Google pushes towards zero-carbon emissions


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As a company, Google has a bunch of issues. They have absurdly terrible customer service and treat their affiliates like crap.

But they treat their employees well, and they are also one of the companies leading the charge in carbon emissions and sustainability.

As the double-decker bus turns onto Charleston Road and starts winding through Google’s Mountain View, Calif., campus, I stretch out in the business-class-size seat, admiring the smoothness of the black leather and the plush gray carpeting at my feet. A spacious table expands to hold a laptop, which can connect to the vehicle’s Wi-Fi system. This $800,000 luxury double-decker is one of 73 buses that Google owns and operates. (It leases 26 others.) Each day the fleet transports about 4,500 employees, or about a third of those working at the Googleplex, as the company’s headquarters is known.

It turns out that Google (GOOG) isn’t offering a free ride simply as an employee perk — the buses actually save the company money. Yes, there’s the added productivity of 4,500 employees working an extra couple of hours each day while riding to and from work. But Google’s bus service is about much more than that. Real estate in Mountain View is expensive. Underground parking spaces cost as much as $85,000 to construct. (Really!) If Google had to build a parking space for each of the bus riders, the price tag would run to almost $400 million. And that’s not counting the lost opportunity cost of not using that land for new office buildings.

Google has made other investments in transportation too. If, during the day, a Google-ite needs to run an errand or pick up a sick kid at school, he or she can hop into one of 52 electric and hybrid cars parked on campus. The company also encourages employees to drive electrics. It has spent an estimated $3 million to $4 million to install 395 chargers — the largest corporate electric-vehicle infrastructure in the country.

Finding creative solutions to energy issues has become a major priority for Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page in recent years.

Read the entire article. Other companies may not have the resources to do everything Google is trying, but they can set a great example when it comes to cost-effective solutions for responsible companies.

Fish Endanger Great Lakes

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To those unfamiliar with lake ecology, a fish does not seem like the kind of thing that could endanger the Great Lakes; however, Asian Carp are doing just that. The set of species known collectively as Asian Carp were brought to North America in the 1970s for aquacultural and sewage treatment purposes. As with many such experiments, the introduction did not go according to plan. Since introduction, Asian Carp have spread the entire length of the Mississippi River, to a number of its tributaries, and now threaten to take hold in the Great Lakes. In 2007, the species were declared invasive by the United States Department of the Interior and are now being monitored by other United States and Canadian agencies.

The two primary aspects that make Asian Carp so dangerous to their non-native ecosystems are their mobility and diet. The Asian Carp’s ability to leap out of the water give them a distinct advantage when it comes to expanding territory. This ability allows them to not only leap over natural barriers, but also man-made ones. In 2010, Asian Carp penetrated an underwater electric fence that was put in place to keep them from spreading from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River. They have also injured recreational boaters as flying fish collide with passengers on fast boats.

Without their appetite, the spread of these fish would not be of such great concern. Asian carp are veracious eaters, and their food of choice are the plankton that are at the base of the food chain. Asian Carp can grow to be 80 to 100 pounds and consume 40 percent of their body weight each day. This, in turn, is harmful to less aggressive native species, namely smaller fish and the young of larger fish.

Luckily, biologist report that most invasive species fail to take hold. We may be at an advantage against the Asian Carp since they have been detected before establishing a reproducing population. While not completely successful, the electric barrier between the Mississippi River and Lake Michigan has contributed significantly to their containment. Those who enjoy fishing are being encouraged to focus their efforts on Asian Carp. The fish are reported to have a good taste and produce a substantial amount of meat. Food and Water Watch, which as traditionally been very critical of the fishing industry, also backs focusing on the Asian Carp as a food source.

More information on this issue is available through the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee

Large-scale biofuel farm using algae goes online


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Algae looks pretty disgusting in the old swimming pool pictured above, but the power of algae is now being harnessed by those hoping to exploit it as a powerful biofuel. Fortune has an interesting article about a huge new biofuel farm in New Mexico.

On a 2,200-acre expanse of desert scrub in Columbus, N.M. (pop. 1,678), Sapphire Energy has built the world’s first large-scale farm to grow algae and produce crude oil. The five-year-old company has spent about $60 million constructing an array of about 70 ponds, each the size of a football field, and a refinery, which began producing oil this past summer. The first barrels are rolling out now.

Algal oil “has the potential to change the world,” says Cynthia Warner, Sapphire’s chief executive, because the process by which it is grown will allow any nation to produce oil. Warner joined Sapphire after 28 years in the oil business, most recently as head of global refining at BP (BP). She couldn’t resist the allure of algae. Productive and versatile creatures, they grow fast, don’t need to be fed, and build up oil in their cells after being exposed to sunlight and CO2. They like salty or brackish water, so ponds can be built on cheap land where not much else will grow. Into each pond go genetically engineered single-celled algae that grow to maturity in about five days, after which they are skimmed from the water and put through a thermo-chemical “wet extraction” process to separate the oil. The company plans to make about 100 barrels of oil a day in New Mexico. If all goes according to plan, commercial production of perhaps 10,000 barrels a day will begin in 2018.

A ton of money has been plowed into the green space as venture capitalists try to capitalize on the desire for clean energy and renewable fuels. Read the rest of the article to get more information on this project. It will be fascinating to see if this project becomes economically viable. In an era where fracking is lowering the costs of natural gas and increasing oil output in the United States, it will be more difficult for projects like this to make money without subsidies.

Fiscal Cliff Can Open the Door to Legal Online Poker in the US


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There are tons of things in our society that suck up tons of energy. Just think of casinos and all the opulence, including the massive fountain you see above in front of the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Of course it’s a beautiful attraction, but we definitely generate some juice to power all of those fountains and lights.

The fiscal cliff discussions, unfortunately, aren’t being used to advance conservation or green power, but there is a push to get a consensus regarding online poker, which at least doesn’t fuel the construction of new, power sucking fountains.

The Advocates

The American Gaming Association is using the fiscal cliff as its inroad to present a new bill to Congress. The bill would make it legal to play online poker in US. At the same time, the bill would also prohibit other types of online gambling, such as states allowing online gambling for table games and slot machines. According to president and CEO Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr. from the American Gaming Association, the passing of the bill can boost state revenues.

The next logical step is for states to legalize the sale of lottery tickets and scratch-off tickets online.

The Opposition

The opposition of the passing of the online poker bill seems to be the state lottery representatives. Several states are sending representative to Washington D.C. to oppose the passing of the bill. The opposition is also on the state level.

While six states, including Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia, have had failed online gambling proposal, other states are pushing to pass the bill as a way to boost their local economies. Advocates of the bill believe that state-by-state economic progress contributes to the overall boost of the American economy.

Another concern the opposition has for selling online lottery tickets or permitting online gambling in the US is that the integrity of the game can come into question.

The Timeframe

The Reid-Kyl Bill, which proposes federal regulation of Native American tribe gambling options by the Commerce Department, proposed a 15-month waiting period for online poker and other online gambling options in the US to begin. Others argue that if a modified version of the bill passes it can open the door to online poker and gambling as early as January 2013.

State lotteries are a legalized form of gambling. Foreign countries have legal online gambling. If the new bill passes Congresses, it can soon be legal to gamble online in the good old United States of America.

Building a Good Online Reputation


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Before the technological age of online forums, social media, and mobile texting, maintaining one’s reputation involved keeping that nose clean and being a decent person in society. Today, however, no matter how kindhearted or generous you may be in real life, your reputation can be ruined online from the smallest, thoughtless action.

According to the CEO of Reputation.com Michael Fertik, search engines can highlight a variety of misleading or inaccurate information about you, your family, or a colleague. Indecent photos could crop up in a Google of your name, or a prank video you were once involved in could go viral, soliciting negative comments or even attacks from complete strangers.

The best thing you can do in order to maintain a good reputation online is to actively establish a positive presence. Search results show all kinds of material related to the search terms, even if the negative material brought up is about someone else who merely shares the same name. When Google practically serves as a character reference in modern society, it’s important to ensure your online presence is impressive.

Google Yourself

You will likely never know that you have a poor online reputation if you never Google yourself. If you have a business, search the business name on major search engines and social networks to see what people are saying about it, since customers are more likely to give honest reviews, especially negative ones, online. If necessary, enlist the help of a free monitoring service like Reputation.com that sends out alerts when your name appears in new content.

Fight Negative Search Results

Reputation.com was established, in part, to help clients combat search results that take a hit at their character. Since most people will Google a term and only review the top two results, it’s important to push down those negative results, preferably on a second or third result page, so they become practically invisible to the average user.

Establish Your Image

This step involves developing a positive reputation on major websites like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. You can even create a professional blog using your name or business name in the URL or blog title. This makes it more difficult for someone to impersonate you. Establishing your own positive image is the best way to counteract any negative misinformation, but be sure to avoid online confrontations or arguments, since this will only add to a damaged reputation.
Creating and maintaining a good online reputation takes a little legwork, but is worth the extra steps to ensure you and your business are being represented honestly in the virtual world.

Legal issues and shale gas boom

The shale gas boom and fracking revolution are having a significant impact on the economies of states like Ohio. Some environmentalists are also seeing the positive side despite the drinking water controversy as natural gas burns much cleaner that coal.

But many legal issues remain and loom on the horizon.

Ohio’s anticipated energy boom from hydraulic fracturing of shale deposits has oil and gas companies, investors and property owners scrambling for a piece of the action.

On the way to digging up the expected treasure, though, are legal sand traps that could slow or even stop production. They go well beyond the basic issue of who owns the buried oil and gas rights, disputes hashed out in courts since the start of the Utica shale rush in 2010.

Emerging battles concern possible threats to endangered species, Clean Air Act violations and claims that oil and gas drilling in Ohio is abnormally dangerous.

The Utica shale layer, centered in Ohio but stretching from Quebec to Tennessee, has been touted as holding hydrocarbons worth tens of billions of dollars — maybe $500 billion worth, if you believe the prediction of Aubrey McClendon, chief executive of Chesapeake Energy Corp., the top driller in Ohio.

The Ohio Shale Coalition estimates that almost 2,000 fracking wells will be drilled in the state by the end of 2014.
Recent fracking-law discussions at Case Western Reserve University School of Law and the McDonald Hopkins law firm in Cleveland, as well as interviews with energy-sector attorneys, suggest a boom of another sort — in legal questions that riddle the shale play.

Stay tuned as this issue develops.

New soot rules issued by EPA


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With the election now over, the issue of environmental regulation will be a hot topic in Washington.

EPA’s critics say they see ill omens for President Barack Obama’s second term in Friday’s announcement of significantly tightened air pollution limits on soot from exhaust pipes and smokestacks.

The finished rule that emerged from the agency Friday is mostly as stringent as the one that EPA submitted for White House review in the summer. That’s a turnaround from the experience of the last couple of years, in which White House pressure forced the EPA to postpone a new rule on smog and placed regulations on toxic coal ash into a deep freeze.

The latest development heartened environmental groups, which praised the Obama administration for standing up to pressure from industry and the Hill — though some say they’re still waiting for tough action on climate change.

“Our air will be cleaner and thousands of Americans won’t have to face the dangerous health impacts of soot pollution from dirty sources like power plants and diesel trucks,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation voters.

But Friday’s announcement also had some industry groups wondering what to expect in the coming months, when the EPA is expected to finish regulations for greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants, with a host of pending regulations for industrial boilers, power plants and the coal industry waiting in the wings.

“We think it is [a] troublesome sign from the EPA,” said National Association of Manufacturers spokesman Jeff Ostermayer. “Most of these regulations have been on hold since before the election, and now we fear we will see them move forward with one after another, which is not good for an economy still struggling to recover.”

One outspoken industry supporter, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), has been warning for months about what he calls the “regulatory cliff” — a deluge of regulations brought on by a second Obama administration unencumbered by reelection worries. He called the new soot rule “the first in an onslaught of post-election rulemakings that will place considerable burdens on our struggling economy.”

We’re seeing a resurgence of manufacturing jobs in this country, but many argue that EPA regulations will strangle that progress. Well, we haven’t seen that so far in the fracking industry, as both sides are engaged and we’re seeing common sense regulations in states like Ohio.

But with global warming emerging as a huge issue, the political will for common sense regulations may be growing. It looks like the Obama administration is ready to proceed. The key with be whether they can balance the need to clean up and protect the environment with the need for industry and jobs.

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