Business & Technology

Globalization death watch, part III

Either we’ll be green or we’ll be poor

The United States trade deficit is threatening to upend globalization as we’ve known it. The rise in the price of oil has been leading to a similar result: an international trading system in which there is much less trading. Now, that may actually be a good thing, in the long-run, but in the case of the United States it might happen in a very chaotic way. This problem that has been accelerating since George W. Bush took office: The United States has been buying many more goods than it has been selling. As I hope to explain, eventually this will …

Google.org invests in geothermal energy

Google.org, the philanthropic arm of the search giant, has announced a $10.25 million investment in geothermal energy technology. The money will back two start-up companies that specialize in enhanced geothermal systems (EGS), the process of pumping water underground to crack hot rocks and use the resulting steam to power a turbine and create electricity. “EGS could be the ‘killer app’ of the energy world,” says Dan Reicher of Google.org. “It has the potential to deliver vast quantities of power 24/7 and be captured nearly anywhere on the planet. And it would be a perfect complement to intermittent sources like solar …

Electric-car visionary would overhaul the way we get around

Could the global auto infrastructure be overhauled in a way that’s profitable for business, cheap for drivers, and easy on the planet? Meet Better Place‘s Shai Agassi and his plans for an electric-car future, featured in the latest issue of Wired. In Agassi’s vision, gas stations are replaced with omnipresent recharging spots for electric cars. Vehicles are cheap, perhaps even free; money is made off electricity, and renewable energy is incentivized. Drivers purchase electricity on subscription, paying for unlimited miles, a certain number of miles per month, or pay-as-you-go. No time to recharge? Head to your nearest battery exchange station …

Grassroots globalization

Dean’s Beans founder on the good effects of trade

On my pet topic of how business is creating grassroots good in the world, here’s a great interview [mp3] from Corporate Watchdog Radio with the founder of Dean’s Beans, a fair trade coffee company. Dean Cycon travels to the coffee-lands and meets directly with the communities he buys from. He’s building (global) community and raising standards of living via long distance trade, and the company has been profitable from day one, so that’s a real success story. His stories in this segment about how other retailers manage their fair trade programs, though, can be sobering. This is a solid listen …

Chamber cheap shot

Study claims shareholder and climate activism are bad for stock prices

You know that an organizing tactic which targets business practices is effective when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce opens its big yap about it. Recent actions getting these guys’ attention include activist shareholders at a recent Bank of America shareholder meeting decrying its coal investments, including mountaintop removal, and a resolution supported by Dow Chemical shareholder heavies like TIAA-CREF and NYC Pension Funds (in part thanks to their members and Amnesty International activists alike clamoring for it), asking the company to address the festering environmental and social ills of the Bhopal incident. The Chamber has in the past loudly questioned …

N.Y. wind rush brings corruption complaints, divides rural communities

Lured by generous state subsidies, the wind industry is having its day in the sun breeze in upstate New York. But the scramble for turbine-friendly land has led to complaints of corruption and caused schisms in rural communities. At least two wind companies are being investigated for shady dealings, and evidence of possible improper influence or conflicts of interest have emerged in at least 12 counties. Some residents decry what they say is a none-too-polite, get-out-of-my-way mentality by Big Wind, and say the turbines spoil views, ruin the quiet, threaten land and wildlife, and cause unnecessary conflict. “Is it worth …

Chevy Volt gets prettied up, almost ready for testing

The design phase of the plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt is “essentially finished,” General Motors declared Thursday. The new design is more aerodynamic than the concept Volt unveiled in Jan. 2007, allowing the car to travel solely on battery power for at least 40 miles, according to GM. The automaker hopes to have a few prototypes ready for testing within the next 10 days, and 50 available by the end of the year. But the 37,333 (and counting) people who have signed up to an unofficial waiting list for the Volt will still have to wait two years, as GM continues …

Ginormous solar plants to be built in California

Two gigantic solar plants will be built in California under deals announced Thursday between utility Pacific Gas & Electric and companies OptiSolar and Sun Power. Together, the plants could generate 800 megawatts of electricity at peak capacity, enough to power 239,000 homes. (Perspective: The total peak capacity of every photovoltaic panel in the U.S. as of last year was 750 MW.) The largest plant will cover nine square miles with solar panels, but it will be “very visually unobtrusive,” says OptiSolar CEO Randy Goldstein; with panels only three feet high, “It almost looks like a lake.” Both plants aim to …

Superweeds: ready for Roundup

In Arkansas, a new GMO/herbicide solution to a problem created by an old one

I’ve written a couple of times about the rise “superweeds” in the Southeast and mid-South. In Arkansas, horseweed and Palmer amaranth now choke fields planted with Monsanto’s Roundup Ready cotton and soy — engineered to withstand heavy doses of Roundup, Monsanto’s broad-spectrum herbicide. Fifteen years ago, horseweed and amaranth weren’t problem weeds. </p Back in March, Arkansas Agricultural Extension Service officials were pushing farmers to supplement their Roundup applications with doses of Reflex, a broad-spectrum herbicide made by Monsanto’s rival, Syngenta. Now the agribiz-friendly extension service is hotly promoting the wares of another Monsanto rival, Bayer Crop Sciences, Delta Farm …