The greening of Africa

This article from Time is fascinating on several fronts. It highlights the potential for a green movement in Africa, where the expansion of deserts can be halted and reversed with green initiatives. It also addresses how carbon credits can be used to great effect.

Two global agreements aim to put that right. The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) allows developed-world businesses that need to offset their pollution to buy certified emission reductions, or carbon credits, to fund the reduction or sequestering of carbon dioxide in the developing world. The Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation program (UN-REDD), launched in 2008, allows polluters to pay developing-world farmers to keep their trees, which store carbon dioxide as they grow. UNEP is working with scientists in Kenya, China, Niger and Nigeria to quantify how much carbon each ecosystem swallows — comparing the appetite of a rain forest with, say, that of a mangrove swamp — and when completed in 2012, those formulas will determine how much to pay each landowner. The UNEP’s Steiner says “farming carbon” this way is far cheaper than new technology to capture and store carbon dioxide emissions at their source.

Estimates of how much the new market is worth vary wildly. The World Bank says carbon sequestration could be worth $1.5 billion a year to Africa, while Sukhdev reckons UN-REDD will be worth an eventual $30 billion to $110 billion a year globally. Manfred Kern of agritechnology company Bayer CropScience argues that the potential for monetizing natural assets is almost infinite. There is no reason, he says, that what works for trees should not also work for earth. “For the urbanized world, soil is just dirt, mud,” Kern told a U.N. conference in Bonn in May 2008. “But soil is the source of our food, the very future of humanity. We must recognize that soil has a value higher than gold.” What is clear is the potential. “It is essential that climate change be viewed as a major development opportunity for Africa,” World Bank managing director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said last year.

Carbon credits and trading are very controversial, but the impact on places like Africa cannot be discounted.

President Obama will not abandon nuclear energy in spite of Japan

nuclear power plant and smoke

In his speech today about energy independence, President Obama made it clear he would not abandon nuclear energy. This may be controversial for many in light of the tragedy in Japan, but Obama pointed out the fact the nuclear energy does not emit carbon, so it’s critical if we are concerned about climate change, along with its importance for energy independence.

The key is safety. Just as with offshore drilling, the key is learning from mistakes and having a commitment to sensible regulation and safety.

It will be interesting to see how this sells to the left. On the right, this was probably necessary to get Republicans like Lindsay Graham back to the negotiating table on an energy bill.

Swedish city weans itself offof fossil fuels using biomass

Stories like this provide inspiration for those of us who see a future without reliance on fossil fuels, particularly oil from the Middle East or Russia.

When this city vowed a decade ago to wean itself from fossil fuels, it was a lofty aspiration, like zero deaths from traffic accidents or the elimination of childhood obesity.

But Kristianstad has already crossed a crucial threshold: the city and surrounding county, with a population of 80,000, essentially use no oil, natural gas or coal to heat homes and businesses, even during the long frigid winters. It is a complete reversal from 20 years ago, when all of their heat came from fossil fuels.

But this area in southern Sweden, best known as the home of Absolut vodka, has not generally substituted solar panels or wind turbines for the traditional fuels it has forsaken. Instead, as befits a region that is an epicenter of farming and food processing, it generates energy from a motley assortment of ingredients like potato peels, manure, used cooking oil, stale cookies and pig intestines.

A hulking 10-year-old plant on the outskirts of Kristianstad uses a biological process to transform the detritus into biogas, a form of methane. That gas is burned to create heat and electricity, or is refined as a fuel for cars.

Once the city fathers got into the habit of harnessing power locally, they saw fuel everywhere: Kristianstad also burns gas emanating from an old landfill and sewage ponds, as well as wood waste from flooring factories and tree prunings.

Over the last five years, many European countries have increased their reliance on renewable energy, from wind farms to hydroelectric dams, because fossil fuels are expensive on the Continent and their overuse is, effectively, taxed by the European Union’s emissions trading system.

But for many agricultural regions, a crucial component of the renewable energy mix has become gas extracted from biomass like farm and food waste. In Germany alone, about 5,000 biogas systems generate power, in many cases on individual farms.

This is one of many ways we could be taking advantage of recycling all of the waste we have in this country.

Scoring homes for energy efficiency

This is good news regarding conservation and our push for energy independence.

U.S. homeowners will be able to get low-cost energy audits that rank a home’s efficiency on a scale of one to 10 and get federally insured loans for upgrades, under an Obama administration plan to be announced today.

With the new Home Energy Score, consumers will find out how their home compares with others and how much money they could save by adding insulation, sealing air leaks or doing other upgrades. Nine U.S. communities will test the score, similar to a miles-per-gallon label for cars, before it’s rolled out nationally next summer.

Information is power, and now consumers will be more informed about the energy efficiency of current homes and home they intend to purchase. This will breath more life into the market for green building materials and upgrades, and along the way our housing stock will become more energy efficient.

It will also be interesting to see how this affects the real estate market. Buyers will begin to insist on a Home Energy Score so they know how efficient their new home might be. I suspect sellers will be have an incentive to make the modest investments necessary to improve the score.

Government incentives for green energy

President Barack Obama tours the ZBB Energy Corporation with CEO and President Eric Apfelbach and Edward Zanger in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin today in order to tout the government’s incentives to promote green energy in the stimulus bill.

President Barack Obama said government incentives to expand clean-energy industries will help restore jobs, citing a battery maker in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, where he is highlighting the impact of the economic stimulus.

Obama used the example of ZBB Energy Corp., which is using a $1.3 million loan from the legislation to keep 12 workers on staff and eventually hire 80 more as it expands production.

“We expect our commitment to clean energy to lead to more than 800,000 jobs by 2012,” Obama said after a tour of the ZBB factory. “And that’s not just creating work in the short term; that’s going to help lay the foundation for lasting economic growth.”

It’s terribly disappointing that we have not been able to pass a comprehensive energy policy, as Republicans and coal-state Senators block progress.

Global warming – the China problem

It’s fascinating to see how Chinese officials are becoming obsessed with energy efficiency and global warming. It worries some in America, as we see China making the investments in clean energy we should be making. In a competitive world, America should be leading the green revolution and thus creating new jobs. While the Obama administration has made great progress, Republicans and Midwest Senators are standing in the way of a new energy bill.

Meanwhile, climate activists fear the impact of China, but have to be somewhat please that Chinese officials are being proactive.

Premier Wen Jiabao has promised to use an “iron hand” this summer to make his nation more energy efficient. The central government has ordered cities to close inefficient factories by September, like the vast Guangzhou Steel mill here, where most of the 6,000 workers will be laid off or pushed into early retirement.

Already, in the last three years, China has shut down more than a thousand older coal-fired power plants that used technology of the sort still common in the United States. China has also surpassed the rest of the world as the biggest investor in wind turbines and other clean energy technology. And it has dictated tough new energy standards for lighting and gas mileage for cars.

That said, China may be fighting a losing battle. As millions of Chinese citizens become real consumers, they will gobble up even more energy. It’s great for the world economy, but terrible from a climate perspective.

Aspiring to a more Western standard of living, in many cases with the government’s encouragement, China’s population, 1.3 billion strong, is clamoring for more and bigger cars, for electricity-dependent home appliances and for more creature comforts like air-conditioned shopping malls.

As a result, China is actually becoming even less energy efficient. And because most of its energy is still produced by burning fossil fuels, China’s emission of carbon dioxide — a so-called greenhouse gas — is growing worse. This past winter and spring showed the largest six-month increase in tonnage ever by a single country.

It’s a real dilemma, but perhaps it will motivate the Chinese, and hopefully the American government, to do even more. Green energy can be the fuel that the world economy needs. It can also ease world security in the long run by making all of us less dependent on sending billions to volatile regions of the world. So it’s good to see the Chinese get religion on green energy. Let’s hope it helps fuel a worldwide movement.

Pelicans covered in oil

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Some of the other photos out there are much worse, but it’s heartbreaking to see these pelicans covered in oil.

Meanwhile, oil spill protests are heating up against BP.

We’ve added more depressing photos after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

President Obama arrives in New Orleans as BP tries to contain the spill

Photo from fOTOGLIF

President Barack Obama is greeted by Florida Governor Charlie Crist, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Admiral Thad Allen, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, upon Obama’s arrival in New Orleans this afternoon. Obama traveled to the Louisiana gulf coast to further assess damage from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Meanwhile, BP is still working on an effort to capture the oil spewing from the sea floor.

Shrimp season is over

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Shrimp boats sit in the Venice Marina after the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham announced that the shrimp season in the territorial seas of the central coast of Louisiana from Four Bayou Pass to Freshwater Bayou were closed effective sunset Saturday due to the recent oil spill.

Expect prices to rise for shrimp and crab. We’re just beginning to see the devastation from the oil spill.

Meanwhile, BP is mulling its options to contain the spill after recent efforts failed.

Earth Day today!


Today is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, which is celebrated April 22 every year. We’ve come very far in 40 years in terms of individuals making a positive impact on the environment, particularly on cleaner air and water, but in many ways the challenges today are even greater.

Adam Rose has a great posted on about the significance of the original Earth Day.

Larry Carroll offers up Earth Day lessons to be learned from the movie “Avatar.”

BusinessWeek explains how “air like split-pee soup” in LA helped spur the first Earth Day.

USA Today asks if at 40 Earth Day has gone too corporate.

There are tons of great articles out there, and frankly this is an exciting time as new technologies and a new commitment from government is spurring a real effort to accelerate the changes made over the past 40 years.

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