

Assembly chief promises action

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek said in a written statement that action was needed to ensure the bloc representing more than 500 million people developed its rail network and was not caught unprepared again.

"This crisis reminds us how important it is to invest in all forms of transport on a long-term perspective," he said.

"We have experienced in recent days what it means to be stuck at an airport being forced to find alternative means of travelling. Other forms of transport are not always suitable for long journeys or emergencies."

The EU has been working on opening domestic rail markets to more competition since 2001 and introduced new legislation this year to help implement its plans, but it has faced problems because of foot-dragging in some member states.

The executive European Commission says some countries have not created a level playing field on issues including access to infrastructure and price setting.

It accused some member states last year of moving towards protectionism during the economic crisis by demanding derogations from existing laws as well as legislation that was still under discussion.

"The liberalisation of international services happened at the start of the year, and we should see the effects soon," said Libor Lochman, deputy executive director of the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies.

He said passengers had recently begun using high-speed trains between Brussels and Frankfurt and between Paris and Frankfurt, and the tunnel linking Britain and mainland Europe would eventually be opened up to competition.

"We'll see an expansion of high-speed lines in France, Italy, Spain and the UK over the next five to 10 years, and the international services will closely follow," he said.

"However, further increase of international high-speed services depends on the availability of high-speed lines. Construction of a new infrastructure is hugely dependent on financing and that's mostly a decision for member states."

(EurActiv with Reuters.)


EU official documents
European Commission: Agreement on the third railway package (22 June 2007)
European Commission: Rail: What do we want to achieve? [FR] [DE]
Business & Industry
Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER): Third Railway Package compromise: Significant progress in creating an integrated European railway area (21 June 2007)
European Rail Infrastructure Managers (EIM): Rail Reform makes progress (21 June 2007)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"This is part of the unfinished business of the environmental movement"

As we approach the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, it's a good time to reflect on the progress that has been made in the areas of environmental protection and sustainable development. However, we need to focus on the fact that environmental justice continues to elude poor communities throughout the nation. In fact, as the experience of Turkey Creek demonstrates, some environmental benefits may have actually come at their expense.

My good friend Leah Mahan has been working on a documentary about the Turkey Creek struggle for nine years. She began her project before Hurricane Katrina hit. Please check out her blog.(GW)

For them, Earth Day was late in coming
GULFPORT, Miss. — When freed slaves founded the community of Turkey Creek in 1866, there was nothing here but swamps, oak trees and a muddy creek.

Through the years, sixth-generation resident Derrick Evans says, the area became a "dumping ground" for the kinds of hazardous or undesirable development no one wants to live next to: a sewage treatment facility, a chemical plant (which caught fire, leaked waste and closed), the city airport, and so on.

By 2005, many of the area's wetlands had been paved over, leaving Turkey Creek especially vulnerable to flooding when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast.

Evans, a community activist, says repeated appeals to local officials to halt harmful projects went unanswered. He says "things finally started going our way" when he realized that Turkey Creek was a haven for tropical birds, and he reached out to conservation groups such as the Audubon Society that he says had the legal resources to help.

"It's as if people cared more about birds than African Americans," Evans says. "It shouldn't have to be so hard."

Thursday is the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day, which with the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency the same year, heralded the beginning of the modern environmental movement. The USA has seen environmental advancements during every decade since:

•1970s: Congress passed the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act.

•1980s: The Superfund Law was passed, setting the stage for the cleanup of abandoned waste sites.

• 1990s: Amendments to the Clean Air Act brought more pollution protections from dust and soot.

• 2000s: Advances were made to cut vehicle and equipment emissions and to regulate mercury emissions.

Yet the head of the EPA under the Obama administration, Lisa Jackson, is among those who say the movement's achievements — including significantly cleaner air and water throughout much of the USA — have not been equally shared by low-income and minority communities such as Turkey Creek.

"We've come a long way" in 40 years, she says.

But she adds that the EPA, and environmentalists in general, need to do a better job of using the clout they've accumulated since 1970 to ensure more "environmental justice" — a term she and others use to describe the idea that everyone, no matter their race or income level, has the right to live in a healthy environment.

"This is part of the unfinished business of the environmental movement," Jackson says.

Numerous studies have shown that low-income and minority communities tend to suffer disproportionately from exposure to toxic substances and resulting health problems.

Robert Bullard, a professor at Clark Atlanta University whom Jackson describes as a pioneer of the environmental justice movement, says that blacks in particular "have been invisible to enforcement of environmental laws."

"Policymakers, most often white, decide that if something that causes environmental harm has to go somewhere, it will go in neighborhoods where decision-makers don't live," Bullard says.

"Years of segregation accentuated these differences."

Jackson was in North Charleston, S.C., Monday as part of a multi-state tour with members of the Congressional Black Caucus that aims to call attention to environmental justice issues and encourage local officials and activists to find solutions.

She visited a school in a largely minority community where the EPA is conducting air tests for toxic substances. (The testing program is the result of a 2008 USA TODAY investigation into toxic air at schools.) Future stops on the tour will include New York City, Atlanta and Oakland.

The first stop in January was in Jackson, Miss., where Jackson met Evans and learned about his community's ongoing struggles.

She calls Turkey Creek's case "emblematic" of similar problems she's trying to help address nationwide.

For Turkey Creek residents, their battle continues — this time over a new highway that Mississippi officials want to build through their watershed.

This time, Evans, 43, says he's ready for a fight.

"I've got my arsenal now," he says. "I've got the Sierra Club (an environmental group) right here. I've got the EPA over here. Which one do you want me to hit you with?"

'A fight over jobs'

Turkey Creek's founding the year after the Civil War ended predates Gulfport by more than 30 years. Over time, though, Gulfport grew — and it incorporated Turkey Creek in the 1990s.

Most of the community's 200 or so residents live much as they did a half-century ago along Rippy Road, a street bordered by towering oak trees.

Modern, ranch-style houses sit alongside some original, wood-frame structures — including the one that used to belong to "Grandma Benton," from whom most of the area's residents descended.

"We're all cousins here," says Evans' mother, the Rev. Lettie Evans-Caldwell, 75.

Just a few hundred feet away, though, the landscape changes to one of urban sprawl.

Gulfport's steady march north from the coast, which accelerated after Katrina and Rita ravaged the old city center, has been so pervasive that Evans says there are three Waffle Houses within five-sevenths of a mile of his house. "Nothing against hash browns," he says, "but that's ridiculous."

In 2001, despite loud protests from many residents, most of Turkey Creek's historic grave sites — including those of Grandma Benton's daughters — were paved over to create an apartment complex for low-income residents. By then, Evans and others were organizing to stop the construction of a multilane "connector road" for trucks between Gulfport's port and nearby Interstate 10, which would fill in another 162 acres of area wetlands.

"Rich, white folks would never have to put up with this," Evans says.

Gulfport Mayor George Schloegel says the road is necessary because the current expansion of the Panama Canal will create a dramatic increase in the city's seaport traffic. He says the expansion is "the biggest economic growth project in Mississippi's history" and says it will result in 15,000 new jobs.

"Don't let anybody tell you this is another sad story about race in Mississippi," Schloegel says. "This is a fight over jobs — jobs we need during this recession."

The race factor

Bullard, the environmental justice expert, says race has historically been "the most potent variable" in determining the location of hazardous sites.

"Income and education levels are less important ... determining factors," he says.

Bullard says the racial breach widened even further in recent years. He co-authored a 2007 study that said that, nationwide, 56% of Americans living within two miles of a commercial hazardous waste facility were people of color. That was up from 33% in a 1987 study, he says.

A separate 2008 study by University of Colorado sociologist Liam Downey found, based on U.S. Census data, that an average black household with an income of $50,000 to $60,000 a year coped with higher levels of pollution than an average white household with an income of less than $10,000.

Jackson says her tour is aimed at empowering local officials and grass-roots activists who can help reverse that trend — by stopping harmful development projects before they begin, or by starting or accelerating cleanup of polluted sites.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat who hosted Jackson in Mississippi, says her visit has already resulted in greater accountability from regional and state officials, and "showed them that environmental justice is a priority for this EPA."

"It really matters who you've got at the top," he says.

Turkey Creek had a turning point of its own. During the period between President Obama's election in November 2008 and his inauguration 2½ months later, the EPA informed the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) that its plan to offset the environmental effects of the highway was insufficient, says department head Larry "Butch" Brown.

Determined to make the road project go ahead anyway, Brown convened a meeting of "all the relevant stakeholders in Turkey Creek" — among them Evans, the EPA, Mississippi's state environmental agency, and the powerful alliance of conservation groups that Evans had helped assemble.

"When you have a group of very vocal objectors, sometimes it's best to find an alternative," Brown says.

After a long day of negotiations, the agreed-upon solution was for the highway to go ahead. As a compromise, MDOT agreed to acquire more than 1,600 acres of land within the Turkey Creek watershed, much of it wetlands, and turn it over to the state's Department of Marine Resources.

The tract will be held in perpetuity by a local land trust — off limits to economic development "forever," Brown says.

Lessons learned

Evans says he's content with the deal.

"The road goes ahead, it's true, but that's a big piece of land that will never get built on," he says.

Mayor Schloegel says he's "furious," and announced last week that a legal challenge against MDOT is likely. "For God's sake, don't take that land off our tax rolls forever," Schloegel says.

Evans says the litigation threat means the battle isn't over. In the meantime, he has been freed up to concentrate on fixing years of damage to his community. He and other residents are working to label wild blueberry trees and other native vegetation that helped rally eco-tourists to his cause.

On a warm afternoon last week, four area teenagers were cruising down Turkey Creek in a motorboat, fishing for bass.

Evans called after them: "Hey, we're getting together some folks to clean out the creek, pull out some tires. Can you guys help?"

"Absolutely. I'll be there," said John Ryland, 18. He gave Evans his cellphone number and the boat puttered away.

"That's great, really great," Evans said after they had disappeared. "You get those kids, affluent kids, engaged at an early age, they'll take care of this place forever."

Recent victories aside, Evans doesn't see his story as one others should seek to repeat.

"This isn't a success story. Turkey Creek is a story of failure," Evans says. "This is a place that was forced by the failure of traditional environmentalism and government agencies to be incredibly creative to find a way to survive."

"It shouldn't have been necessary — but, hey, it was. Let it not be in vain. Let it be instructive."


Monday, April 19, 2010

A "nonillion" marine microbes

After reading the article that I posed today I more fully appreciate why Bucky Fuller dedicated more than fifty pages in his book "And It Came To Pass - Not To Stay" to describe "How Little I Know".

I also learned how much a nonillion is. The realization that there are more than a nonillion marine microbes underscores why it is impossible for humans to replicate Nature's amazing regenerative infrastructure that provides the so-called ecosystem services that in turn maintain the conditions necessary for life. (GW)

Woods Hole scientists help discover 'new world'

By Randolph E. Schmid
The Associated Press
April 19, 2010

WASHINGTON — If the Census Bureau thinks it has its hands full counting Americans, imagine what scientists are up against in trying to tally every living thing in the ocean, including microbes so small they seem invisible.

And just try to get them to mail back a form.

The worldwide Census of Marine Life has four field projects focusing on hard-to-see sea life such as tiny microbes, zooplankton, larvae and burrowers in the sea bed. Tiny as individuals, these life forms are massive as groups and provide food that helps underpin better-known living things.

"Scientists are discovering and describing an astonishing new world of marine microbial diversity and abundance, distribution patterns and seasonal changes," said Mitch Sogin of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, leader of the International Census of Marine Microbes.

The Census of Marine Life, which is scheduled to be reported Oct. 4 in London, has involved more than 2,000 scientists from more than 80 nations.

The decade-long census has discovered more than 5,000 new forms of marine life. Researchers think there may be several times that many yet to be found.

Previous updates have focused on larger creatures, such as a city of brittle stars off the coast of New Zealand, an Antarctic expressway where octopuses ride along in a flow of extra salty water, the deepest comb jellyfish ever found and The White Shark Cafe, a deep Pacific Ocean site where sharks congregate in winter.

Now the researchers have turned to the tiniest of things, some of which burrow in the sea floor.

Remotely operated deep-sea vehicles discovered that roundworms dominate the deepest, darkest abyss. Sometimes, more than 500,000 can exist in just over a square yard of soft clay. Only a few different types have been studied.

There are also 16,000 or more species of seaworms. There are loriciferans, which the scientists call "girdle wearers" because of hind shells resembling a corset.

And there are hundreds of types of tiny crustaceans.

"Such findings make us look at the deep sea from a new perspective," says researcher Pedro Martinez Arbizu of the German Center for Marine Biodiversity Research.

"Far from being a lifeless desert, the deep sea rivals such highly diverse ecosystems as tropical rainforests and coral reefs," Arbizu said.

Consider zooplankton, the tiny, often transparent animals that some call sea bugs. They form a vital link in the food chain.

As of 2004, scientists had identified about 7,000 species of zooplankton. Now they expect that to double when they finish analyzing all the samples collected in the marine census.

Improved techniques such as DNA analysis — tracking the genetic code in the cells of living creatures — have helped unravel some errors along the way.

Tracey Sutton of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and colleagues led by the Smithsonian Institution's G. David Johnson used genetics to show that three types of fish thought to be different are really one.

They found that even though they look different, the Mirapinnidae (tapetails), Megalomycteridae (bignose fishes) and Cetomimidae (whalefishes) are really the same species. The tapetails are the larvae and when they grow up they become either the bignoses (girls) or the whalefish (boys).

After studying samples taken from more than 1,000 sites, scientists concluded there may be as many as 100 times more microbe genera in the sea than they had thought.

Indeed, a 2007 study in the English Channel alone yielded 7,000 new genera of microorganisms.

Genus is the category of life ranked between family and species. For example the mammal family has many genera, such as homo (humans), canis (dogs) and equus (horse).

What ocean microbes lack in size they make up for in numbers. Marine census researchers calculate there are a "nonillion" — and that doesn't even take into count all the other creatures in the sea.

Never heard of nonillion? Well, it's a lot. It's 1,000 times 1 billion, times 1 billion, times 1 billion.

Of course no one can really envision a number like that, so the researchers turned to the popular comparison measure — the African elephant.

A nonillion microbe cells, they say, is about the same weight as 240 billion African elephants — or the equivalent of 35 elephants for every person on Earth.

And that's just the microbes.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Destruction breeds creation

If America's aging cities and towns have a future it will be because of people like John Fetterman. In fact, the John (and Jane) Fdetterman's of the world may also be the best hope for rescuing American politics from its downward spiral that is being fueled by cynicism, distrust and disgust.

The New York Times called Fetternan "America's Coolest Mayor". I think that misses the point. He may, in fact, at once be the nation's most hopeful, inspirational, compassionate, visionary and pragmatic mayor. (GW)

A Town Revitalized?
April 9, 2010

The national economic disaster hit the city of Braddock Pennsylvania like a wrecking ball. But Braddock Mayor John Fetterman—dubbed "America's Coolest Mayor" by The New York Times—is taking very unconventional approaches to reinventing the town and re-inspiring its residents. Home to the nation's first A&P supermarket and Andrew Carnegie's first steel mill, Braddock is being revitalized with new youth and art programs, renovations of abandoned real estate, and bold plans to attract artists and green industries.

NOW sits down with Mayor Fetterman to learn how the 6'8" 370-pound political novice is trying to turn his town around, and if other devastated communities can and should follow his large footsteps.