Vineyards won't be the only things flourishing when the sun shines on the fertile city of Sebastopol, Calif., in Sonoma wine country. The liberal stronghold of fewer than 8,000 residents this week became California's second city to require that new homes be outfitted with panels to produce solar energy.
A vote by the City Council on Tuesday evening came less than two months after a similar program was approved in Lancaster, Calif., a conservative desert city with 150,000 residents nearly 400 miles away.
Electric-car pioneer Tesla just reported its first ever quarterly profit, jolted into the black by strong sales of its all-electric sedans and by a form of carbon trading under California's clean-cars program.
And with that achievement under its belt, the Californian company is moving on to conjuring another type of magic. Tesla is in talks with nearby Google to develop a car that can run not only without any gas in the tank, but without anybody in the driver's seat.
“Do coal and diesel trains make for unhealthy air?”
Dan Jaffe, an atmospheric sciences professor at the University of Washington-Bothell, thinks that’s a fair question to consider as Washington state grapples with whether to allow the construction of coal-export terminals that could triple the amount of daily coal-train traffic chugging through the state.
But Jaffe, whose lab has published more than 100 peer-reviewed papers on air pollution, hasn’t been able to scare up funding to research the potential air-quality impacts of those coal trains. In the absence of dollars from the usual government or corporate channels, he has turned to the internet to crowd-fund this vital research. Jaffe started a page on Microryza, a sort of Kickstarter for scientific research (a great idea with a name that unfortunately does not roll off the tongue). He writes:
Last summer, a leaky tank led to the shutdown of the Palisades nuclear power plant in Michigan. So plant owner Entergy patched up the leak, fired back up the reactor, and hoped for the best.
Unfortunately, the best did not materialize.
The tank began leaking again. But no worries, thought the Einsteins at Entergy, it was only leaking a gallon a day. That was OK, they figured, because the NRC had allowed it to leak up to 38 gallons a day. As of Friday, they were still doing that whole "hoping for the best" thing.
But on Saturday the leaky drip turned into a gush, and all the hoping in the world couldn't hold back the tide of spilling radioactive water. Nearly 80 gallons of water containing small amounts of radioactive tritium and possibly trace amounts of cobalt and cesium spewed into Lake Michigan, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told the AP.
It's great to go green and it's laudable to go local. But don't you dare try to do both at once.
That's the message the World Trade Organization sent this week went it ruled -- again -- that Ontario’s Green Energy Act illegally discriminated against international renewable energy companies. Similar green jobs programs in other countries might also have to be disbanded following the ruling.
The Green Energy Act aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while encouraging energy conservation and fostering a jobs-rich renewable energy sector. Under the controversial elements of the act, electricity suppliers could charge premium prices for clean energy, but only if they produced that electricity using a certain amount of locally manufactured equipment like solar panels.
Here's a new idea about using the power of the crowd to make the world just a little bit better. It's sort of like a Kickstarter, except instead of entrepreneurs asking the crowd to support a project, the crowd asks a business to start one. Once a business commits to positive change, the crowd floods it with patronage so it can afford it.
It's called Carrotmob, and it works like an inverse boycott. Rather than influence businesses by withholding money, customers can influence businesses by giving them money. (You're using a carrot instead of a stick, get it?)
On Tuesday, voters in Youngstown, Ohio, gave the fracking industry carte blanche to continue pumping chemicals into the ground beneath them and pumping natural gas out.
A city charter amendment that would have outlawed hydraulic fracturing in the city was rejected by voters, with the unofficial final vote tally showing 3,821 votes against and 2,880 in favor. The ballot measure would also have banned new pipelines in the city and prevented oil-field waste from being transported through the city.
Opposition to the ballot measure was spearheaded by a business-backed group calling itself Mahoning Valley Coalition for Job Growth and Investment. That group was formed especially to defeat the ballot measure, and it easily outspent the measure's backers. In campaigning, the business group had described the ballot measure as unconstitutional, far-reaching, and unenforceable, and claimed it would send the wrong kind of message to the business community.
Back in high school, I had a great strategy for dealing with parking tickets I couldn’t afford to pay: I went down to city hall and challenged them -- sometimes with a legitimate excuse, sometimes not (“The two-hour sign was obscured by a flowering cherry tree!”). I had figured out that bureaucrats cared less about the reliability of my sob story than they did about getting on with their day, so often they’d just roll their eyes, reduce the fine, and shoo me out the door.
Turns out the same tactic works for coal companies facing fines for safety infractions. A Cleveland Plain Dealer investigation found that when federal regulators fine mine operators for violating safety standards, those companies “are fighting significant fines as a matter of course and getting them reduced, if not dropped,” which means “clogging up the appeals process and wearing down a system that lacks resources to match the challenge.” You know, just like a privileged teenager exploiting an overburdened traffic court -- except with hundreds of thousands of dollars, not to mention miners’ lives, at stake.
One day in the future, instead of creating machines to work for us, we'll tinker with living creatures until they do exactly what we want. This is already happening on a small scale; scientists are using synthetic biology techniques to program algae that produce biofuels more efficiently. And now, they’re dreaming of the day when we can use glowing trees instead of streetlights.
Wild, right? If you're into the idea of using genetics to turn nature to human service, you can get in on the ground floor by funding the researchers who fantasize about glowing trees. They've already made smaller plants that glow, and for $40, you can get some of the seeds. For a little more, they'll grow the thing for you. They've raised more than $245,000 so far, and if they get to $400,000 they won't just grow boring old Arabidopsis plants, but also glowing roses.
But, hey, at least almost all of that cheap fuel is being used by Americans in America, right?
That may not continue to be the case. The Obama administration is poised to rule on a slew of applications to export natural gas to other countries through hulking industrial terminals dotted along U.S. coasts. Over the weekend, Obama appeared to reveal his hand on the issue, forecasting that the U.S. would likely become a net gas exporter by 2020, reports The Financial Times.
According to the newspaper, administration officials fear that a restriction on natural gas exports, as is being sought by American environmentalists and manufacturers, would send a bad signal about the country's support for free trade.