renewable energy

Malaria, DDT, and "eco-imperialism" by greens -- Tyee debunks story of blood on enviros' hands

rm iwest mugI've been hearing for some years now about unreasonable environmental activists fighting against resurrecting the use of DDT in Africa to control the malaria scourge, and meaning to check out the story. Michael Crichton, for example, charged that the ban on DDT has killed more people than Hitler. Hard to ignore.

My interest was further piqued when I met malaria sufferers on my trip to Africa, and again when I donated money to a campaign to buy pesticide-treated mosquito netting for African children. Something like 1 million people die annually from malaria -- most of them African children under age 5.

So, what's the real deal? Are the greens so caught up in their rhetoric they would allow kids to die? I'm afraid getting to the bottom of that question slipped pretty far down my priority list.

Fortunately for me and the rest of the world, Simon Fraser University media prof Donald Gutstein did a pretty thorough job poking into the controversy.

Obama's State of the Union punts on climate change... but what did you expect?

rm iwest mugWell, President Obama certainly did go on at some length tonight in his just-concluded State of the Union address. But he once again failed to elevate the climate issue to urgency. I have to agree with David Roberts over at Grist.org: "Pretty weak tea." (Hat tip to Roberts for posting the transcript of that part of the speech before Obama was even done talking.)

Now, some of our faithful correspondents and even some friends thought it curious that Dateline Earth faulted Obama for falling short on the climate and energy issue in his inaugural address a year ago, after which we held forth thusly:

 That is not the speech of a man who intends to launch a World War II-style domestic campaign -- think Rosie the Riveter and the Manahattan Project. And that's what scientists are saying we'll need.

He did it again tonight. The president -- wisely -- started out talking about jobs or, as we've put it before, "Fighting climate change = ending the recession." He was clearly aware that Americans are saying in polls now that climate is pretty low on their list of concerns. And just a day before the talk, Republican Lindsey Graham caved on Cap'n Trade, provoking Roberts, for one, to accept that we probably won't be going down that road this year, if ever in Obama's presidency.

But the sheer brevity of what Obama had to say tonight portrays a president so pummeled by problems that on climate, he punted.

Rita Hibbard's picture

Heat your home with what comes out of the toilet - brown sludge goes green

Imagine a future where you can heat your home with what comes out of your toilet.

Well, in Vancouver, B.C., they started doing it. Yesterday.

rita_hibbardwebIt's North America's first renewable heating system, which will turn sewage into heat for 16,00o homes. The system cost $30 million, and is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the area it serves by 50 percent. The Tyee reports that it will also keep 2,800 athletes warm in the Olympic Village.

Says Mayor Gregor Robertson:

“It reflects the steps we are taking to make Vancouver the greenest city on the earth.”

Wow.

Business journos jumping on the climate story

With the nations of the world preparing to say how much they are willing to do to combat climate change, it's heartening to see business journalists jumping on the story.

Two worthwhile and recent examples:

  • Today Marketplace launched a series called "The Climate Race," in which reporters Sam Eaton and Sarah Gardner ventured out from their desks in LA to find out how climate change is affecting Americans on the ground. Today's installment took us to Helena, Montana, where a beetle has devastated forests surrounding Montana's state capital. The beetles used to die off in the winter, but a few degrees' warming has made all the differrence. Today Helena is surrounded by hills ablaze in orange, red and gold. No, those aren't the gorgeous and welcome warm hues of autumn. These trees, you see, are evergreens. They turn those colors when they die.
  • The Wall Street Journal's Weekly Journal Report just featured "Five Technologies That Could Change Everything." Now, Marketplace's Eaton and Gardener are reporters on the program's sustainability desk, but I'm pretty sure the WSJ doesn't have one of those. And while the Marketplace piece was straight-ahead what-are-the-effects reporting, the WSJ was thinking -- as always -- about investors as editor Michael Totty examined space-based solar energy, advanced electric car batteries, renewable-energy storage, carbon capture and storage and next-generation biofuels. The piece features a basic rundown on where each of those technologies stands, enough to get investors' interest piqued. The graphics are pretty good, too.   

It would be a weclome sign to see more of our colleagues in the financial press pressing forward with reporting on the perils and opportunities presented by climate change.

Solar power sucks water -- now what?

By definition, deserts get lots of sun and little water.

Solar power proponents have found a way to harness the abundance of light, but some of their technologies require too much of what deserts lack: water.

The New York Times' Todd Woody reports that some desert communities in Nevada and other western states are fighting solar projects because they drain too much water.  As billions of dollars are spent on solar farms unfolding across the Southwest, what is the balance between making solar power economical and using the more expensive technologies that conserve scant moisture?  Will California politicians cave to the prospect of clean energy jobs and allow solar farms to tap drinking water, as proposed by a recent bill?

For more information on solar energy, visit the NYTimes' excellent solar page.

-- Kristen Young

Cali boosts clean energy -- from other states?

California Democrats and environmentalists didn't like the executive order signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday, but all the other Western states might.

Surrounded by smiling energy company executives, Schwarzenegger's decree will require California's electric utilities to draw at least a third of their power from wind, solar and other renewable resources by 2020, according to the LATimes' Marc Lifsher.

Sounds good, right? 

But California Democrats and environmentalists had been slogging through crafting their own bills to that effect for nine months, and they had support from some utilities as well as labor unions. 

Schwarzenegger said he slapped those bills down because they would favor alternative power produced in California at the expense of other Western states, increase the cost to consumers and compromise electric utilities' easy access  to renewable power.

As of July 2009, California's unemployment rate was pressing 12 percent, but hey, we're all suffering.  Send the jobs up the coast!

- K. Young

B.C. feels green over new budget

Environmentalists in British Columbia are reeling over cuts to the province's Environment Ministry, reports Mark Hume of the Globe and Mail. Although the government routinely discusses protecting the environment, it slashed spending by 15 percent from last year's budget, and that number is expected to decrease in the coming years. The province also repealed the Innovative Clean Energy levy, a program that uses sales tax on energy purchases and raises $25 million for clean energy annually.

B.C. was declared the greenest province in Canada on Earth Day this August, thanks to its carbon tax and programs like LiveSmart that encourage residents to make their homes more sustainable. But environmentalists worry this title could change if the government continues to provide tax incentives to industry while putting environmental programs on the back burner.

Much of the debate centers around the new Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), which exempts fuel sources like gas and oil but not renewable energy, such as solar panels, reportsAndrew MacLeod in The Tyee.

Meanwhile, Vancouver is taking matters into its own hands by hiring Sadhu Aufochs Johnston, a 35-year-old "guru of green" from Chicago, in its efforts to make Vancouver the world's greenest city, reports Doug Ward of the Vancouver Sun.

It seems the incentives for environmental programs are there, but the money isn't. It will be interesting to see what Johnston does with Vancouver and how much funding he'll have to do it with.

– Emily Linroth

Carol Smith's picture

Geothermal energy feels the heat in New Mexico

It's hot on the ground in New Mexico, but it's the heat underneath that's attracting new attention. A former Los Alamos National Laboratory researcher is calling for a new look at a way of doing geothermal that avoids causing seismic activity.

In the past, there have been questions about whether existing geothermal drilling techniques could trigger earthquakes, reports Richard Snodgrass of the Los Alamos Monitor in a story picked up by the Associated Press.

Other forms of renewable energy, including biomass, solar and hydrogen, have attracted more attention from researchers and investors, but this year the U.S. Department of Energy is taking a closer look at "hot dry rock" geothermal potential.