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  1. President Obama issued an executive order on Dec. 5, calling for an increase in solar, wind, and other renewable energy for federal agencies, to 20 percent by 2020. That's three times the amount that the agencies are currently using. The usage is expected to go up by 10 percent by 2015, at least 15 percent between 2016 and 2017, and 17.5 percent between 2018 and 2019. Obama declared, "In order to create a clean energy economy that will increase our nation's prosperity, promote energy security, combat climate change, protect the interests of taxpayers, and safeguard the health of our environment, the federal government must lead by example." This statement is in line with other positive environmental moves the president has made on the federal level, both during this year and in 2012. These include implementing a mercury reduction measure called the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, enacted by the EPA; cutting carbon output, which could decrease U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by up to 40 percent; and developing a climate change response plan that aspires to double renewable energy usage for the nation as a whole. Federal agencies have already reduced their total greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent since Obama began his campaign to phase out their reliance on fossil fuels. That figure is, according to EcoWatch, the equivalent of taking 1.5 million cars off the road. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) commended the president for his bold step forward on this matter. SEIA president Rhone Resch remarked, "From an environmental perspective, few things threaten our nation's future prosperity and way of life more than climate change. That's why it's so important for the federal government to lead by example. We applaud President Obama for standing firm and following through on a key commitment he made as part of his Climate Action Plan. "Moving forward, we also encourage the administration to develop a modern procurement process that allows solar to compete evenly with fossil fuels. Federal agencies should have the authority to adopt long-term power purchase agreements in order to maximize savings for U.S. taxpayers." The solar movement is indeed catching on in the U.S., with New Jersey, California, and Arizona being the top states to implement the technology. Conversely, there are more solar companies in the state of New Jersey than tanning salons. Arizona, meanwhile, installed more "utility-scale solar" technology than any other state in 2012, according to SEIA. And Maryland and Massachusetts saw sharp declines in the cost of solar installation during 2011 and 2012. Given these developments, it would seem logical that federal agencies should follow suit. The push to move the Obama administration on to a clean energy path began, at least partially, last year, when the Pentagon committed to establishing three gigawatts of renewable energy on Army, Navy, and Air Force installations by 2025. That's enough to power 750,000 homes. The president's executive order, however, gives the overall clean energy push some much needed thrust. This article was first published in People's World by Blake Deppe. The photo shows President Obama speaking to the Airman of Nellis Air Force Base Nev. during a visit to Las Vegas. The president spoke about issues concerning world energy and the importance of solar power. Photo Credit: Nellis Air Force Base (cc).
  2. One might see it as a good development that the federally-owned Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is planning to shut down eight coal-burning generating stations across Alabama and Kentucky. While, indeed, this will be a blow to the profiteering coal industry (reducing coal production by 3,300 megawatts in those states), it could be little more than a false triumph in terms of health and the environment. That's because the TVA is planning on replacing those stations with nuclear plants and natural gas facilities. The Obama administration has cracked down on carbon and mercury output, particularly when it is triggered by coal-fired power plants. And TVA board members were obligated to respond by phasing out some of these coal facilities, though not without Republican opposition. Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., met with the president of the TVA in an attempt to stop the coal plant shutdowns, albeit unsuccessfully. Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, praised the shutdowns, remarking, "This is a great move for public health, clean air and water, and our climate. It will also help protect families across the southeast from rising energy bills as the cost of coal-generated electricity continues to increase. I grew up in the Smoky Mountains of east Tennessee and went to college at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, so I know firsthand how much that region has struggled with coal pollution. Residents, businesses, and industries have spoken loud and clear: they want the TVA to provide affordable, reliable, and clean power." Unfortunately, the TVA seems to have no plans for implementing renewable energy, and that is why many environmentalists' reactions to the victory have now soured. According to TVA spokesman Duncan Mansfield, coal usage is "dropping fast as a drilling boom in the U.S. pushes down the price of natural gas, the fuel that competes with coal for power generation." He failed to mention the destructive practices associated with natural gas facilities, particularly fracking and chemical dumping. Currently, TVA executives are looking to build a new 800-megawatt natural-gas-fired plant in either Alabama or Kentucky. But perhaps just as disconcerting to activists is the fact that the TVA is now constructing a new nuclear power plant in Oak Ridge, Tenn., after having signed a contract with the Babcock & Wilcox Company. That company owned the reactor that was destroyed by a nuclear meltdown in the infamous Three Mile Island disaster. The new plant is only the first step in the TVA's campaign to step up its atomic output, in addition to natural gas. Hitt, from the Sierra Club, stressed the importance of replacing these dangerous, unreliable fossil and nuclear fuels with cleaner, safer energy. "TVA's next steps are critical," she said. "The utility must consider the workers and communities and make sure their livelihoods are protected. But we urge the TVA to focus on replacing these retiring coal plants with clean and affordable energy technologies that will help create jobs and affordable electricity for decades to come. Wind and solar power are cleaner and cheaper than fossil fuels like natural gas, and there are dozens of examples of for-profit and public power utilities that are making huge investments in clean energy. "We urge the TVA not to choose to rely on natural gas. It's time to leapfrog over dirty fossil fuels that will continue to exacerbate environmental and public health issues. This is the TVA's choice. They can get their fiscal house in order by developing and deploying groundbreaking energy efficiency programs that deliver real results, and by seizing this moment and leading on clean energy." This article was first published in People's World by Blake Deppe. Photo credit: Paul Joyce (cc)
  3. The plan was announced Nov. 25 by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Parks Commissioner Veronica White, Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty, and Director of Long-Term Planning and Stability Sergej Mahnovski. "Soon Fresh Kills will be the site of the largest solar power installation ever developed within the five boroughs," Bloomberg said. "Thanks to the agreement today, we will increase the amount of solar energy produced in New York City by 50 percent, and it is only fitting that Fresh Kills, once a daily dumping ground, will become a showcase for urban renewal and sustainability." "Daily dumping ground" would be putting it lightly. For 55 years, the Fresh Kills Landfill, which was so enormous it could actually be seen from space, received thousands of tons of New York's garbage, as described in a 2001 report in the Staten Island Advance. In the late 1940s, some New Yorkers formed the Staten Island Anti-Garbage Organization and led protests against the landfill, but to no avail. And the advocacy group Staten Island Citizens for Clean Air (SICCA), which formed in the 1980s, tried and failed to reduce the amount of trash being accumulated there. Barbara Warren, secretary of SICCA, told the Advance, "To be honest, in the beginning people didn't know how bad it was. But everyone complained about Fresh Kills. It was a nuisance. And it had no permits, and was in complete violation of every environmental law. We didn't even know that until we went to state agencies and filed a Freedom of Information Act request and got all the data." Decades later, it seems the city is finally taking measures to improve health and make a push for renewable energy. It's worth noting that the states of New York and New Jersey share a reputation for having high pollution and numerous toxic waste sites. New York has 86 areas declared Superfund sites by the EPA, to boot, while the ironically-named Garden State has 113 - the most of any state in the country. To many, this could also be an indication that New York City, which saw its infrastructure take a heavy beating after Hurricane Sandy, is finally learning its lesson and upgrading to clean energy. If this new facility is a sign of more solar implementation to come, New York would be following in the footsteps of New Jersey, which last year was ranked as number one in the U.S. in solar energy. In New Jersey, 800 landfills and 10,000 abandoned industrial areas are currently being converted into massive solar farms, after the approval of a $446 million solar energy proposal by Jersey's Board of Public Utilities. Power company PSE&G is currently building solar farms in Kearny, Edison, Hamilton, Linden, and Hackensack. Meanwhile, the town of Garfield has opened a new Weatherization and Green Technology Training Center and entered into a 15-year contract with solar company Amberjack Energy to work toward making the town completely reliant on solar energy. For New York, the Fresh Kills development is seen as a major victory. Marcia Bystryn, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, said, "Not long ago, few could have imagined that Fresh Kills would be transformed into a clean energy facility. This is one of the most exciting clean energy projects in development in the entire city, and it will serve as a powerful symbol of the environmental renaissance now under way on Staten Island." "Developing solar energy here shows that large-scale renewable energy projects are possible in New York City, but this is only a first step," said deputy mayor for operations Cas Holloway. "If we are serious about meeting New York City's tremendous energy needs from renewable resources, we need the state and federal governments to work with us to make solar and other renewable energies easier to develop, install, and access on the energy grid." This article was first published in People's World by Blake Deppe.
  4. Emissions shrank rapidly during the recession, then bounced back slightly as the economy recovered. But shifting market conditions, pollution regulations, and changing behaviors are also behind the decline. Oil is the largest source of carbon emissions in the United States. After a steep drop following the 1979 oil crisis, emissions from oil climbed steadily until 2005, when they peaked at 715 million tons of carbon. Since then, these emissions have fallen by 14 percent, or 101 million tons of carbon - the equivalent of taking 77 million cars off the road. (See data.) Oil is mostly used for transportation, so vehicle fuel efficiency and the number of miles driven determine the amount of emissions. On both fronts things are improving. Average fuel efficiency, which had been deteriorating for years in the United States, started to increase in 2005 and keeps getting better. Americans are traveling farther on each gallon of gas than ever before. Furthermore, people are driving less. For many years Americans as a group drove billions more miles each year than the previous one. But in 2007 this changed. Now more cars stay parked because more people live in urban areas, opt for public transit, work remotely, or retire and thus no longer commute to work. Coal - the dirtiest fossil fuel - has dominated the U.S. power grid, but its grip has weakened in recent years. As the price of natural gas has fallen, utilities are dropping coal. They are also deciding to retire old, inefficient coal plants and invest elsewhere rather than pay for retrofits in order to meet increasingly stringent pollution regulations. Strong grassroots work, too, is helping to close the curtain on coal even faster. The Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, which coordinates efforts across the country to retire old plants and prevent new ones from being built, tallies 149 coal plants that plan to retire or switch fuels out of more than 500. As falling natural gas prices, pollution regulations, and shrinking electricity demand reduce coal use, U.S. carbon emissions from coal have fallen 20 percent from their peak in 2005. Meanwhile, natural gas consumption for electricity generation and heating has increased. Carbon dioxide emissions from burning natural gas hit an all-time high of 373 million tons of carbon in 2012, up 17 percent above 2006 levels. They are projected to remain at that level in 2013. Natural gas emits about half as much carbon dioxide per unit of energy as coal does. With domestic production on the rise, the share of carbon emissions from natural gas are likely to continue to increase. But electricity does not have to come with a huge carbon hangover. Wind and solar power - carbon-free energy sources with no fuel costs - have been taking off. U.S. wind power capacity has more than tripled since 2007 and now produces enough energy to power over 15 million homes in the United States. Solar power capacity, starting from a smaller base, increased 14-fold in the same time period. Although wind and solar power currently account for only a small share of total energy production, their prices will continue to drop as deployment increases. In some areas wind is already cheaper than coal. This is just the beginning of reductions in carbon dioxide emissions as the explosive growth of wind and solar power cuts down the use of dirty fossil fuels. The switch to renewables cannot come soon enough. Accumulating greenhouse gas emissions from the United States and other countries have led to a global temperature increase of 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius) since the Industrial Revolution. Higher emissions will lead to higher temperatures that will bring more heat waves, melting glaciers, and rising sea levels. In 2009, President Obama set a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. Putting a price on carbon would help accelerate the trends that are cutting the United States' carbon contribution and allow the country to exceed this goal. By Emily E. Adams. For more information on the U.S. transition to wind power, see "Iowa and South Dakota Approach 25 Percent Electricity from Wind in 2012," by J. Matthew Roney. Photo credit: freefotouk (cc).
  5. U.S. Nuclear Power in Decline

    Nuclear power generation in the United States is falling. After increasing rapidly since the 1970s, electricity generation at U.S. nuclear plants began to grow more slowly in the early 2000s. It then plateaued between 2007 and 2010 - before falling more than 4 percent over the last two years. Projections for 2013 show a further 1 percent drop. With reactors retiring early and proposed projects being abandoned, U.S. nuclear power's days are numbered. The nuclear industry's troubles began well before the 1979 accident at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island nuclear plant sowed public mistrust of atomic power. In 1957, the country's first commercial nuclear reactor was completed in Pennsylvania. By the mid-1960s, excitement over an energy source predicted to be too cheap to meter had created a frenzied rush to build reactors. But utilities soon pulled back on the throttle as the realities of construction delays and cost overruns sank in. Annual orders for new reactors, which peaked at more than 40 in 1973, fell sharply over the next several years. The two reactor orders placed in 1978 would be the last for three decades. Of the 253 reactors that were ordered by 1978, 121 were canceled either before or during construction, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists' David Lochbaum. Nearly half of these were dropped by 1978. The reactors that were completed - the last of which came online in 1996 - were over budget three-fold on average. By the late 1990s, 28 reactors had permanently closed before their 40-year operating licenses expired. A number of factors played a role in this, including cost escalation, slower electricity demand growth, and a changing regulatory environment. Despite these closures, the United States was still left with 104 reactors totaling some 100 gigawatts (100,000 megawatts) of generating capacity”by far the most of any country. Then, spurred on by new tax credits and loan guarantees promised in the 2005 Energy Policy Act - as well as by high prices for natural gas, a competing fuel - the industry has recently had visions of a nuclear renaissance. By 2009, utilities were planning more than 30 new reactors. But in the years since, the vast majority of these plans have been shelved. Even with huge subsidies, private lenders still see new nuclear projects as too risky to finance. Meanwhile, the U.S. shale gas production boom sent natural gas prices plummeting, further darkening nuclear's prospect. In 2012, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved four new reactors for construction, two each at the Vogtle plant in Georgia and the Summer plant in South Carolina. These reactors are all of the same commercially untested design, purportedly quicker to build than previous plants. Both projects benefit from fairly new state laws that shift the economic risk to ratepayers. These advanced cost recovery laws, also passed in Florida and North Carolina, allow utilities to raise their customers' rates to pay for new nuclear plants during and even before construction - regardless of whether the reactors are ever finished. Construction at both sites began in March 2013. Even as the first concrete was poured at the $14-billion Vogtle project, it was reportedly 19 months behind schedule and more than $1 billion over budget. The Summer project, a $10 billion endeavor, also quickly ran into problems. In June its owner, Scana Corp., admitted that it was running about a year behind and faced $200 million in additional costs. With these delays, the earliest projected completion date for any of these reactors is some time in late 2017. The only other reactor currently under construction in the United States is Watts Bar 2 in Tennessee. It broke ground in 1972 and, after being on hold for two decades, was finally scheduled for completion in 2012. But that year, the owner - the Tennessee Valley Authority - announced it would be delayed again until 2015 and that the cost of the project would rise by up to 80 percent, to $4.5 billion. Several utilities have recently dropped plans for new reactors or for uprates, where an existing reactor's generating capacity is increased. For example, in May 2013 Duke Energy suspended its application to the NRC for two proposed reactors in North Carolina, citing slow electricity demand growth. Then in August, Duke pulled plans for a two-reactor, $24.7-billion project in Florida, on which it had already spent - and mostly recovered from its ratepayers - $1 billion. The company worried that mid-2013 amendments to the state's advanced cost recovery law would make it more difficult to fund ongoing projects with higher customer bills. In June, the nation's largest nuclear utility, Exelon, canceled uprate projects at plants in Pennsylvania and Illinois. (These are two of at least six uprates dropped by utilities in 2013 as of early September.) Just over a month later, the French utility EDF announced it was bowing out of a partnership with Exelon that operates nuclear plants in New York and Maryland. In fact, EDF will no longer pursue U.S. nuclear projects at all, instead focusing its U.S. efforts on renewables. This year has also already witnessed the permanent shutdown of four reactors totaling 3.6 gigawatts of capacity. The first to fall was Duke's Crystal River reactor in Florida. Although the plant was licensed to run until 2016, Duke decided to close it rather than pay for needed repairs. Then Dominion Energy's 39-year-old Kewaunee reactor in Wisconsin closed, citing competition from low gas prices. It had recently been approved to operate through 2033. And in June, Southern California Edison shuttered its two San Onofre reactors after 18 months of being offline due to a leak in a brand new steam generator. These retirements leave the United States with 100 reactors, averaging 32 years in operation. (France is second, with 58 reactors.) More closures will soon follow, particularly among the roughly half of U.S. reactors in so-called merchant areas where nuclear competes with other technologies and prices are set by the market. A 2013 report by Mark Cooper at the Vermont Law School indicates that there are nine merchant reactors that, like Kewaunee, were granted 20-year life extensions but are especially at risk of closure. Epitaphs are already being written for two of them: Vermont's lone nuclear power plant will close in 2014, and the country's oldest reactor, Oyster Creek in New Jersey, will retire by 2019. Regulated areas, where state authorities set electricity prices such that nuclear operators are guaranteed a profit, contain the rest of the U.S. reactors. Even for many of these plants, the economics may not allow for survival much longer. According to Credit Suisse, the cost of operating and maintaining the aging reactor fleet is rising at 5 percent a year and the nuclear fuel cost is growing even faster, at 9 percent annually. Wind and solar power costs, on the other hand, continue to drop as their electric output grows rapidly. Dealing with nuclear waste is another expensive proposition. Over the past 30 years, the U.S. government has spent some $15 billion trying to approve a central repository for nuclear waste, and for most of that time the only site under consideration has been Nevada's Yucca Mountain. Amid concerns about the site's safety and its extreme unpopularity in Nevada, the Obama administration has moved to abandon the project entirely and explore other options. A federal appeals court ruled in August 2013 that the NRC must resume reviewing the site's suitability. In the meantime, the waste keeps accumulating. The 75,000 tons of waste now stored at 80 temporary sites in 35 states is projected to double by 2055. All this has implications for nuclear power's prospects for expansion: nine states, including California, Connecticut, and Illinois, have prohibited new nuclear plants until a solution to the waste issue is found. The low level of liability for nuclear operators in case of an accident also puts taxpayers on the hook. Plant owners pay into an insurance pool of just $12 billion; the public would cover any further damages. For comparison, cleanup and compensation for the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan is projected to cost at least $60 billion. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that a catastrophic accident at New York's Indian Point plant could cost 10 to 100 times that amount. This risk will be underscored on September 29, 2013, when one of Indian Point's two reactors becomes the first ever to operate with an expired license. If the reactors now under construction in Georgia and South Carolina actually come online, they are projected to generate electricity that is much more expensive than nearly any other source, including wind and solar power. New nuclear plants are simply too expensive to replace the aging fleet. And with uprate proposals for existing reactors being pulled, it appears the industry cannot depend on this option to increase capacity much either. The NRC has approved 20-year operating life extensions for more than two thirds of existing U.S. reactors; most of the rest will probably be granted extensions as well. Even if these units reach the end of their licensed life”which past experience says is unlikely”if no new plants come online to replace them, the last U.S. reactor will be shut down by the late 2050s. Any industry hopes ride heavily on the success of the Vogtle and Summer projects. As U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in a recent interview, if these plants now under construction keep racking up huge cost overruns and delays, it is very hard to see a future for nuclear power plants in the United States. By J. Matthew Roney. Data and additional resources available at Photo credit: Jim Muckian (cc). The photo shows a reflection of the abandoned nuclear power plant in Elma, WA.
  6. The opening of the San Francisco Bay Area bike share on August 29, 2013, brings the combined fleet of shared bikes in the United States above 18,000, more than a doubling since the start of the year. The United States is now home to 34 modern bike-sharing programs that allow riders to easily make short trips on two wheels without having to own a bicycle. With a number of new programs in the works and planned expansions of existing programs, the U.S. fleet is set to double again by the end of 2014, at which point nearly 37,000 publicly shared bicycles will roll the streets.The largest bike share in the United States is in New York City, where some 6,000 bicycles are available at 332 stations in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The program opened at the end of May 2013, and in less than 3 months hit 2 million trips. On busy days, each bike gets checked out seven times or more, a remarkably high borrowing rate. The city ultimately hopes to expand the program to other boroughs and grow to 10,000 bikes. The other large bike-sharing debut in 2013 was in Chicago, where 1,500 Divvy bikes now grace the streets. The program hopes to double to 3,000 cycles by the end of the year, ultimately growing to 4,000 strong”reinforcing the city's efforts to dramatically boost biking. In addition to making shared bikes readily accessible transit, Chicago plans to extend the path and trail network to within a half-mile of all residences. Before New York and Chicago came on the bike-sharing scene, Washington, DC, held America's top spot. Its program has grown to over 2,000 bikes, spreading into neighboring communities. Transport planners from cities around the country have made the pilgrimage to Washington to ride one of the cherry-red Capital Bikeshare bikes and see firsthand how the popular program works. Since 2007, biking in the nation's capital doubled to 3.5 percent of all commuter trips, and bike sharing has made it more convenient to travel the expanding web of marked cycle lanes. Other large bike shares include Nice Ride in Minneapolis and St. Paul (1,550 bikes), Hubway in the Boston area (1,100 bikes), and DecoBike Miami Beach (1,000 bikes). Aspen, Columbus, Fort Worth, and Salt Lake City are among the more than a dozen programs that opened in 2013, joining a list of cities that have enjoyed bike sharing for longer, including Denver, San Antonio, Chattanooga, Madison, and Fort Lauderdale. On the international scene, the United States is just catching Europe and Asia's bike-sharing tailwind. Worldwide, more than half a million cycles can be picked up in well over 500 cities in 51 countries. Italy and Spain have the greatest number of programs, while China is home to two thirds of the global shared bike fleet. New York is the only American city to make it onto the list of the world's 20 largest bike-sharing programs. In fact, five cities have more shared bikes than the entire U.S. fleet. Four of them are in China, where Wuhan reportedly has some 90,000 shared bikes for its 9 million people. Hangzhou has 69,750 bikes that are well integrated with that city's mass transit. The world's third largest bike share is Vélib' in Paris, the first large-scale program to gain worldwide attention. Since its 2007 launch, riders have taken 173 million trips. According to the program, one of the nearly 24,000 Vélib' bikes gets checked out every second of the day. Vélib' claims to have the highest bike density among the world's top programs, with one bike available for every 97 city residents. Within the next year, the U.S. bike-sharing fleet will have caught up with Paris. New entries in Florida could push the country past that mark, with launches expected in Miami (500 bikes, an expansion from Miami Beach), St. Petersburg (300 bikes), and Tampa (300 bikes). Phoenix is also hoping to launch a 500-bike program that will double in size as neighboring cities join in. Rollouts hoped for in 2014 include large offerings in Los Angeles (some 4,000 bikes) and San Diego (1,800 bikes), as well as 500+ bike programs in Portland (Oregon), Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Seattle, along with a number of smaller markets. The new San Francisco Bay Area scheme is starting out relatively diffuse, with 700 bicycles split between San Francisco and other cities along the 50-mile rail line south to San Jose. Planners note that it ultimately could grow to a network of 10,000 bikes, better allowing rail riders to travel the first and last mile or so of their commute on two wheels. As communities continue to improve their biking infrastructure and as enthusiasm for an efficient, environmentally friendly, healthy, and enjoyable form of transportation grows, bike sharing has a bright future in the United States. (For full list of current and planned U.S. bike-sharing programs, click here.) For more information on bike-sharing in the United States and globally, see Dozens of U.S. Cities Board the Bike-Sharing Bandwagon and Bike-Sharing Programs Hit the Streets in Over 500 Cities Worldwide, by Janet Larsen.
  7. As US Nuclear Reactors decay

    I came across an article in the NY times a few days ago that makes for an interesting read. It relates to the slow gradual decline of the US nuclear power sector. I've never been in a US nuclear plant, but people whom I know who have (pro-nuclear mind) paint a bleak picture. We're talking scenes that would resemble the Soviet Union under Brezhnev. Old antiquated machinery in dusty old buildings. Control rooms with clunky, ridiculously ancient control systems. Here and there they will see company name plates on machinery from a manufacturing company that they know had ceased to exist decades ago, kind of like the head stones in an industrial graveyard. And many of the staff in these plants, who work in offices and lunch rooms decorated in styles last popular back in the 60's, are ageing as rapidly as the plant they work in. Many are not far from the day they collect their bus pass and retire. Now my (again pro-nuclear) colleagues are keen to stress that they see no safety issue here as despite the age of machinery in such plants, though old (like those in the UK) these plants are maintained in implacable condition, floors often swept spotless sort of thing. Kind of like how the UK army still maintains a fleet of 1950's era "Green Goddess" fire engines in perfect working order, to be brought in if the firemen go on strike or in case there's a war. That said, other sources, such as the Associated Press point to situations where, for example a pump is leaking more than it should, so the safety standards are rewritten to put the pump (and thus the plant) back within spec. Suffice to say, many of America's nuclear plants are as it were "getting on a bit". Half are 30 years or more into a 40 original design life. As anyone who works in engineering will know there tends to be a critical point with any system as it ages, beyond which the maintenance costs and failure probabilities rapidly spikes, as many individual parts start hitting their natural service limit. Which given the fact they may have been made by a manufacturer who no longer has them in stock (or no longer exists!), makes replacing parts and keeping the plant going increasingly expensive. Sooner or later it becomes no longer economic to operate it. Many US nuclear plants may not be far off from this date. And the problem with that is that because the US essentially stopped building reactors for 30 years post TMI and Chernobyl, there is something of a "baby boom" time bomb ticking away, in which we could see many US nuclear plants closing down in the next decade or two, far quicker than replacement plants could ever be built. I've discussed for some time the problems faced by the UK nuclear sector and the near certainty that there will be a substantial "nuclear gap" during the next decade, given that all but a handful of UK nuclear reactors will be shutdown (potentially as low as a single LWR in Sizewell before any replacements are built (if indeed any new reactors are ever built in the UK). This is inevitable given the long lead times involved in the construction of nuclear reactors. Consider that the world's most modern in Olkiluoto in Finland has been under construction for 8 years and counting. Even if the US began building multiple plants now, it would be many decades before they could replace the present 100 odd US nuclear reactors, during the time before this existing nuclear fleet closes down. Currently there are just 5 nuclear construction projects active in the US, and one of those is a project mothballed a number of decades ago. Even if we could increase the build rate of nuclear reactors significantly, which would be difficult given the various bottlenecks in the nuclear supply chain and regulatory hurdles, who is going to operate these reactors? Like I said many of the US/UK's nuclear energy workers are as aging as rapidly as the plants they operate. We're talking about a need to train up a couple of tens of thousand people in the space of a decade or two both sides of the Atlantic. Consider that as far as I'm aware only a handful of UK universities actually offer a degree in nuclear engineering, and in many cases this is a sort of "top up" course to an existing physics or engineering course, which only a handful of students take. Who too is going to finance these reactors? The massive capital costs now associated with nuclear power, along with the fact that the nuclear industry has been "found out" by investment firms, means financial institutions have very little (if any) interest in funding such projects, unless the government is willing to advance a substantial subsidy (exceeding anything paid out to renewables, as current discussions surrounding Hinkley Point C in the UK make clear) to cover any potential losses. And in this "government sponsored" scenario, there's only so much cash a government can advance in these austere times. Nevermind the fact that many members of the public are opposed to nuclear power and certainly won't be happy with their taxes going to pay for it. Of course I'd counter by pointing to the £100 billion bill to clean up the UK's existing nuclear legacy, so you're sort of paying for it already! Mind the Gap Of course one has to query, given that "something else" will have to be build to fill the likely "nuclear gap" how economically sensible it would be to do that, operate said replacement (e.g. a IGCC unit) for a few years or decades and then decommission it (after only a fraction of its service life), while simultaneously paying the enormous costs that new nuclear build comes with on top of all of that. Inevitably one's suspicion is that while some new nuclear reactor construction is perhaps inevitable in the US (or UK) given the ideologically commitments to nuclear from those on the right (I'm convinced many on the right are merely in favour because many on the left are against it... maybe we should try reverse psychology!). But the chances are that only a small fraction of these reactors will actually be replaced (my guess? 2-4 reactors in the UK, probably a one to two dozen reactors in the US). Consequently there will be a substantial downsizing of the US and UK nuclear sector over the next few decades, to the point where it will become a minor contributor to both nation's grids. In short, to advocate even a like for like replacement of the world's existing nuclear capacity, nevermind the sort of megalomaniac scale expansion in global nuclear energy use its cheerleaders call for, is to advocate the logistically impossible. The fact is the vast bulk of the nuclear reactors in many countries will be shut down long before any replacement could conceivably be built. Assuming public opposition doesn't kill the industry like it has in Germany and Japan. Of course the fear for environmentalists is that this "something else" will be more coal or gas fired power stations. A very serious risk given the dangerous uncertainty and renewables bashing policies advanced by pro-nuclear advocates within the Republican or the Tory party. This is despite the fact that these days wind power is increasingly seen as an economically viable alternative. Worldwide there's now about 282 GW's of wind power installed and 100 GW's of solar power, which combined exceeds the scale of the global nuclear fleet (at 366 GW's and falling) nevermind the much larger contribution from hydroelectric and biomass (REN Status reports are always a good source of stat's in this regard). And before anyone starts giving out about "subsidies to renewables", the IEA recently reported that all subsidies to renewables are but a sixth of what we pay subsidizing the fossil fuel industry! The only sensible course of action for pro-nuclear types (such as Monbiot) but supposed environmentalists to do is accept this reality and advocate policies that ensure as much as possible of this looming "nuclear gap" is met by low carbon energy sources and not fossil fuels and quit flogging the already dead nuclear horse.
  8. Increasing global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), a heat-trapping gas, are pushing the world into dangerous territory, closing the window of time to avert the worst consequences of higher temperatures, such as melting ice and rising seas. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels have grown exponentially. Despite wide agreement by governments on the need to limit emissions, the rate of increase ratcheted up from less than 1 percent each year in the 1990s to almost 3 percent annually in the first decade of this century. After a short dip in 2009 due to the global financial crisis, emissions from fossil fuels rebounded in 2010 and have since grown 2.6 percent each year, hitting an all-time high of 9.7 billion tons of carbon in 2012. Carbon emissions would have risen even faster were it not for the 7 percent drop among industrial countries since 2007 - a group that includes the United States, Canada, Europe, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. The United States, long the world's largest emitter until it was eclipsed by China in 2006, cut carbon emissions by 11 percent over the past five years to 1.4 billion tons. The biggest drop was in emissions from coal - which is primarily used to generate electricity - as power plants switched to cheaper natural gas and as the use of carbon-free wind energy more than quadrupled. U.S. emissions from oil, mostly used for transportation, also dipped. (See data.) Carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning in Europe, as a whole the third largest emitter, fell 9 percent from 2007 to 2012. Emissions in Italy and Spain shrank by 17 and 18 percent, respectively. The United Kingdom's emissions dropped by 11 percent to 126 million tons. Germany's emissions fell by 4 percent to 200 million tons. These countries have been leaders in either wind or solar energy or both. Russia and Japan are two industrial countries that did not see an overall decline in carbon emissions over the past five years. Russia had an uptick in oil use, increasing its emissions by 2 percent to 449 million tons. And in Japan, the quick suspension of nuclear power generation after the Fukushima disaster led to more natural gas and oil use, pushing emissions up 1 percent to 336 million tons in 2012. CO2 emissions in developing countries surpassed those from industrial countries in 2005 and have since continued to soar. China's carbon emissions grew by 44 percent since 2007 to 2.4 billion tons in 2012. Together the United States and China account for more than 40 percent of worldwide emissions. Emissions in India, home to more than a billion people, overtook those in Russia for the first time in 2008. From 2007 to 2012, India's emissions grew 43 percent to reach 596 million tons of carbon. Carbon emissions in Indonesia, another fast-growing economy, have exploded, growing 52 percent to hit 146 million tons in 2012. Although emissions from developing countries now dominate, the industrial countries set the world on its global warming path with over a century's worth of CO2 emissions that have accumulated in the atmosphere. Furthermore, emissions estimates discussed here include only those from fossil fuels burned within a country's borders, meaning that the tallies do not account for international trade. For example, emissions generated from producing goods in China destined for use in the United States are added to China's books. When emissions are counted in terms of the final destination of the product, the industrial countries' carbon bill increases. On a per person basis, the United States emits 4.4 tons of carbon pollution - twice as much as in China. The highest per capita carbon emissions are in several small oil and gas producing countries. In 2012, Qatar spewed out 11 tons of carbon per person. Trinidad and Tobago is next with 9 tons of carbon per person, and Kuwait follows at 7.5 tons. Fossil fuels are not the only source of CO2 emissions. Changing the landscape, for example by burning forests, releases roughly 1 billion tons of carbon globally each year. Brazil and Indonesia have high levels of deforestation and are responsible for much of the current carbon emissions from the land. About half of the CO2 that is released through fossil fuel burning or land use changes stays in the atmosphere. The other half is taken up by the oceans or by plants. As more CO2 is absorbed by the world's oceans, the water becomes more acidic. This change in ocean chemistry can strip away the building blocks of coral reefs, weakening an important link in the oceanic food chain. Scientists warn that the oceans could eventually become saturated with CO2, compromising their capacity to absorb our carbon emissions, with serious consequences for the global thermostat. For some 800,000 years, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere did not go above 300 parts per million (ppm). But in the 250 years following the start of the Industrial Revolution, enough CO2 built up to bring the average concentration to nearly 394 ppm in 2012. Throughout each year, the concentration of the gas fluctuates, reaching its annual peak in the spring. In May 2013, the CO2 concentration briefly hit 400 ppm, a grim new milestone on the path of climate disruption. Never in human history has the atmosphere been so full of this odorless and colorless yet powerfully disruptive gas. CO2 acts like the glass of a greenhouse, trapping heat. Since humans began burning fossil fuels on a large scale, the global average temperature has risen 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius), with most of the increase occurring since 1970. The effects of higher temperatures include rising sea levels, disappearing Arctic sea ice, more heat waves, and declining yields of food crops. More warming is in the pipeline as the climate system slowly responds to the higher CO2 concentrations. Reports from international institutions, such as the International Energy Agency, based on work by thousands of scientists emphasize that little time remains to cut emissions and avoid a climate catastrophe. The World Bank notes that absent any policy changes, the global average temperature could be 9 degrees Fahrenheit warmer by the end of this century, well above what human civilization has ever witnessed. But a different future - one based on a clean energy economy - is within our reach. Germany, not a particularly sunny country, has harnessed enough of the sun's rays to power some 8 million homes, for example. The United States has enough wind turbines installed to power more than 15 million homes. Kenya generates roughly a quarter of its electricity from geothermal energy. This is but a glimpse of the enormous potential of renewable energy. The question is not whether we can build a carbon-free economy, but whether we can do it before climate change spirals out of control. By Emily E. Adams. For a plan to stabilize the Earth's climate, see "Time for Plan B" and more at
  9. At the time of the Arab oil export embargo in the 1970s, the importing countries were beginning to ask themselves if there were alternatives to oil. In a number of countries, particularly the United States, several in Europe, and Brazil, the idea of growing crops to produce fuel for cars was appealing. The modern biofuels industry was launched. This was the beginning of what would become one of the great tragedies of history. Brazil was able to create a thriving fuel ethanol program based on sugarcane, a tropical plant. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, however, in the United States the feedstock was corn. Between 1980 and 2005, the amount of grain used to produce fuel ethanol in the United States gradually expanded from 1 million to 41 million tons. Then came Hurricane Katrina, which disrupted Gulf-based oil refineries and gasoline supply lines in late August 2005. As gasoline prices in the United States quickly climbed to $3 a gallon, the conversion of a $2 bushel of corn, which can be distilled into 2.8 gallons of ethanol, became highly profitable. The result was a rush to raise capital and build distilleries. From November 2005 through June 2006, ground was broken for a new ethanol plant in the United States every nine days. From July through September, the construction pace accelerated to one every five days. And in October 2006, it was one every three days. Between 2005 and 2011, the grain used to produce fuel for cars climbed from 41 million to 127 million tons - nearly a third of the U.S. grain harvest. (See Figure 4-1.) The United States is trying to replace oil fields with corn fields to meet part of its automotive fuel needs. The massive diversion of grain to fuel cars has helped drive up food prices, leaving low-income consumers everywhere to suffer some of the most severe food price inflation in history. As of mid-2012, world wheat, corn, and soybean prices were roughly double their historical levels. The appetite for grain to fuel cars is seemingly insatiable. The grain required to fill a 25-gallon fuel tank of a sport utility vehicle with ethanol just once would feed one person for a whole year. The grain turned into ethanol in the United States in 2011 could have fed, at average world consumption levels, some 400 million people. But even if the entire U.S. grain harvest were turned into ethanol, it would only satisfy 18 percent of current gasoline demand. With its enormous growth in distilling capacity, the United States quickly overtook Brazil to become the new world leader in biofuels. In 2011, the United States produced 14 billion gallons of ethanol and Brazil produced under 6 billion gallons; together they accounted for 87 percent of world output. The 14 billion gallons of U.S. grain-based ethanol met roughly 6 percent of U.S. gasoline demand. Other countries producing ethanol from food crops, though in relatively small amounts, include China, Canada, France, and Germany. Most ethanol production growth has been concentrated in the last several years. In 1980, the world produced scarcely 1 billion gallons of fuel ethanol. By 2000, the figure was 4.5 billion gallons. It was still increasing, albeit slowly, expanding to 8.2 billion gallons in 2005. But between then and 2011, production jumped to 23 billion gallons. A number of countries, including the United States, are also producing biodiesel from oil-bearing crops. World biodiesel production grew from a mere 3 million gallons in 1991 to just under 1 billion gallons in 2005. During the next six years it jumped to nearly 6 billion gallons, increasing sixfold. Still, worldwide production of biodiesel is less than one fourth that of ethanol. The production of biodiesel is much more evenly distributed among countries than that of ethanol. The top five producers are the United States, Germany, Argentina, Brazil, and France, with production ranging from 840 million gallons per year in the United States to 420 million gallons in France. A variety of crops can be used to produce biodiesel. In Europe, where sunflower seed oil, palm oil, and rapeseed oil are leading table oils, rapeseed is used most often for biodiesel. Similarly, in the United States the soybean is the leading table oil and biodiesel feedstock. Elsewhere, palm oil is widely used both for food and to produce biodiesel. Although production from oil palms is limited to tropical and subtropical regions, the crop yields much more biodiesel per acre than do temperate-zone oilseeds such as soybeans and rapeseed. However, one disturbing consequence of rising biofuel production is that new oil palm plantations are coming at the expense of tropical forests. And any land that is devoted to producing biofuel crops is not available to produce food. Not only are biofuels helping raise food prices, and thus increasing the number of hungry people, most make little sense from an energy efficiency perspective. Although ethanol can be produced from any plant, it is much more efficient and much less costly to use sugar- and starch-bearing crops. But even among these crops the efficiency varies widely. The ethanol yield per acre from sugarcane is nearly 600 gallons, a third higher than that from corn. This is partly because sugarcane is grown in tropical and subtropical regions and it grows year-round. Corn, in contrast, has a growing season of 120 days or so. In terms of energy efficiency, grain-based ethanol is a clear loser. For sugarcane, the energy yield - that is, the energy embodied in the ethanol - can be up to eight times the energy invested in producing the biofuel. In contrast, the energy return on energy invested in producing corn-based ethanol is only roughly 1.5 to 1, a dismal return. For biodiesel, oil palm is far and away the most energy-efficient crop, yielding roughly nine times as much energy as is invested in producing biodiesel from it. The energy return for biodiesel produced from soybeans and rapeseed is about 2.5 to 1. In terms of land productivity, an acre of oil palms can produce over 500 gallons of fuel per year - more than six times that produced from soybeans or rapeseed. Growing even the most productive fuel crops, however, still means either diverting land from other crops or clearing more land. The capacity to convert enormous volumes of grain into fuel means that the price of grain is now more closely tied to the price of oil than ever before. If the price of fuel from grain drops below that from oil, then investment in converting grain into fuel will increase. Thus, if the price of oil were to reach, say, $200 a barrel, there would likely be an enormous additional investment in ethanol distilleries to convert grain into fuel. If the price of corn rises high enough, however, as it may well do, distilling grain to produce fuel may no longer be profitable. One of the consequences of integrating the world food and fuel economies is that the owners of the world's 1 billion motor vehicles are pitted against the world's poorest people in competition for grain. The winner of this competition will depend heavily on income levels. Whereas the average motorist has an annual income over $30,000, the incomes of the 2 billion poorest people in the world are well under $2,000. Rising food prices can quickly translate into social unrest. As grain prices were doubling from 2007 to mid-2008, food protests and riots broke out in many countries. Economic stresses in the form of rising food prices are translating into political stresses, putting governments in some countries under unmanageable pressures. The U.S. State Department reports food unrest in some 60 countries between 2007 and 2009. Among these were Afghanistan, Yemen, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Haiti. International food assistance programs are also hit hard by rising grain prices. Since the budgets of food aid agencies are set well in advance, a rise in prices shrinks food assistance precisely when more help is needed. The U.N. World Food Programme, which supplies emergency food aid to more than 60 countries, has to cut shipments as prices soar. Meanwhile, over 7,000 children are dying each day from hunger and related illnesses. When governments subsidize food-based biofuel production, they are in effect spending taxpayers' money to raise costs at the supermarket checkout counter. In the United States, the production of fuel ethanol was encouraged by a tax credit granted to fuel blenders for each gallon of ethanol they blended with gasoline. This tax credit expired at the end of 2011. Still in place, however, is the Renewable Fuel Standard, which is seen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of a strategy to "help recharge the rural American economy." This mandate requires that biofuel use ramp up to 36 billion gallons annually by 2022. Of this total, 16 billion gallons are slated to come from cellulosic feedstocks, such as cornstalks, grass, or wood chips. Yet for the foreseeable future, production of those cellulose-based fuels has little chance of reaching such levels. Producing ethanol from sugars or starches like corn or sugarcane is a one-step process that converts the feedstock to ethanol. But producing ethanol from cellulosic materials is a two-step process: first the material must be broken down into sugar or starch, and then it is converted into ethanol. Furthermore, cellulosic feedstocks like corn stalks are much bulkier than feedstocks like corn kernels, so transporting them from distant fields to a distillery is much more costly. Removing agricultural residues such as corn stalks or wheat straw from the field to produce ethanol deprives the soil of needed organic matter. The unfortunate reality is that the road to this ambitious cellulosic biofuel goal is littered with bankrupt firms that tried and failed to develop a process that would produce an economically viable fuel. Despite having the advantage of not being directly part of the food supply, cellulosic ethanol has strong intrinsic characteristics that put it at a basic disadvantage compared with grain ethanol, so it may never become economically viable. The mandate from the European Union (EU) requiring that 10 percent of its transportation energy come from renewable sources, principally biofuels, by 2020 is similarly ambitious. Among international agribusiness firms, this is seen as a reason to acquire land, mostly in Africa, on which to produce fuel for export to Europe. Since Europe relies primarily on diesel fuel for its cars, the investors are looking at crops such as the oil palm and jatropha, a relatively low-yielding oil-bearing shrub, as a source of diesel fuel. There is growing opposition to this EU goal from environmental groups, the European Environment Agency, and many other stakeholders. They object to the deforestation and the displacement of the poor that often results from such "land grabbing." (See Chapter 10.) They are also concerned that, by and large, biofuels do not deliver the promised climate benefits. The biofuel industry and its proponents have argued that greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels are lower than those from gasoline, but this has been challenged by a number of scientific studies. Indeed, there is growing evidence that biofuel production may contribute to global warming rather than ameliorate it. A study led by Nobel prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany reports that the nitrogen fertilizers used to produce biofuel crops release "nitrous oxide emissions large enough to cause climate warming instead of cooling." A report from Rice University that carefully examined the greenhouse gas emissions question concluded that "it is uncertain whether existing biofuels production provides any beneficial improvement over traditional gasoline, after taking into account land use changes and emissions of nitrous oxide. Legislation giving biofuels preferences on the basis of greenhouse gas benefits should be avoided." The U.S. National Academy of Sciences also voiced concern about biofuel production's negative effects on soils, water, and the climate. There is some good news on the issue of food or fuel. An April 2012 industry report notes that "the world ethanol engine continues to sputter." U.S. ethanol production likely peaked in 2011 and is projected to drop 2 percent in 2012. An even greater decline in U.S. ethanol production is likely in 2013 as oil prices weaken and as heat and drought in the U.S. Midwest drive corn prices upward. For many distillers, the profit margin disappeared in 2012. In early July 2012, Valero Energy Corporation, an oil company and major ethanol producer, reported it was idling the second of its 10 ethanol distilleries. Numerous other distilleries are on the verge of shutting down. If the ethanol mandate were phased out, U.S. distillers would have even less confidence in the future marketability of ethanol. In a world of widely fluctuating oil and grain prices, ethanol production would not always be profitable. Beyond this, the use of automotive fuel in the United States, which peaked in 2007, fell 11 percent by 2012. Young people living in cities are simply not as car-oriented as their parents were. They are not part of the car culture. This helps explain why the size of the U.S. motor vehicle fleet, after climbing for a century, peaked at 250 million in 2008. It now appears that the fleet size will continue to shrink through this decade. In addition, the introduction of more stringent U.S. auto fuel-efficiency standards means that gasoline use by new cars sold in 2025 will be half that of new cars sold in 2010. As older, less efficient cars are retired and fuel use declines, the demand for grain-based ethanol for blending will also decline. Within the automobile sector, a major move to plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars will further reduce the use of gasoline. If this shift is accompanied by investment in thousands of wind farms to feed cheap electricity into the grid, then cars could run largely on electricity for the equivalent cost of 80¢ per gallon of gasoline. There is also a growing public preference for walking, biking, and using public transportation wherever possible. This reduces not only the demand for cars and gasoline but also the paving of land for roads and parking lots. Whether viewed from an environmental or an economic vantage point, we would all benefit by shifting from liquid fuels to electrically driven vehicles. Using electricity from wind farms, solar cells, or geothermal power plants to power cars will dramatically reduce carbon emissions. We now have both the electricity-generating technologies and the automotive technologies to create a clean, carbon-free transportation system, one that does not rely on either the use of oil or the conversion of food crops into fuel. By Lester R. Brown. From Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity by Lester R. Brown (New York: W.W. Norton & Co.). Supporting data, video, and slideshows are available for free download at
  10. A new bicycle index has ranked the 20 most bicycle-friendly cities in the world. Already world-renowned bike-friendly cities such as Copenhagen and Amsterdam are of course on the list. But there are several newcomers as well, such as Malmö in Sweden and Seville in Spain. Unfortunately, there is still no US city on the top 20 list. The new Copenhagenize Index has ranked the 20 most bicycle-friendly cities in the world. The index, which ranks a total of 150 cities, has been compiled by Copenhagenize Design, an urban planning consultancy who specializes in bicycle planning. More than 400 people from around the world has helped rank the various cities. Each city have been ranked on the basis of 13 different parameters that takes everything from the availability of satisfying bicycle infrastructure and facilities to the overall bicycle culture in the city and the political climate regarding urban cycling into account. Unsurprisingly, especially considering it already has a world-renowned reputation of being a bike-friendly city, Amsterdam in the Netherlands is ranked as the most bicycle-friendly city in the world. "The cycling atmosphere is relaxed, enjoyable, and as mainstream as you can get. This is the one place on the planet where fear-mongering about cycling is non-existent and it shows. There are few places we enjoy urban cycling as much as in Amsterdam," the Copenhagenize Index says. The photo shows afternoon traffic on the world's busiest bicycle street in Copenhagen, Denmark. Photo by Copenhagenize Design Co. Copenhagen is ranked as the second most bicycle-friendly city in the world. No other city beats Copenhagen when it comes to "a well-designed and uniform bicycle infrastructure network."But the Index warns that a lack of clear political leadership and new massive car infrastructure projects makes Copenhagen's future seem uncertain and bleak for cyclists. Utrecht, yet another Dutch city on the top 20 list, is the third most bicycle-friendly city in the world. The Index highlights the "fantastic" infrastructure that can be found in the small city. According to the Index, Utrecht is a "world-leader" and "a splendid city" for cyclists. But the city, just like Amsterdam, haven't seen much new significant progress lately. So to avoid getting stuck in status quo the Index calls for increased efforts, more creative thinking and innovation to improve cycling conditions even further. "With urbanisation on the rise, the city needs to move forward in order to accommodate more cycling cities and really establish themselves as leaders of the future, not just the present," the Index asserts. Below is the complete list of the top 20 most bicycle-friendly cities in the world - with their 2011 ranking in brackets: 1. Amsterdam (1) 9. Dublin (9) 2. Copenhagen (2) 10. Tokyo (4) 3. Utrecht (new) 11. Munich (6) 4. Seville (new) 11. Montreal (8) 4. Bordeaux (new) 11. Nagoya (new) 5. Nantes (new) 12. Rio de Janeiro (18) 5. Antwerp (new) 13. Barcelona (3) 6. Eindhoven (new) 13. Budapest (10) 7. Malmö(new) 13. Paris (7) 8. Berlin (5) 14. Hamburg (13) If you want more information on why these cities rank the way they do just check out the Copenhagenize website, which has extended explanations on the different pros and cons of each of the top 20 cities. No cities in the US made the cut While the majority of the top-scoring cities are located in Europe, the US still has no city that can compete with more bike-friendly cities such as Copenhagen in Denmark, Tokyo in Japan, Rio in Brazil or Montreal in Canada. But the League of American Bicyclists recently released their yearly ranking of the most bicycle-friendly states in the US. Their list shows how Washington continues to be the most bike-friendly state in the country. Washington has a good performance in all of the five categories. The state gets especially good grades when it comes to its work on legislation, education and its encouragement to get more people to use their bikes. "We're encouraged to see significant progress in top states like Washington, Delaware, Colorado and Oregon," says League President, Andy Clarke. "But as the scores clearly highlight, there's much work to be done in critical areas like infrastructure and planning in every state." The 14 most bicycle-friendly states are: Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Minnesota, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Illinois, Arizona, Maryland, Michigan, Maine and Utah on 14th place.
  11. When New York City opened registration for its much anticipated public bike-sharing program on April 15, 2013, more than 5,000 people signed up within 30 hours. Eager for access to a fleet of thousands of bicycles, they became Citi Bike members weeks before bikes were expected to be available. Such pent-up demand for more cycling options is on display in cities across the United States - from Buffalo to Boulder, Omaha to Oklahoma City, and Long Beach in New York to Long Beach in California - where shared bicycle programs are taking root. At the start of 2013, the United States was home to 22 modern public bike-sharing programs. By spring 2014, that number will likely double as a flurry of cities joins the more than 500 bike-sharing communities worldwide. (Read more about bike sharing around the globe here.) With the expansions of current programs and new openings in larger markets like New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, the nationwide fleet of shared bikes is poised to quadruple in the next couple of years, from nearly 9,000 to above 36,000. And with a growing list of American communities exploring the possibility of setting up bike shares, this number is expected to continue to climb. Bike-Sharing Programs in the United States, 2007-2014. People are fond of quipping that nothing good comes out of Washington, but many of the American cities launching bike-sharing programs got turned on to the idea of bikes-as-transit by watching the nation's capital. Capital Bikeshare began operation in September of 2010, replacing a smaller short-lived program that started in 2008 but was never expansive enough to be successful. (In 2007, Tulsa, Oklahoma, was actually first in the country to open an automated bike-share system, with a couple dozen bikes at three solar-powered stations.) During its reign as the largest bike-sharing program in the United States, Capital Bikeshare has been enormously popular among residents and visitors alike, who together have logged more than 4 million rides. Now with more than 1,800 bright red bicycles stationed at 200 locking docks within DC and the northern Virginia communities of Arlington and Alexandria, Capital Bikeshare soon will expand into neighboring Montgomery County, Maryland. The total fleet is expected to reach 3,700 bikes at more than 300 stations by the end of 2013. As in many of the programs, people can sign up for a short-term or an annual membership with a credit card online or in person at a station kiosk. They then can unlock a bicycle and return it to any station within the system. All rides under 30 minutes are free, after which escalating fees kick in, encouraging people to make short trips and to keep more bikes available for other riders. After test runs of bike sharing with temporary programs installed for the 2008 national presidential nominating conventions, nonprofit organizations in the Twin Cities and in Denver opened programs in 2010. Nice Ride Minnesota covers Minneapolis and St. Paul with 1,550 bikes at 170 stations. Among the nearly 60,000 users in 2012 were more than 200 employees of the Minneapolis city government, who save the city money when they use the bikes to travel to meetings and make inspections. Nice Ride is one of the seasonal bike shares that closes during the coldest months, even though the area's burgeoning bicycle culture makes it a priority to plow snow from some of the 177 miles of bikeways - a lane-mileage-to-resident ratio that rivals even the bike mecca of Copenhagen. The cycling improvements are paying off: bike commuting in Minneapolis increased from 1.9 percent of trips in 2000 to 3.5 percent in 2011. Denver's program of 540 bikes at 53 stations is expecting to have at least 700 bikes and 80 stations in 2013. It is part of the B-cycle family of bike shares covering more than 15 locations, including Fort Lauderdale/Broward County in Florida, Nashville, Houston, and Boulder. Members can use their cards to unlock bikes in any of the other public B-cycle programs. At its Madison and San Antonio operations, B-cycle is testing out a utility tricycle, which could appeal to a wider variety of users by providing increased stability and allowing cargo hauling. Charlotte B-cycle showed how quickly a bike share can get off the ground when it opened in 2012, barely a year after the project's conception. Number of Bicycles in Existing Bike-Sharing Programs, as of 10 May 2013. Boston started its Hubway bike share to great acclaim in 2011, quickly surpassing ridership projections. The program has since grown from 600 to 1,100 bikes in Boston and neighboring locales. The Boston Public Health Commission provides low-cost annual membership to low-income residents ($5, including a helmet, instead of the regular $85). Another large bike share that opened in 2011 was in Miami Beach. The operator, the private company DecoBike, boasted nearly 1.3 million rides in 2012, making its bikes there the busiest in the country. With a high influx of tourists to this barrier island resort community, more than 300,000 people already use the system each year. The program will soon be expanded to the city of Miami, adding 500 bikes to the current fleet of 1,000. In the largest of the new wave of 2013 bike-share openings, New York City is poised to roll out some 6,000 bicycles at 330 stations in Manhattan and Brooklyn in late May, with the long-term goals of expanding to other parts of the city and growing to 10,000 bikes. This is one of several new programs to be run by Alta, the same company operating schemes in DC, Boston, and Chattanooga. While New York's launch has been delayed several times, first due to software glitches and then because of damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, it continues an ongoing series of improvements for bikers in a city where fewer than half of residents own cars. Some 300 miles of lanes have been carved out of New York's busy streets as part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's sustainability strategy for the city. Bike commuting has more than tripled since 2000. Annual membership in Citi Bike (named this because of its sponsorship by Citibank) costs close to $100 - like so many things in Manhattan, higher than in most other cities - but, as Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan points out, this is still less than the price of a monthly subway pass. Members are likely to save money if biking replaces even some bus, subway, and especially taxi journeys. DC bike sharers found that annual membership saved them an average $800 in transportation costs. And bike sharing is far, far cheaper than the $7,800 cost that AAA estimates for the average person to own a car and drive it 10,000 miles a year (depreciation and gasoline expenditures included). Current and Future Number of Bicycles in Large Bike-Sharing Programs in the United States. Bike shares in Chicago and San Francisco will also be operated by Alta. Chicago's program, named Divvy, is planning to have 300 stations docking 3,000 bikes by the end of August 2013, hoping to grow to 400 stations and 4,000 bikes in 2014. Meanwhile the city already claims the most bike parking in the country and is expanding its bikeways to span 645 miles, bringing paths and trails to within a half-mile ride of all residents. Mayor Rahm Emanuel explains that his "vision is to make Chicago the most bike-friendly city in the United States," attracting energetic tech workers from historically bike-friendly areas like Seattle. An expansive bike share is being planned in the San Francisco Bay Area, where 700 bikes are planned to roll in August. About half will be in San Francisco proper and the rest in cities along the 50 mile transit corridor south to San Jose. Overseen by the regional air quality control agency, the program aims to get more people out of private vehicles in order to cut tailpipe pollution and reduce crowding on public transportation. The Caltrains that run between San Francisco and San Jose already carry over 4,000 bikes each month and end up turning away riders when the special bike cars are full. Bike sharing has the potential to free up some of that space by allowing commuters to pick up a bike on either end of their train ride, addressing what is known as the first- and last-mile problem. The long-term goal is to reach a regional fleet of up to 10,000 shared bikes. Southern California, with its bike-friendly climate, is also riding in to the bike-sharing game. DecoBike is planning an 1,800-bike system in San Diego. Another firm, Bike Nation, plans to open a program in Long Beach with 250 bikes by year's end. The fleet could grow to 2,500 in the next four to five years, capitalizing on the new bike lanes and separated tracks that have helped biking in Long Beach jump 70 percent over the last 4 years. As more riders have taken to their bikes, both car and bike accidents have fallen precipitously. Bike Nation is also bringing up to 4,000 bikes to Los Angeles and neighboring communities this year. This sprawling car-centric city has been on a bike improvement crusade since Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was cut off by a taxi cab while cycling and broke his elbow in 2010. In the years since, the city has installed 123 miles of bike lanes and sponsored several CicLAvia's - one-day events inspired by the ciclovías of Bogotá and Mexico City, when selected major streets are closed off to motor vehicles, allowing bikes and pedestrians to take over in a festival-like atmosphere. The April 2013 event attracted an estimated quarter-million people. Other cities with large public cycling programs on the horizon include Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, and Seattle. (See Table.) Portland, Oregon - America's quintessential bike town, where bikes are given out to low-income residents, bike lanes are ubiquitous, and certain traffic lights are engineered to give priority to cyclists - first got into the sharing game with a "yellow bike" program that started in 1994. Donated bikes were painted bright yellow and scattered around the city for free use. Twenty years later, Portland plans to open a modern bike share with 750 bikes at 75 automatic docking stations. The city hopes that having more bikes readily accessible for spontaneous jaunts could boost cycling even more, from its current 6 percent of trips (already up from 1 percent in 1990). One of the communities with a smaller program opening in 2013, Hoboken, New Jersey, plans to begin a unique hybrid bike-sharing and bike rental scheme in June, less than two months after achieving unanimous City Council approval. Bike and Roll, which currently rents out 2,000 bikes in New York City - the nation's largest traditional bike rental fleet - will open a pilot scheme in Hoboken with 25 rental bikes for longer-term usage and 25 bike-share bikes for short trips. The goal is to develop a synergy between bicycles and the ferries that efficiently move commuters and tourists between New Jersey and New York. Hoboken's bike-share bikes are from Social Bicycles (SoBi), one of a few startup companies that have removed the requirements for electronic docking stations by integrating the locking component and GPS tracking into the bicycle itself. While users are still encouraged to leave the bikes at specified hubs, they also can lock them to regular bike racks or other street fixtures, a feature that is common in bike-sharing schemes in Germany, for example, but not so far in the United States. For its first public initiative, SoBi delivered a set of bikes to Buffalo for a venture connected with a car-sharing company. It plans to take this technology to Tampa for a 300-bike system at the end of 2013. Another smart-lock bike share is scheduled to open later in 2013 as part of a downtown revitalization initiative in Las Vegas. The initial pilot program will involve 50 to 150 high-tech bikes from ViaCycle, which currently operates smart-lock bike shares on the campuses of Georgia Tech and George Mason University, two of the handful of American campuses that have gone beyond traditional bike rentals and bike libraries into the world of modern bike sharing. Forgoing the electronic docking stations in favor of smart-locking bikes can theoretically drop the pro-rated capital cost of a bike-share bicycle from in the neighborhood of $6,000 to closer to $1,500. Either way, bike shares and bicycling infrastructure give a big bang for the buck. For example, Capital Bikeshare in Washington could double its bikes and docking stations at the same cost of constructing just one mile of one lane of highway. While cars have brought pollution, congestion, and road rage to cities, bicycles can lead to cost savings from improved mobility, reduced wear and tear on roads, and less valuable real estate devoted to parking. Bike shares can also boost business. Each ride in the Twin Cities' Nice Ride system was found to bring $7-14 to the local economy. Forty-four percent of Capital Bikeshare riders surveyed used bike share to make a trip they otherwise would have skipped, largely for entertainment, socializing, and dining out. A bicycle places people within a city landscape, allowing them to easily make stops, as opposed to merely shuttling through it sequestered inside a private car. Shops and restaurants often report a surge in business after the creation of a bike lane on their street. On a given weekend afternoon in vibrant downtown Long Beach, California, there are often more bikes parked than there are spaces for cars. Nationwide data from the National Sporting Goods Association indicate that over the last 20 years the number of bikers has fallen from more than 50 million to below 40 million. Yet while there are fewer people who climb on a bicycle in a given year, the number who ride frequently, like for commuting or regular activities, has actually risen over the past decade. Bike sharing can help facilitate this increase and put more folks back on two wheels. The high visibility that comes with a bike-share system reminds people that biking is a viable transit option and encourages more riding overall. In San Antonio and Washington, DC, for instance, retail bike sales have increased since the start of bike sharing. Furthermore, as cities are improving their cycling infrastructure, the health benefits of the bicycle are becoming more obvious. Studies show that regular utilitarian cycling to get to work can beat out the gym for improving fitness. During the first year that people abandon regular driving to become a bike commuter, they can lose 10 pounds or more. Such health benefits are part of the reason why the health care company Humana houses a bike share for its employees in Louisville and was one of a trio of businesses (along with bicycle manufacturer Trek and advertising firm Crispin Porter + Bogusky) that came together to develop B-cycle. Blue Cross Blue Shield, another health insurer, is a major sponsor for several bike-sharing programs, including those in Charlotte, Houston, Omaha, and the Twin Cities. The U.S. Conference of Mayors, representing more than 1,300 cities across the country, noted at its 2012 meeting that "communities that have invested in pedestrian and bicycle projects have benefited from improved quality of life, a healthier population, greater local real estate values, more local travel choices, and reduced air pollution." The group passed a resolution "in support of alternative modes of transportation, such as bikesharing programs, as a means to increase transportation mobility and mode choice." Along with these benefits, bike shares can bring the freedom, convenience, and joy of cycling to people who may not have ridden a bike since childhood. As programs mature and new ones are added, bike-sharing could become a standard feature of the urban habitat, a must-have for any forward-thinking community.
  12. "A resounding success!" John Riddell, Louis Proyect, and Ben Silverman report on a major step forward for anti-capitalist organizing in the environmental movement. I was unable to attend the Ecosocialist Conference in New York City on April 20, and it is clear from all reports that I missed an important and inspiring event. The meeting was organized by the Ecosocialist Contingent, the alliance that participated as a united anti-capitalist voice in the demonstration against the Keystone XL Pipeline in Washington on February 17. Initiated by members of Solidarity and the International Socialist Organization, the Ecosocialist Contingent quickly expanded to include the broadest range of left organizations and individuals yet seen in the U.S. environmental movement. Below are reports by three participants in the conference. John Riddell wrote his report specifically for Climate & Capitalism. His report can be found below [editor's note]. John is best-known as the leading historian of the Communist International, but he is also active in the fight against Enbridge's tar sands pipeline in Toronto, and a founder of Toronto Bolivia Solidarity. Louis Proyect, a long time socialist activist in the New York City area, moderates the popular online discussion forum Marxmail. His report is published on his blog, The Unrepentant Marxist. Ben Silverman is a New Jersey based socialist and environmental activist, and a member of the International Socialist Organization. His report is published on his blog, The Red Plebeian. For readers in the Toronto area, John Riddell and Abbie Bakan will report on the conference at a public meeting on Saturday May 4 at 7pm, at the Beit Zatoun coffee house, 612 Markham St. Details here. New York Conference charts path toward 'system change not climate change' By John Riddell The Ecosocialist Conference, a broad and enthusiastic all-day meeting in New York April 20, took a big step toward creating an anti-capitalist wing of the environmental movement. The conference was arranged in just six weeks by organizers of the Ecosocialist Contingent in the mass demonstration against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in Washington February 17. It was supported by 29 groups who subscribed to the Ecosocialist Contingent statement for "system change, not climate change." The 240 attendees "• more than double the number organizers originally expected "• included members of several socialist currents and many unaffiliated socialists, but the real strength of the conference lay in participation by a great number of young climate-change and ecological activists. Most participants were from the New York region, but a few came from as far away as Maine, Oregon, Texas, and Vancouver, B.C. Break with Democratic Party The range of opinion was wide. Many participants, including spokespersons for the Green Party, did not term themselves anti-capitalists, but agreed on the need for "˜system change' and a break from the corporate-dominated Democratic Party. Among them was the first featured speaker, Jill Stein, the Greens' presidential candidate in 2012. "This is an incredible outpouring of support of those not going forward with Obama but forward with the 99% for system change and fundamental justice," she said. "Capitalism is trying to kill the planet, but the people are rising up." Her remarks reflected the view of many participants that organizers of the February 17 mass demonstration had weakened the protest's impact by presenting it as an expression of support for Obama, echoing his "forward" and "clean energy" slogans, for example. As several speakers noted, the Democratic administration now seems very likely to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. The February 17 action thus showed both the power of environmental protest and the futility of relying on the Democrats. As Jill Stein said, "the demonstration told Obama, "˜we've got your back,' and then he stabbed us in the back." The road to system change The conference brought together a wide range of viewpoints in a fruitful exchange. For example, the panel on "Carbon taxes and market approaches" heard Teamster and Green Party activist Howie Hawkins' reasoned defense of carbon taxes as an immediate measure to alleviate climate change that enjoys "solid support." The second presenter in this session, Dan Piper of Socialist Action, counterposed the need for working people to "seize command of the productive apparatus." There is no way to end environmental destruction through reforms, he argued. For example, cities based on cars or on public transit are mutually exclusive alternatives. But how can we link immediate concerns like Keystone XL to the need for system change? Chris Williams, author of Ecology and Socialism, addressed this point in the closing session by calling for the building of a movement through which "we change our relationship to each other and the planet. We need to shift the pendulum of power - and, ultimately, get rid of it." The climate change movement showed its potential by delaying Keystone XL, Williams said, "and when it is approved, we should demonstrate again." Electoral action Widely different approaches were also evident in discussions of participation in elections. "We are in uncharted waters," said Joel Kovel of EcoSocialist Horizons. "There are no market solutions, and no electoral solutions either"¦. Ecosocialism is a spiritual question; our organizing aims to direct spiritual forces to the Earth and nature," he said. Gloria Mattera of the Green Party agreed that "the market system has failed," but stressed the need for "electoral expression in order to engage the broader population," calling for "a broad electoral alliance to challenge the power of the corporations." Environmental justice Speaking in the opening plenary, Richard Smith stressed the need for wholesale economic transformation to save the planet. "Drastic retrenchment is required. Three-quarters of goods produced are not needed at all." The argument for this view is strong, but as stated it doesn't seem to recognize the need to overcome global inequality, in particular the increasingly desperate needs of billions of people who lack even the most basic requirements of life. Other presentations focused more explicitly on the impact of environmental crimes on victims of oppression. David Galarza, a Puerto Rican ecological activist, portrayed encouraging gains by environmental struggles in his country; Firewolf Bizahaloni-Wong of the Native Resistance Project discussed Idle No More and the fight for indigenous rights. A well-attended panel addressed the broader issue of "Race, Gender, and Environmental Justice." The first victims of climate change are the peoples of poor countries, and "we have a lot to learn from environmental movements in the Global South," said Heather Kangas, a Baltimore-based members of the International Socialist Organization. Moreover, "the environment is not just the natural world but also where we work, live and play - it is urban and suburban as well as rural," she said, advocating that the ecosocialist movement link up with Environmental Justice groups found among peoples of colour. Amity Page, a journalist with the Amsterdam News, described the systematic racism of the U.S. emergency management agency (FEMA) and other authorities after the Hurricane Sandy disaster. People of colour were regarded simply as "looters," she said. FEMA and police did not enter subsidized public housing to help those in need and kept other assistance workers from going in, saying it was too dangerous. "A disaster heightens the inequalities that are already there," she said. Abbie Bakan, head of gender studies at Queen's University, Ontario, took up a case study: the Israeli government's treatment of Palestinians. They have undergone an "indigenous experience, enduring environmental racism," in which slogans like "make the desert bloom" promote the notion that "the good earth comes only from the colonial project." Some comments from the audience in that session: "There has been an environmental justice movement all along among indigenous peoples, people of colour, and in the Global South, but you have to have anti-imperialist eyes to see it." "Every climate change activist must also be an antiwar activist." "We will learn much more about racism and how it is manifested through our activity in the environmental movement." Next steps The event's program was well-run and varied, with 43 speakers and facilitators. Aside from the panels discussed here, there were sessions on agriculture/food, fossil fuel divestment, Hurricane Sandy, labour, and Green Left history. No discussion was scheduled on ecosocialist activities going forward, but it was generally felt that the conference created a strong foundation for future activities. Alongside Chris Williams' call for another Keystone XL protest, there was talk of holding another ecosocialist conference down the road. The Ecosocialist Contingent will hold a teleconference May 6 to discuss next steps. For information, write ecosocialistconference [at]
  13. April 1 was no joke in Lansing, Michigan, when equipment at a power plant malfunctioned and caused 300 gallons of oil to leak into the Grand River. Two days later in Chalmette, Louisiana, a pipeline connected to a drum full of chemicals broke, releasing the toxic liquid into the surrounding area, along with airborne cancer-causing agents. These two incidents followed even worse disasters in Mayflower, Arkansas and West Columbia, Texas. This means that the U.S. endured four spills over the course of two weeks. And still, oil companies have not been brought to justice. The Michigan spill occurred at the Lansing Board of Water and Light's Eckert Power Plant, and for once, the spill came from somewhere other than an oil corporation, small comfort though it may be. Lansing Board of Water and Light is a publicly owned municipal utility that provides water and electricity to Lansing and East Lansing. An equipment failure at their plant caused turbine oil to escape, and soon make its way into the adjacent Grand River. The utility staff deployed three booms to contain the oil, and the EPA was on the scene almost immediately. Impacts to the local ecosystem are still being assessed, but thick dark patches could be seen by people in parts of the river after the time of the spill. "An oil spill in the Grand River is alarming, and we're calling for a thorough investigation to determine the extent of the damage and its environmental impact," said Nick Clark, Michigan director for Clean Water Action. "This is another reason why it's so vital to make clean, renewable energy a priority. There is no environmental fallout connected with clean energy sources like wind or solar power." Brad Wurfel, spokesman for the Michigan Department for Environmental Quality, remarked that though the spill is "manageable in terms of the substance ... and in terms of the environment's ability to absorb it," the smaller size of the incident (in comparison with those in Arkansas and Texas) by no means lessens the negative impact. "It's not a minor spill. We take it very seriously. Nobody wants to see anything spilled in the river. ... We'll probably continue to see [a] sheen [in the river] in the near term." Luckily, since the oil spilled was hydraulic, rather than tarsands crude, it would cause no foul odor. Nor, said Wurfel, would it release any airborne pollutants. Both of these facts are more than can be said for Louisiana. In Chalmette, not far from New Orleans, ExxonMobil has added a new disaster to its list of anti-accomplishments. While its Pegasus pipeline continues to poison the Arkansas town of Mayflower, a thick liquid chemical mixture is infecting the air and ground in Louisiana. A pipeline malfunction at ExxonMobil's refinery there caused a (so far) undisclosed amount of the liquid to poison the immediate outside area. Though the leak was quickly reported and stopped, the damage is done. On the day of that incident, people throughout Chalmette and New Orleans reported a strong, foul odor not unlike oil or gasoline. That was the effect of the chemical, which released 100 pounds of hydrogen sulfide and 10 pounds of benzene into the air. The latter is, according to Before It's News, "a volatile organic carbon compound known to cause cancer." Petty Officer Jason Screws, of the Coast Guard National Response Center, who was overseeing the accident, added, "The odor threshold for these chemicals is very low. You can smell it a lot sooner when the concentration is enough to be harmful." In other words, it was released in a large enough amount to have a negative health impact. The bottom line is that oil has tainted land and water in four different states in two consecutive weeks, and right in the midst of right-wing attempts to drum up support for pipeline oil transportation, to boot. Just days before the Arkansas pipeline leak, Alex Pourbaix, president of Keystone XL company TransCanada, had done his best to tout pipelines as the best option for transporting crude. "If you're actually concerned about the environment, you very much want to see oil moving by pipeline," he lied. On April 11, as part of the ongoing effort to show just how wrong such sentiments are, environmentalists from Texas and various parts of the Gulf Coast rallied outside the G8 foreign ministers' meeting at the Lancaster House in London. Their goal was to send a clear message to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry: that the Keystone XL pipeline must be rejected - particularly after this latest string of oil disasters. Environmental justice advocate Bryan Parras, who lives in Houston (very near to the West Columbia spill), remarked, "The XL pipeline is set to deliver a toxic slurry of dirty oil to communities all over the U.S. As we've seen from the pipeline spills in [these] last two weeks, the delivery of tarsands is too risky and costly for the communities [that are] in harm's way." The solution, he concluded, is simple: "Keep the oil in the soil." This article was first published in People's World by Blake Deppe.
  14. A few days ago I wrote about Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, the three front-runners in the Republican primary, and just where they stand politically when it comes to our climate and environment. As one can imagine their anti-science positions and climate skepticism didn't result in a very positive environmental record. Now one of the more unknown Republican candidates in the primary have spoken out against his fellow Republican party members for their anti-science rhetoric. It's the former Utah Governor and former Ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman who said in an interview on ABC's This Week this past Sunday that the climate change skepticism coming from Romney, Bachmann and Perry is "not a winning formula" saying he "wouldn't necessarily trust any" of his opponents. Since my post last week the three front-runners have attended more campaign rallies and said more crazy things. For example: At a political rally in New Hampshire last week, Rick Perry continued to deny global warming and said that "there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects". Michele Bachmann on the other hand said at a rally in South Carolina that she will make sure that gasoline cost less than $2 a gallon again, if she becomes president. This is of course impossible and Stephen Lacey has a great post about this crazy dream from Bachmann over at Climate Progress. During the interview on ABC's This Week, Hunstman attacked Romney, Bachmann and Perry and said that the Republican party will be on the "losing side" if they continue to attack science. Here is an excerpt from Huntsman's interview where he attacks mainly Perry's stance on global warming, evolution and science: "I think there's a serious problem. The minute that the Republican Party becomes the party - the anti-science party, we have a huge problem. We lose a whole lot of people who would otherwise allow us to win the election in 2012. When we take a position that isn't willing to embrace evolution, when we take a position that basically runs counter to what 98 of 100 climate scientists have said, what the National Academy of Science - Sciences has said about what is causing climate change and man's contribution to it, I think we find ourselves on the wrong side of science, and, therefore, in a losing position. The Republican Party has to remember that we're drawing from traditions that go back as far as Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, President Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan and Bush. And we've got a lot of traditions to draw upon. But I can't remember a time in our history where we actually were willing to shun science and become a - a party that - that was antithetical to science. I'm not sure that's good for our future and it's not a winning formula." He also attacked Bachmann's $2 gasoline promise: "I just don't know what - what world that comment would come from, you know? We live in the real world. It's grounded in reality. And gas prices just aren't going to rebound like that. But just as we are in a static world, that is completely unrealistic. And, again, it's talking about things that, you know, may pander to a particular group or sound good at the time, but it just simply is not founded in reality." Hopefully Huntsman can bring some sanity when it comes to science and climate change to the Republican primary and the coming presidential election. You can watch the full interview with Huntsman here.
  15. Next year on November 6 it's time for general elections in the USA but the political campaign work in both parties has already begun. At the moment it's the Republicans and their primary that is in the prime spotlight. The 2012 Republican primary seems to shape up with three main potential contenders against Barack Obama and the Democrats. These three front-runners are Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry. But what does Romney, Bachmann and Perry say about environmental and climate issues? Below is a quick summary on the three front-runners and just where they stand politically when it comes to the climate and our environment. As a quick note before I start I must say that it's sad to see that the American climate debate has taken a completely wrong direction since the last elections. The former Republican Presidential candidate John McCain, who proudly said he was a "coal booster" and his (joke to a) Vice President Sarah Palin who in the elections couldn't even name a single man-made cause to climate change, supported a cap-and-trade system in the previous election. But none of the three Republican front-runners would today even consider a cap-and-trade system in the US. And somehow Rick Perry's and Michele Bachmann's rhetoric sounds remarkably similar to the Norwegian terrorist's crazy ramblings about climate change being some sort of "eco-Marxist plot". It is also sad that Mitt Romney is facing such strong criticism among Republican voters for his (weak) pro-climate and pro-science stance. It shouldn't be "political suicide" to believe in basic climate science these days. Rick Perry Rick Perry is an religious, right-wing conservative who currently is the Governor of Texas. Many political commentators have likened Perry and his cowboy-like rhetoric and style to the former President George W. Bush. Which might say a lot where he stands political on environmental issues considering Bush's awful climate record. From his statements regarding climate change one can clearly see that Perry is a global warming denier. Perry wrote in his book Fed Up! that he believes that Al Gore and climate scientists belongs to a "secular carbon cult", and that global warming is a "contrived phony mess that is falling apart under its own weight." Here is a quote from his book: "For example, they have seen the headlines in the past year about doctored data related to global warming. They know we have been experiencing a cooling trend, that the complexities of the global atmosphere have often eluded the most sophisticated scientists, and that draconian policies with dire economic effects based on so-called science may not stand the test of time. Quite frankly, when science gets hijacked by the political Left, we should all be concerned. . . . And it's all one contrived phony mess that is falling apart under its own weight. Al Gore is a prophet all right, a false prophet of a secular carbon cult, and now even moderate Democrats aren't buying it." When Perry campaigned for Governor in Texas last year he was labeled as one of the twelve dirties state office candidates in the country by the Texas League of Conservation Voters. "Rick Perry has consistently put corporate polluters and other special interests ahead of protecting our natural resources and working to make Texas a leader in the new clean energy economy," said David Weinberg, Executive Director of the Texas League of Conservation Voters. Jonathan Hiskes wrote a longer summary about Perry's environmental record last year saying that while Perry fights climate action he embraces wind power. He also writes that Perry "relishes his role as a foe of national climate action" and that he have said that the climate bill that passed the House in 2009 was as an "economic disaster". Perry has also tried to fast-track permits for 11 new coal plants in Texas. According to the liberal blog Thinkprogress, Perry has received massive amounts of campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry: "Since his 1998 candidacy to be George W. Bush's lieutenant governor, Perry has raked in $117,091,642 in campaign contributions, with the oil and gas industry the top contributor. Big oil has fueled Rick Perry's career, the top industry contributor at $11,189,103, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Top oil company contributions include $189,188 from Exxon Mobil, $147,895 from Valero Energy, and $116,000 from Koch Industries." So what kind of solutions does Perry have for Texas, which currently is experiencing one of the state's worst droughts in history most likely due to man-made climate change? Well, Perry believes that the only viable solution is prayers. Jeff Goodell over at the Rolling Stone magazine writes: "The other day, Texas Governor Rick Perry took dramatic action to save his state from the ravages of a changing climate. He issued a proclaimation for Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas. For three days, Perry asked Texas to kneel at the pew, or at the foot of their beds, and silently ask God to bring water to their parched state." When it comes to EPA Perry says the Environmental Protection Agency and their regulations "are killing jobs all across America" and that he wants the president to "put a moratorium on all regulations across this country." And like ThinkProgress notes, this would mean complete anarchy and a literal end to the rules of law in the USA. Michele Bachmann Michele Bachmann is a congress member in the United States House of Representatives and a strong supporter of the populist, right-wing Tea Party movement. Bachmann is, similar to Rick Perry, a conservative right-winger who is supportive of corporations and doesn't like environmental regulations. She is also a climate change denier. During a GOP debate in New Hampshire last month, Bachmann said she wanted to stop EPA and repeal the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act: "What we need to do is pass the mother of all repeal bills, but it's the repeal bill that will get a job killing regulations. And I would begin with the EPA, because there is no other agency like the EPA. It should really be renamed the job-killing organization of America." And just two weeks ago during a campaign rally in Iowa she continued with her attacks against EPA saying that she would lock it down and shut of its lights: "I pledge to you I'm not a talker. I'm a doer," she said. "[...] And I guarantee you the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) will have doors locked and lights turned off and they will only be about conservation, " she said earlier today at a campaign stop in Cedar Rapids. "It will be a new day and a new sheriff in Washington, D.C." During a radio interview in 2009 where Bachmann talked about the cap-and-trade bill, which she has described as "tyranny", that was being debated in the House back then she called on citizens to get "armed and dangerous" in their opposition against the bill. This is what she said: "I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back. Thomas Jefferson told us 'having a revolution every now and then is a good thing,' and the people - we the people - are going to have to fight back hard if we're not going to lose our country. And I think this has the potential of changing the dynamic of freedom forever in the United States." One can wonder that if by "armed and dangerous" Bachmann meant something along the lines of what the Christian right-wing terrorist succeeded with in Norway this summer? When it comes to climate change Bachmann is just like Rick Perry a global warming denier. During a debate at the House floor on Earth Day in 2009 she claimed that "carbon dioxide is a natural byproduct of nature" and that this would somehow disprove man-made climate change. In 2008 Bachmann said that she believed that climate change was just a hoax and a conspiracy. This is what she said: "The big thing we are working on now is the global warming hoax. It's all voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax..." Bachmann also supports oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) saying the federal protected area would be "perfect for drilling" and that "it beast Saudi Arabia". But allowing oil drilling in the ANWR is pretty mainstream Republican opinions. Republican John Boehner, who is currently the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, said in 2008 while pushing for oil drilling in the area that he didn't believe that there is any wildlife at all in the ANWR. Mitt Romney Mitt Romney, the former Governor of Massachusetts, also wants to see oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). During a GOP debate in 2007 Romney said that to be able to reach energy independence USA needs to increase all their domestic energy productions. This would include investing more in nuclear energy and "more drilling in ANWR." But unlike Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann, Romney has actually supported the idea of a cap-and-trade plan in the US saying he was "convinced" such a plan would be "good for business". Unfortunately those opinions didn't last very long. Andrew Schenkel writes: But in just a few short years, Romney's cap-and-trade feelings shifted. "We're going to move our new facilities from the U.S. to China, where they don't have those agreements. You end up polluting and putting just as much CO2 in the air because the big energy users go there. That's why these ideas make sense, but only on a global basis. They don't call it 'America warming.' They call it 'global warming.'" During a town hall meeting in Manchester, New Hampshire, earlier this summer Romney said that he believes "the world is getting warmer" and that he "believe that humans have contributed to that". This is what he said: "I believe the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that," he told a crowd of about 200 at a town hall meeting in Manchester, New Hampshire. "It's important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may be significant contributors." Al Gore even (sort-of) applauded Romney for ignoring the "anti-science wing of the Republican Party". But Gore also noted that "we've long passed the point where weak lip-service is enough on the Climate Crisis". Romney, unlike his fellow Republican presidential candidates, believing in global warming sounds good, don't it? But just like Alexander Burns over at Politico notes, Romney is still not completely sure about the warming or how much responsibility we humans actually have: "But Romney also says he's not sure how much the globe is warming or how much responsibility humans bear, or what exactly the best climate policies would be. That's not exactly a bold, maverick stance, and would seem to put Romney within the same ballpark on the issue as George W. Bush." And just like the other two Republican front-runners, Romney doesn't think the EPA should be allowed to regulate greenhouse gases. Darren Samuelsohn over at Politico writes that Romney doesn't believe that carbon pollution is a threat to public health: ""Gov. Romney does not think greenhouse gases are pollutants within the meaning of the Clean Air Act, and he does not believe that the EPA should be regulating them," said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul. "CO2 is a naturally occurring gas. Humans emit it every time they exhale." Last week, Romney responded to a question at a town hall meeting in Derry, N.H., by saying he doesn't think carbon pollution threatens public health or merits regulation under the Clean Air Act." So while Romney at least acknowledges climate change he is still unsure about it and has no real plans or ideas on how we can combat the climate crisis. Last week in Iowa, Romney said that "corporations are people, my friends." So it seems we shouldn't put much hope to Romney that if he gets elected as president he would enforce environmental regulations against his friends, the corporations.
  16. China is number one, in greenhouse gas emissions that is. A report from the University of California says that Chinas greenhouse gas emissions have been "underestimated" and that the country probably took the number one position from USA in 2006-2007. According to the research "unchecked future growth will dwarf any emissions cuts made by rich nations under the Kyoto Protocol." Dr Auffhammer, lead researcher, said in an interview with BBC that: "Our figures for emissions growth are truly shocking. But there is no sense pointing a finger at the Chinese. They are trying to pull people out of poverty and they clearly need help. The only solution is for a massive transfer of technology and wealth from the West." And he is of course correct. A large part of the western industries have moved to China and other development and low-cost countries. China, for example, produces the gadgets, clothes and other stuff that we, in the western world, consume. It also doesn't really matter if China is the top carbon polluter in the world. They still have a low per capita levels of pollution compared to USA. USA's per capita levels are around five to six times higher than China. The UN insists "that rich countries with high per capita levels of pollution must cut emissions first, and help poorer countries to invest in clean technology." And just like Dr Auffhammer said, China and the other development countries are just doing it the same way we did when we become developed countries. It is of course sad and extremely bad that China is now polluting the most. But emissions in USA, Europe and elsewhere are still growing. Not a single developed country today is doing enough, so why should the poorer countries be held responsible?