Sierra Daily: May 2011

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32 posts from May 2011

May 31, 2011

Impeccable Taste in Green


Introducing him as "a business leader who understands what it takes to innovate, create jobs and to persevere through tough times," today President Barack Obama nominated John Bryson, former chairman and chief executive of California-based power company Edison International and a former board member of Boeing and the Walt Disney Company, to be his next Secretary of Commerce. The pick is enough to make pinstripe-wearers swoon from coast to coast.

But not Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, who has vowed to block the nomination. Not only did Bryson help oversee Edison’s move to become a leading wind and solar company, but he was a member of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change and co-founded the Natural Resources Defense Council—which  Inhofe calls a "radical environmental organization."

Think Progress notes that NRDC’s board of trustees includes “top executives with The Gap, Warner Brothers, Sony Pictures, and Tishman Construction.”

--Reed McManus

Image: Southern California Edison. In 2008, the utility announced plans to cover 65 million square feet of commercial rooftops with 250 megawatts of solar panels, enough generating capacity to power some 162,000 homes. Must be another radical organization?

May 25, 2011

The Charge of the Battery-Powered Brigade…Maybe

13 If you happened to double-book and missed the premiere of Chris Paine’s Revenge of the Electric Car at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival on Earth Day, you’ve got several opportunities to see the (relatively) upbeat sequel to the documentary filmmaker’s decidedly downbeat Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006) before it becomes widely available.

Paine’s new documentary, which looks at the resurgent electric-vehicle industry not through the eyes of climate-change-weary environmentalists but through the bottom-line tribulations of businessmen trying to make a go of it, will be shown this week at the Mountainfilm festival in Telluride, Colorado, and in June at film festivals in Little Rock, Arkansas; Long Island, New York; and Seattle, Washington.

Revenge shows just how far the auto industry has come since GM crushed the last of its leased EV1 electric cars in 2003. Today, GM sells the hybrid-electric Volt (shown above on its assembly line, with the film crew), while Nissan offers the all-electric Leaf  and upstart Tesla produces its zoomy, $109,000 battery-powered Roadster. BMW, Mitsubishi, Ford, and others are waiting in the wings with their own electric-vehicle offerings. Or not. One thing Paine’s doc makes clear is that bringing an electric car to the street is a nail-biter, whether you’re an independent electric-car converter working out of a fire-prone warehouse or an international conglomerate facing global economic meltdown.

Only one of many hurdles is the hesitance of American car buyers. A recent USA Today-Gallup Poll found that in seven states where gas had surpassed the July 2008 record of $4.11 a gallon, more than half of those surveyed said they have made major changes to compensate for the higher prices. But according to another USA Today-Gallup poll, nearly 60 percent of Americans will not buy plug-in electric cars, no matter the cost, because they do not have the same range as a conventional gasoline-powered car. 

For more information, check out the Sierra Club’s Go Electric campaign and Charged Up & Ready to Roll: The Definitive Guide to Plug-in Electric Vehicles from Plug-in America.

--Reed McManus

Image: Revenge of the Electric Car

ExxonMobil Shareholders: What's Up With Fracking?

ExxonMobil_logo For years various do-gooder groups have bought a few shares of stock from various loathsome companies in order to raise troublesome questions at said Chevron_logo companies' annual shareholder meetings. If they're lucky, maybe 5% of the shareholders will agree that maybe the company shouldn't be razing the rainforests/displacing indigenous people/changing the climate. A vote of 10% is considered astonishing. So today the corporate accountability group As You Sow got the shareholders of both Chevron and ExxonMobil to ask the oil giants to issue reports on the environmental and financial risks of "fracking," the process by which an unknown stew of chemical is blasted into shale formations at high pressure in order to loosen up natural gas, making it available for pumping. (Background here.) The astonishing results:

ExxonMobil: 28% in favor

Chevron: 41% in favor

"We know there are risks," [ExxonMobil CEO Rex] Tillerson told reporters after the meeting. "We're not trying to characterize this as an activity that does not have risks."

Well that's good news! Maybe it would be less risky if the drilling companies would disclose what chemicals they're using. To get them to fess up, you can become a "fractivist."

--Paul Rauber

May 23, 2011

Everything’s Coming Up Batfish

What do you mean the world is going to hell in a hand basket when species like the pancake batfish (above), king tyrant leech, and jumping cockroach are just being discovered? Today, the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University announced its Top 10 New Species, selected “from the thousands of species fully described and published in calendar year 2010.”

Not only that,  a new study suggests that the rate of worldwide species extinction is being overestimated by as much as 160 percent.

So there, all you grumpy environmentalists.

--Reed McManus

Image: International Institute for Species Exploration

May 20, 2011

E-Readers Trump Books

417XQ0XwQuL._SL135_ On Thursday, Amazon announced that it sells 105 e-books for every 100 print books. That’s a nifty gain for the environment, as long as each Kindle bought replaces the purchase of more than 22.5 new books over its lifetime, according to the 2009 conclusions of business-research group Cleantech. Its report (available only to subscribers) found that on average, the carbon emitted in the lifecycle of a Kindle is fully offset after the first year of use, since printed books have notoriously high materials, production, printing, shipping, and disposal costs. According to Cleantech, the appetites of the U.S. book and newspaper industries for paper resulted in the harvesting of 125 million trees in 2008.

Introduced in 2007, something like 8 million Kindles have been sold, according to Benchmark Co. (Amazon itself is notoriously hard to pin down on numbers of all kinds, including those related to the carbon footprints of its e-readers.) In its recent study of the environmental impacts of data centers, however, Greenpeace awarded Amazon an “F” for transparency, a “D” for infrastructure siting, and a "D" for energy mitigation.  Check out the Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics here.

--Reed McManus

Taiwanese Rap Video Explains Gas Prices

Tired of trying to explain to your Uncle Bert why drilling the Arctic isn't going to do a darn thing about gas prices? Well then, just show him this rap video by the Taiwanese geniuses at Next Media Animation (providing that he won't be offended by standard rap-video language and antics). You will not find a more entertaining explanation of the fungibility of oil or Pigovian taxes anywhere.


Thanks to James Fallows for the great link.

--Paul Rauber

May 19, 2011

I Know--Let's Sell Utah!

A_may19 Everyone, it seems, has a notion for how to reduce the federal deficit. Some folks think we should partially privatize Medicare. Others thinks we should raise taxes on millionaires. And Florida Representative Dennis Ross thinks the federal government should sell Utah:

I’m not an economist, but I have maintained a household. The federal government owns 70 per cent of Utah, for example. There are federal buildings. If you need cash, let’s start liquidating.

Thanks to ThinkProgress, we learn that Utah Governor Gary Herbert thinks the idea is "worth exploring."

And of course we have a lot of the private land, excuse me, a lot of federal land that they could liquidate and help balance the budget. I think it’s certainly worth exploring. I don’t think we’re going to sell off our national parks and some of those pristine areas. But there’s a lot of land that could in fact be privatized and help reduce the deficit. So I think it’s got some merit to it.

In fact, senators Mike Lee of Utah and John McCain of Arizona have co-sponsored a bill, SB 635, which would sell off federal lands across the West, including Utah. Lee estimates that selling 3.3 million acres could bring in more than a billion dollars--four times less, notes ThinkProgress, than would be made by ending subsidies to Big Oil for a single year. "It’s quite a shortsighted idea," says Marc Heileson, the Sierra Club's senior organizer in Utah, "to think you could pay off the national debt by giving away your greatest assets."


--Paul Rauber

Photo by Lawson LeGate


May 18, 2011

What If You Were Born In Another Country?

It's a favorite daydream of travelers: What would my life be like if I were born here instead? Now, thanks to Ifitweremyhome.com, you can find out. Just chose a country, click the link and hey presto! I find, for example, that had I been born in Ethiopia instead of Oregon, I'd die 22.42 years sooner, have 3.1 times as many kids, and use 99.72% less electricity. On the other hand, had I been lucky enough to have been born a Dane, I'd still use 50% less electricity, but would have 13.8% more free time, have a 53.76% better chance of being employed, and live 3 months longer. And drink Carlsberg beer, of course.

--Paul Rauber


Going South: 23 Million Acres of Forest at Risk

Cumberland 2 River Here’s a fun fact: The two states in the contiguous U.S. with the largest acreages of timberland are Georgia and Alabama. Here’s a not-so-fun fact: According to a new report from the U.S. Forest Service and the Southern Group of State Foresters, population growth and urbanization over the next 50 years is expected to decrease timbered acreage in the South by 23 million acres, an area equivalent in size to all of South Carolina. It’s all part of the Southern Forest Futures Project, an ongoing effort to assess forest land across 13 states, from Texas to Virginia—about 90 percent of which is in private hands. For more information on efforts to protect Southern forests, check out the Dogwood Alliance and Southern Forests for the Future.

--Reed McManus

Image: Cumberland River, Boone National Forest, KY.  U.S. Forest Service photo.

May 17, 2011

Thin Skins: What Pesticides Are in Your Veggies?

Watermelon090520 Just in case you’re tempted to go all “tsk-tsk” about the news that Chinese watermelons are exploding due to the over-application of pesticides --- only the latest in a string of food scandals from the Far East that enable Americans to feel some small advantage over the Chinese these days -- along comes an appeal to the U.S. Department of Agriculture that the agency pretty-please release its long-overdue annual report on the amounts of pesticide residue it detects in U.S. fruits and vegetables. 

The Environmental Working Group uses that data to produce its Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen reports, which have apparently gotten under the very skin thins of the U.S. agriculture industry. In April, 18 produce trade associations wrote Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack suggesting that its pesticide data program information was “being mischaracterized repeatedly by environmental activists and news media.” A USDA rep told the Washington Post that the report would come “shortly.” While you’re waiting the belated 2011 details, you can turn to EWG’s most recent advice here.

--Reed McManus

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