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Kif Scheuer's Posts

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Update on Chinese eco-village project

In the April issue of Sustainable Industries, April Streeter gives an interesting update one the Huangbaiyu eco-village project green building guru William McDonough has been involved with. Sounds like things are tougher than expected. Instead of being a demonstration model for sustainable growth ready to be replicated throughout the country, Huangbaiyu appears to be a village in limbo. It appears that none of the villagers have been willing to trade in their homes for the new eco-village homes -- despite lots of amenities, including rooftop solar PV, radiant floors, and heating from a biomass gasification plant. Shannon May, a UC …

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New study: Nitrogen availability may constrain biomass accumulation in presence of increased CO2

An article in the April 13 issue of Nature, "Nitrogen limitations constrains sustainability of ecosystem response to CO2" (subscription required) reports on a six-year study of the role of nitrogen on biomass accumulation when CO2 concentrations increase. Our results indicate that variability in availability of soil N and deposition of atmospheric N are both likely to influence the response of plant biomass accumulation to elevated atmospheric CO2. Given that limitations to productivity resulting from the insufficient availability of N are widespread in both unmanaged and managed vegetation, soil N supply is probably an important constraint on global terrestrial responses to …

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Corporations going green: The fifth horseman or the winning horse?

David pointed out that a common thread in the recent Wal-Mart discussion was anger over dilution of the organic label by corporate finagling. Underlying the labeling issue, and a part of so many environmental discussions, is environmentalists' ambivalence towards corporate involvement in any pro-environmental action. Today the NYT gave me the perfect segue to this topic by devoting a whole section to the "business of green." There's tons of great stuff in there, worth many discussions, but I'll just pull one quote from the article "Companies and Critics try collaboration." If politics makes for strange bedfellows, global warming, endangered forests, …

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Wal-mart’s organic bomb

Melanie Warner at the NYT reports today that Wal-Mart is about to dramatically increase its organic food offerings. In very understated fashion, she says, "Wal-Mart's interest is expected to change organic food production in substantial ways." Um, yeah, it sure will. Wal-Mart's plan is to sell organics ~10% over the price of non-organics -- a much closer premium than you can get elsewhere. It's also getting brands like Pepsi, Rice Krispies, and Kraft Mac 'n' Cheese in the game. There's good back and forth in the article about the pros and cons of further industrializing organics -- availability and expansion …

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Move over HGTV, here comes GBTV

PBS is going to start airing a show called Building green in September. A green-building TV show sounds interesting, but also makes me nervous. Will it be more of the shallow consumerism that defines most home shows? Or will it actually seek to give average people the comfort and confidence to try green-building projects themselves. The show's website describes it as "the building show about creating gorgeous homes that are healthier, more energy efficient and better for the environment." To me "gorgeous" sounds like code for "expensive" and makes me worry it's going to be mainly profiles of green trophy …

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Another action item for renewables

I just got an email from the Solar Energies Industry Association (SEIA) asking for people to let their representatives know they support extending the 2005 investment tax credits for residential solar power and fuel cells. The credits are set to expire in 2007, but there's a bill being proposed to extend it another 8 years. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 created a 30% investment tax credit for residential solar and fuel cell technologies and increased the commercial solar ITC to 30%. Both of these changes are currently set to expire at the end of 2007, which will not induce …

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If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck …

Andy Revkin, NYT's climate reporter, brings news of a just-released federal study on climate change which shows "clear evidence of human influences on the climate system." For a moment I'm shouting, "All right! We're moving past debate and into problem solving." But ... not to be undone by their own research conclusions, policy officials note that "while the new finding was important, the administration's policy remained focused on studying the remaining questions and using voluntary means to slow the growth in emissions of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide." There's also this: Dr. Christy [one of the study's authors] also said …

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Adaptation strategies: The good, the bad, and the ugly

A while ago there was a great discussion of the pros and cons of integrating adaptation into global-warming debates (prompted by Nordhaus and Shellenberger's op-ed "preparing for nature's attack"). I just ran across an adaptation strategy that's compelling because it positively engages global warming consequences, without softpeddling or sidestepping the issue. Alex Wilson at Environmental Building News suggests that in order to adapt to increasing environmental volatility, we need to design buildings for passive survivability. Ooh, I like the sound of that ... Hurricane Katrina and a long list of other natural disasters over the years -- from the Northeast's …

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Climate science, say hello to Decision Science

Recently, the issue of how to frame the global-warming debate has come up repeatedly. David sums it up here. It's gotten me thinking about the confluence between climate science and decision science. Communicating about global warming can not be reduced to a simple up or down vote on the use of doom and gloom, or a tradeoff between bad science and a complete value change. In the end, how, when, and most importantly, why people start to seriously address global warming will be 1/10th about the climate science and 9/10ths about good ol' wacky human decision making. Global warming is …

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Some hope from HOPES

A couple of folks on another post commented on how environmental activity is limited to progressive cities and campuses. Since I just got back from a green campus in a green city, I thought readers might want to hear about some good stuff going on in that small corner of the world. The University of Oregon's annual HOPES Conference just wrapped up on the 16th. Now in it's 12th year, HOPES is a student-run environmental-design conference. If you are depressed by the level of environmental apathy around you, this was a place to recharge your faith and hope in humanity, …

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