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As its neighbors back biofuels, Central America gears up for business

Driving down either of El Salvador's two principal highways, you're almost sure to end up braking behind a pickup truck that's jammed with people standing shoulder to shoulder. Occasionally these rural taxis are new vehicles, but most are rickety, rusted, and running on antiquated engines and exhaust-spewing diesel. Even though 48 percent of Salvadorans live below the poverty line, according to the United Nations Development Program, the huge influx of remittances from migrants in the United States means that more Salvadorans are buying cars, formerly a luxury reserved only for the very rich. And El Salvador is not alone: while …

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Monsieur Heat Miser

Europe's holiday spirit, shopping disrupted by global warming In the worst consequence of global warming yet, European retailers are fretting that consumers may be too warm to do their holiday shopping. "Christmas business lacks impetus as there is no Christmas spirit in warmer weather," laments Hubertus Pellengahr, a German retail association spokesperson. "Retail sales are far more weather-related than one might assume." Following an autumn that many believe was the warmest in 500 years, Europe is experiencing a record mild winter, leading to artificial snow at ski resorts and sightings of daisies and butterflies. German asthmatics are complaining of pollen; …

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Not Just for Stockings Anymore

Plans for coal plants in Texas, Kansas fueling opposition from all sides As U.S. utilities try to keep pace with the energy-sucking public, they're planning 150 new coal-fired plants. But with coal plants already causing a third of the nation's carbon dioxide emissions, critics are emerging from all corners. A heated battle in Texas over TXU Corp.'s plans for 11 new plants has inspired a hunger strike, an anti-coal coalition of 17 mayors, and now a group of 20 Dallas execs called Texas Business for Clean Air. "We think the plan ... is being crammed down our throats," said business …

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Millionaires Beg for Change

Business execs and military leaders smack down Bush energy policy Prominent business execs and retired military officers are down on their knees begging Congress and the Bush administration to cut U.S. dependence on oil. "It's the height of folly for the U.S. to continue on this course, lest we have some major economic or national-security problem," says FedEx CEO Frederick W. Smith, cochair of the Energy Security (God-Knows-We-Need-) Leadership Council. Along with repetition of the domestic-drilling-and-biofuels-will-save-us refrain, the council is asking the feds for a 4 percent annual increase in fuel-economy standards for cars, SUVs, and heavy trucks. The 16 …

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‘Hansen has been wrong before’–Maybe, but not about the climate!

(Part of the How to Talk to a Global Warming Skeptic guide) Objection: In 1988, Hansen predicted dire warming over the next decade -- and he was off by 300%. Why in the world should we listen to the same doom and gloom from him today? Answer: While in some instances it is ignorant repetition of misinformation, at its source this story is a plain lie. In 1988, James Hansen testified before the U.S. Senate on the danger of anthropogenic global warming. During that testimony he presented a graph -- part of a paper published soon after. This graph had …

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It’s time for a real ‘food vs. fuel’ debate

Can U.S. farmers keep filling the nation's bellies as they scramble to fuel its cars? Given its evident gravity, the question has drawn remarkably little debate. Like it or not, though, more and more food is being devoted to fueling the nation's 211-million-strong auto fleet. High gasoline prices, a dizzying variety of government supports, and an investment frenzy have caused corn-based ethanol production to more than triple since 1998. As recently as a year ago, corn seemed wildly overproduced. Suddenly, it's a hot commodity. In 1998, about 5 percent of the corn harvest (526 million bushels) went into ethanol production, …

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Check out the latest entries in the celeb-biofuels biz

You've heard of BioWillie, Willie Nelson's foray into the world of celebrity-branded biodiesel. But did you know that several other celebs, not to be outdone, have plans to unveil their own biofuel lines? During our series, Grist has been doused with requests from PR professionals to promote their clients' fuelish products. We're only too happy to oblige. Celeb: Martha Stewart Product: DIY Biofuel The deal: Martha Stewart has partnered with IKEA to launch Biofuel-in-a-Box in spring 2007. The country's chief domestic engineer says it will be possible to make 10 gallons of biofuel by mixing the contents of the box …

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It’s all about electricity

When I talked with Terry Tamminen a while back (I'll publish it some day, I promise!), he said something that got me thinking. As Schwarzenegger's top enviro advisor, he's been on the inside, making policy and being lobbied from all sides. He's also been a part of several environmental NGOs, doing the lobbying. So he's seen policy contests from both sides. I asked him why green groups haven't been more effective on climate and energy issues. He said it's simple: when the business lobby goes after an issue, it speaks with a single voice. The chamber of commerce, the think …

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It’s not the key to making renewables work

In his post on the potential of our current grid to support electric cars, John McGrath mentioned V2G in passing. Electric cars (either hybrids or full EVs) have the potential to be a real-life silver bullet. Anyone who advocates for increased use of renewables is inevitably confronted with the problem of intermittency. With wind, the rule of thumb is that if grid energy supplied by wind grows to more than 25-30%, utilities need to spend prohibitive amounts on "spinning reserve" to even out supply. Well, a nation driving plug-in hybrids makes for a spinning reserve of amazing proportions according to …

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An interview with Missouri farmer and ethanol co-op member Brian Miles

Cultivating change? Photo: iStockphoto Like his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather before him, Brian Miles spends his days working the family farm. Unlike his forebears, however, he also sits on the board of Mid-Missouri Energy, a farmer-owned ethanol cooperative in Malta Bend, Mo. Grist talked to Miles about the present ethanol boom, the potential for an ethanol bust, and the many splendors of fresh corn on the cob.   How did you get involved in the ethanol biz? Our state corn growers association had a meeting a few years ago, because they had isolated this area as a good spot for …