Conservation

Solar grid parity 101—and why you should care

Grist - Sun, 01/15/2012 - 17:49

by John Farrell.

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s New Rules Project.

Solar grid parity is considered the tipping point for solar power, when installing solar power will cost less than buying electricity from the grid. It’s also a tipping point for the electricity system, when millions of Americans can choose energy production and self-reliance over dependence on their electric utility.

But this simple concept conceals a great deal of complexity. And given the stakes of solar grid parity, it’s worth exploring the details.

The cost of solar

For starters, what’s the right metric for the cost of solar? The installed cost for residential solar ($6.40 in 2011), or commercial solar ($5.20), or utility-scale solar ($3.75)? Even if we pick one of these, it’s difficult to compare apples to apples, because grid electricity is priced in dollars per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity, not dollars per Watt.

Enter “levelized cost,” or the cost of a solar PV array averaged over a number of years of production. For example, a 1-kilowatt (kW) solar array installed in Minneapolis for $6.40 per Watt costs $6,400. Over 25 years, we can expect that system to produce about 30,000 kWh, so the “simple levelized cost” is $6,400 divided by 30,000, or about $0.21 per kWh.

But people usually borrow money, and pay interest, to install solar power. And there are some maintenance costs over those 25 years. And we also use a “discount rate” that puts heavier weight on dollars spent or earned today compared to those earned 20 years from now. A 1-kW solar array that is 80 percent paid for by borrowing at 5 percent interest, with maintenance costs of about $65 per year, and discounted at 5 percent per year, will have a levelized cost of around $0.37.

That means that “solar grid parity” for this 1-kW solar array happens if the grid electricity price is $0.37 per kWh. But this calculation is location-specific.

In Los Angeles, that same 1-kW system produces 35,000 kWh over 25 years, lowering the levelized cost to $0.31. The time frame also matters.

If we look back at the Minneapolis project with a levelized cost of $0.37, but look at the output over 20 years instead of 25 years, it increases the levelized cost to $0.43, because we have fewer kWh of electricity over which to divide our initial cost.

We choose 25 years because solar PV panels have a good chance of producing for that long.

We also use a lower installed cost than the U.S. average. Residential solar projects may average $6.40 per Watt, but there are some good examples of aggregate purchase residential solar projects costing $4.40 per Watt. The levelized cost of solar at $4.40 per Watt in Minneapolis is $0.25; in Los Angeles it is $0.21.

The following map shows the levelized cost of solar, by state, based on an installed cost of $4.40 per Watt, averaged over 25 years.

This map shows half our grid parity equation, the cost of solar. But what about the other half, the grid price? It’s another complicated question.

The grid price

Utilities like to compare new electricity production to their existing fleet, which means comparing new solar power projects to long-ago-paid-off (amortized) coal and nuclear power plants that can produce electricity for 3-4 cents per kWh. But this is apples to oranges, because utilities can’t get any new electricity for that price, from any source.

A more appropriate measure of the grid price is the marginal cost for a utility of getting wholesale power from a new power plant. In California, this is called the “market price referent,” and it’s around 12 cents per kWh. The figure varies from state to state.

But while the market price referent provides a reasonable comparison for the cost of utility-scale solar, it’s not the number that matters for solar installed on rooftops or near buildings. In those cases, the power is used “behind the meter,” and depending on the type of state policy for net metering, the customer can essentially spin their electric meter backward when their solar panels produce electricity. That means that solar power is really competing against the energy cost on a utility bill, known as the “retail price.”

The following map shows the average retail electricity price by state across the U.S. It ranges from 8-10 cents in the interior to 15 cents per kWh and higher on the coasts.

In general, the residential retail electricity price is the generally accepted grid parity price. With this price and our previous map of the levelized cost of solar, we can assess the state of solar grid parity. The following map shows the ratio of the levelized cost of solar to the grid parity price in each state. Only Hawaii has reached solar grid parity without incentives.

As time rolls ahead, and grid prices rise while solar costs fall, the picture changes. In five years, three states representing 57 million Americans will be at solar grid parity: Hawaii, New York, and California.

There are other considerations in the grid parity calculation.

Time-of-use rates

Some utility customers pay “time-of-use” rates that charge more for electricity consumed during times of peak demand, such as when a hot sunny day has everyone using their air conditioners. Under these rates, a solar project can be replacing electricity that costs upwards of $0.30 per kWh. Over a year, time-of-use rates can (on average) boost the cost of electricity—at peak times, when solar panels produce a lot of power—by about 30 percent.  Assuming every state implemented time-of-use pricing (and that it was equivalent to a 30 percent increase in grid prices during peak times), solar grid parity would be a reality in 14 states in 2016, instead of just three.

Solar vs. grid over time

There’s one other calculation. Let’s say that in 2011 solar still costs just a bit more than the grid electricity price, but that the grid price is rising at a modest rate each year. In this case, solar may still be the right choice, because the lifetime cost of solar (at a fixed price) will be less than the rising cost of grid electricity. We can use an accounting tool called net present value to estimate the savings from solar compared to grid power over 25 years, and we find that for every percentage point annual increase in electricity prices, solar can be about 10 percent more expensive than grid power today, and still be at “parity.” We find that with electricity price inflation of 2 percent per year, solar grid parity shifts up two years using this method.

To further explain the concept of solar grid parity, I’ve also created this slideshow. You can view more of my presentations here.

Solar grid parity has enormous implications for the electricity system, and the time is drawing very close for many Americans. I hope this post (and slideshow) helps illustrate the complexity of the concept, and I’d appreciate your feedback via email (jfarrell@ilsr.org) or in the comments below.

Related Links:

Forecast for 2012: More sun and wind

Here are the potential Solyndras of 2012

Sunflowers show how to capture solar energy more efficiently



Categories: Conservation

Watch: David Roberts on ‘Up with Chris Hayes’

Grist - Sun, 01/15/2012 - 02:44

by Ted Alvarez.

Not inclined to wake up on a Saturday at 4 a.m. PST? Even to see our own beloved David Roberts hold forth on capitalism, politics, and more on MSNBC's Up with Chris Hayes

Fine, we've got your back. Watch the entire stream here:

Related Links:

Climate primer: Global warming made scintillating

Don’t believe the hype about the ‘molecule that could solve climate change’

Critical List: Shale gas could squash renewables; scientists fiddle with photosynthesis



Categories: Conservation

El sinuoso camino hacia la próxima Cumbre de la Tierra Río+20

Ecoportal - Sat, 01/14/2012 - 21:23

La próxima Cumbre de la Tierra Río+20 -llamada oficialmente Conferencia de Naciones Unidas sobre Desarrollo Sustentable- se celebrará del 20 al 22 de junio de 2012 en Río de Janeiro, Brasil. Esta cumbre es un nuevo intento de Naciones Unidas en el comienzo de milenio para avanzar sobre el compromiso de los Estados y la comunidad mundial en los grandes cambios de este siglo XXI. Tendrá lugar veinte años después de la primera cumbre histórica de Río de Janeiro en 1992 y diez años después de la de Johannesburgo en 2002.

More tips for avoiding packaged foods

Grist - Sat, 01/14/2012 - 20:30

by Grist.

We ran an article earlier this week called Five packaged foods you never need to buy again and we got a flood of comments from enthusiastic home cooks eager to share tips and suggestions about avoiding processed foods. We've collected a few of our favorites here. Feel free to add to these comments in the... comments section below. Does it get any more meta than that?

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Honeybee problem nearing a ‘critical point’



Categories: Conservation

Why railroads care about coal exports

Grist - Sat, 01/14/2012 - 17:44

by Eric de Place.

Cross-posted from Sightline Daily.

Here are three pictures that help explain why American railways seem to be supporting coal export proposals in the Northwest. It's because railways are very closely connected to the coal industry. Consider:

Coal so dwarfs every other rail-hauled commodity that it is almost as important as all the other commodities combined. (Note: This picture excludes "intermodal" freight.)

But while coal is a huge component of rail freight, it declined noticeably in 2009 and 2010:

Presumably, a good deal of the recent decline is related to a lousy economy and the attendant reduction in demand for electrical power and industrial uses of coal. Yet the recently depressed coal rail volumes are not entirely driven by the economic downtown. In fact, coal fired-power is on a long-term downward trajectory:

Going forward, that downward trend is likely to continue, and perhaps accelerate. Regulators are tightening pollution standards; other power sources like natural gas and renewable energy are becoming increasingly competitive in the marketplace; and communities across the country are averse to coal-fired power for its deleterious health effects.

Power plants are not the only customers that railways service with coal shipments, but they easily constitute the lion's share. So given the ongoing decline (and dismal future prospects) for domestic coal use, it's no wonder that railway companies support big new coal export facilities. As Americans are increasingly uninterested in buying coal, railways will want to find consumers -- no matter how far afield they may be -- who will pay coal to be moved by rail, whether it's to a power plant or an export terminal.

Notes: I created the first chart using data from the table on page 8 of the American Association of Railroad’s “Rail Time Indicators” report for Jan. 2011. (The AAR data does not combine commodity carload data with figures for intermodal freight, which amounted to 11.3 million trailers and containers in 2010.) The second chart comes directly from page 13 of that same report. The third chart is taken from the most recent rail indicators report [PDF], which was published in Dec. 2011.

Related Links:

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Coal-burning energy company demands more regulation

Fossil fuels receive 250 different kinds of subsidies



Categories: Conservation

Forecast for 2012: More sun and wind

Grist - Sat, 01/14/2012 - 17:33

by Mary Anne Hitt.

When my husband and I decided to put solar panels on our West Virginia home last year, we thought we might make some waves in our small town, since we would be the first family in the historic district to go solar. Well, it turns out we were right -- the panels quickly increased our profile in many ways.

Not only have we produced 2 megawatts (MW) of solar energy (often producing more than we use and therefore feeding back into the grid to power our neighbors' homes), but we also managed to start a bit of a solar power frenzy in our town.

Inspired by us, one of our neighbors soon installed a solar system three times bigger than ours. Then another neighbor was denied permission to install solar panels, because the town determined they would violate existing historic preservation guidelines. That sparked a larger discussion, still going on today, about whether those guidelines should be changed. The whole town has started to notice and ask questions. The issue created such a buzz that it made the Shepherdstown Chronicle's list of "10 news stories that characterize Shepherdstown in 2011":

Historic districts go solar

In April, the Shepherdstown Planning Commission approved a permit for resident Nathaniel Hitt to place photovoltaics on his garage, making Hitt one of the first residents to have solar panels in the historic district. Since last spring, conversation has continued with regard to amendment of rules associated with the allowance of solar panels on Shepherdstown's historic buildings. Currently the town's ordinances ban solar panels on the street facing portion of homes, limiting options for residents looking to go solar. In November, the HLC held an informal discussion about the future of solar panels in the historic district, concluding that the Planning Commission and Town Council should take a closer look at the issue.

I can't tell you how happy this makes me -- people are talking about solar power, and nationwide, both solar and wind energy continue to expand as we move beyond coal. Some recent news on that front, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association:

The U.S. solar industry installed a quarterly record for new solar electric capacity in Q3 (2011) with 449 MW. More U.S. solar electric capacity came online in Q3 2011 than all of 2009 combined, and Q4 2011 is predicted to be even larger. Today, U.S. solar is an economic force: employing more than 100,000 Americans at 5,000 businesses across all 50 states.

Here are three recent examples of solar power installations continuing nationwide:

The largest active solar project in Texas just came online this month, when Austin Energy powered up a 30-MW solar plant in the village of Webberville, Texas.
Fort Bliss, a U.S. Army base in Texas, will install a solar energy system expected to save $39 million in energy costs over the next 24 years.
The public schools in Clinton, Tenn., will install solar panels that will generate not only clean electricity, but also an estimated $118,000 in revenue for the school system every year.

And from the American Wind Energy Association's review of 2011:

Both Iowa and South Dakota reached the important milestone of 20 percent of their electricity coming from wind power, a first for the U.S. ...

According to the latest edition of the U.S. Department of Energy's Wind Technologies Market Report, turbine prices decreased by as much as 33 percent or more between late 2008 and 2010. ...

When more than 50 power plants totaling 7,000 MW unexpectedly went offline in Texas due to unusually cold weather early in the year, wind power was there to help stabilize the system and keep the lights on. Wind energy played a critical role in limiting the severity of the blackouts, providing enough electricity to keep the power on for about three million typical households.

Clean energy is powering more homes and businesses every year, and it's energizing our economy with new jobs. If we want to keep these trends moving in the right direction, we're going to have to join together in 2012 to remove obstacles to clean energy.

As just one example, in Virginia, utility giant Dominion has convinced state regulators to approve a surcharge on homeowners with rooftop solar systems between 10 and 20 kilowatts, and they have actively tried to block a large solar project at Washington and Lee University. Removing outdated and misguided barriers like these will be a priority for the Sierra Club and our allies in the year ahead.

As I said before when talking about my own solar panels, it's an amazing feeling knowing that I am making clean electricity on my own rooftop that does not blow up mountains, cause asthma and heart attacks, spew mercury into the air and water, or leave behind toxic waste. Americans nationwide are feeling the same way as they install solar and wind power at record levels, and 2012 is shaping up to be even better!

Related Links:

Solar grid parity 101—and why you should care

Why railroads care about coal exports

Critical List: Huge wind farm to rise in Wyoming; doomsday clock ticks forward



Categories: Conservation

Climate primer: Global warming made scintillating

Grist - Sat, 01/14/2012 - 07:22

by Grist.

Catch some of Grist's most riveting recent coverage of climate change -- perfect fodder for cocktail chatter, guaranteed to make you the life of the party.

Stuff white people like: denying climate change
Conservative white men are far more likely to deny the threat of climate change than other people, reports David Roberts. So what should we do about it? Here are some ideas.
Confused with a chance of flip-flop: Mitt Romney's views on climate and energy
Where does the quasi-presumptive Republican nominee stand on climate change, at least for the moment? Find out.
Top five craziest things GOP contenders said on climate in 2011
The anti-science wing of the Republican Party has made climate craziness a litmus test for the presidency, and GOP nominees are living up to the challenge.
Time to be angry, not cynical, about corporate money in politics
We're unfazed by things that should shake us to the core, like the way the dirty-energy industry buys politicians and screws over our climate, writes Bill McKibben.
The brutal logic of climate change
Putting climate change in the background and focusing instead on innovation and energy security won't work. Immediate, aggressive action is needed if we hope to avoid terrible consequences, argues David Roberts.
See also: The brutal logic of climate change mitigation & ‘Brutal logic' and climate communications
The top five takeaways from the Durban climate talks
Whatever became of those big U.N. climate negotiations last month? Here's everything you need to know.
Finally, celebrities come up with some real global warming solutions
That Kristen Wiig is really on to something ...

Related Links:

Watch: David Roberts on ‘Up with Chris Hayes’

Don’t believe the hype about the ‘molecule that could solve climate change’

Critical List: Shale gas could squash renewables; scientists fiddle with photosynthesis



Categories: Conservation

Will Obama address climate threat in State of the Union speech?

Grist - Sat, 01/14/2012 - 05:20

by Brad Johnson.

Cross-posted from ThinkProgress Green.

On Jan. 24, President Obama will address Congress and the nation on the state of the union, with the chance to stir this country to action on the existential threat of climate change. Obama has the responsibility to seize the moment and finally explain to the American people the great mobilization of resources and will that protecting our homeland from a poisoned climate requires.

In a tweet to ThinkProgress Green, White House Director of Public Engagement Jon Carson promised that he would personally tell Obama that people believe he needs to talk about the science of climate change in his State of the Union address:

If Obama does make clear that the nation's prosperity is already being damaged by the first glimmers of the coming onslaught of climate change, it will mark a dramatic departure from the past. Each year of his presidency, as more Americans suffered and died from the consequences of climate pollution, Obama's discussion of global warming in his State of the Union addresses has withered.

In his 2009 address, he spoke of the need to "save our planet from the ravages of climate change" through "legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America." As the climate bill stalled in the Senate that year, Obama went silent. "Thus far, he has neglected to use his bully pulpit to hammer a climate science message home, thereby helping to fuel skepticism about climate science and lend support to the building backlash against the policies he favors," climate blogger Andrew Freedman wrote in Sept. 2009. After Obama made a major speech calling for health-care reform, climate hawks hoped he would explain to Americans the need for the climate bill held up in the Senate.

In the 2010 State of the Union, he said only he wanted to advance a "comprehensive climate and energy bill," but then the White House avoided the subject.

"I'm just not sure how you do a response to climate change if you can't really say the words 'climate change,'" wrote Ezra Klein in June 2010.

In last year's State of the Union address, Obama avoided any mention of climate change, spurring dismay from climate hawks. Grist's David Roberts called the omission a "moral failure, a failure of leadership, but also, I would argue, a political failure."

A textual analysis of State of the Union addresses found that Obama mentions climate change far less than President Bill Clinton ever did, and less even than President George W. Bush. "From a political viewpoint, it is clear that Obama is not talking about climate change," Robert Brulle wrote. "In my opinion, this approach has several major drawbacks, and effectively locks in massive and potentially catastrophic global climate change." Bill Becker even wrote an entire sample speech on the climate challenge for the president.

There are many other climate hawks Obama could follow -- in the past year, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka have delivered compelling speeches on the mandate for action to fight the greatest threat to human civilization of this generation.

Related Links:

Obama makes a trip to the EPA

Obama’s climate leadership? ‘It doesn’t exist,’ says Tim Wirth

Give Thanks for Regulations



Categories: Conservation

Watch Grist’s David Roberts on MSNBC on Saturday morning

Grist - Sat, 01/14/2012 - 02:43

by Grist.

Grist’s own David Roberts will play the role of talking head on MSNBC’s Up w/ Chris Hayes this Saturday morning. He’ll be joining Hayes and a few smart commentators to discuss climate change and other hot (ahem) topics in the news.

To catch it live, tune in 7:00-9:00 a.m. ET—or 4:00-6:00 a.m. PT. (Yes, that’s 4:00 in the morning.)

For you non-insomniacs out there, we’ll be posting the video after the show airs so you can enjoy David’s wit and wisdom at your leisure. As they say, stay tuned.

Related Links:

11 from ‘11: The most-clicked Grist stories of the year

The few, the proud, the green: U.S. Marines pursue clean energy and efficiency

Is a centralized climate solution still possible? And more from my chat with Andy Revkin



Categories: Conservation

An easy shell: Sustainable oysters [VIDEO]

Grist - Sat, 01/14/2012 - 01:31

by Daniel Klein.

Our videos are often inspired by whatever it is I'm in the mood to eat. Such was the case with this short trip we took along the Rappahannock River in Virginia, where oyster farmers are helping clean the Chesapeake Bay and replenishing the native oyster population (now down to just 1 percent of what it once was). These bivalves are a remarkable, sustainable food and if you are in an oyster-growing region, I recommend you partake as soon as possible. Winter is oyster season! (Just make sure your cameraperson isn't prone to seasickness.)

Related Links:

One man’s trash: Dumpster diving for breakfast [VIDEO]

Farming: A New York state of mind [VIDEO]

Learning on the half-shell



Categories: Conservation

MIT climate scientist receives frenzy of hate mail

Grist - Sat, 01/14/2012 - 01:05

by The Climate Desk.

Prominent MIT researcher Kerry Emanuel has been receiving an unprecedented "frenzy of hate" after a video featuring an interview with him was published recently by Climate Desk.

Emails contained "veiled threats against my wife," and other "tangible threats," Emanuel, a highly-regarded atmospheric scientist and director of MIT's Atmospheres, Oceans, and Climate program, said in an interview. "They were vile, these emails. They were the kind of emails nobody would like to receive."

"What was a little bit new about it was dragging family members into it and feeling that my family might be under threat, so naturally I didn't feel very good about that at all," Emanuel said. "I thought it was low to drag somebody's spouse into arguments like this."

Climate Desk has seen a sample of the emails and can confirm they are laced with menacing language and expletives, and contain personal threats of violence.

Emanuel began receiving emails "almost immediately" after the video was posted on Jan. 5, and the volume peaked at four or five emails a day. The threats have now petered off.

Threats are nothing new in the world of climate science. But Emanuel was surprised by the viciousness of the emails. "I think most of my colleagues and I have received a fair bit of email here and there that you might classify as ‘hate mail,' but nothing like what I've got in the last few days."

"This was a little more orchestrated this time," he said.

The video -- "New Hampshire's GOP Voters Speak Out About Climate Change" -- documented a climate change conference run by a group of Republican voters upset by their party's anti-science rhetoric. Emanuel was a keynote speaker, along with former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.), who, incidentally, has not received any threats since the video.

In one clip, Emanuel says, "It makes me feel to some extent disgusted with politics and to some extent ashamed to be an American."

The comments were seized upon, Emanuel suspects, by "bloggers bent on distorting that message and amplifying it." One website, Climate Depot, posted Emanuel's email address.

Emanuel notes that in the full video, he went on to explain that the Republican candidates "have either been misled, in which case it's not great to be part of the political system where candidates for the president of the United States could be so misled on such an important issue, or they were dishonest, which [is] equally bad in my view: How could we live in a country where candidates are being dishonest about an issue of such importance?"

Another website, Junk Science, raised questions about his wife's anti-war feelings in the 1960s.

"Somebody came to the conclusion that back in the '60s she was a Marxist -- which she was back then," Emanuel said. He notes that "conservative heroes of today like Norman Podhoretz [and] Jeane Kirkpatrick" were also socialists in the '60s. "So I don't quite know what the problem was there!"

In June 2011, top Australian climate scientists said they had been targeted by death threats and menacing phone calls, including threats of sexual attacks on family members. Australian National University in Canberra reacted by tightening security, and the police began investigating. U.S. researchers received a torrent of hate mail in the wake of "Climategate," in which a trove of emails was stolen and released at the University of East Anglia in the U.K.

Emanuel decided not to alert police.

Emanuel says climate scientists are not used to the intensity of political debate around climate change: "We scientists are usually not in any kind of heated public debate, as is the case in climate; we're not used to this, we're not trained for it."

"I've done a lot of public speaking, and I've spoken to many types of audiences, including audiences that are very conservative, and while I certainly have people push back -- which is understandable and encouraged, and people debate; that's all part of that, that's fine -- I've never ever encountered in direct contact with the public any behavior that I thought was bad or threatening or vile or anything like that. So I don't have any trouble communicating directly with the public. I think it's the distortions that occur sometimes in certain formats that are the root of the problem."

Emanuel asked me to publish the full audio of our interview, which you can listen to below.

Related Links:

Let’s make fun of Rick Santorum talking about climate change

The year in crazy: Rush Limbaugh

New approach to climate deniers: Launch them into space!



Categories: Conservation

Lexicon of Sustainability: Biodiversity vs. monoculture

Grist - Fri, 01/13/2012 - 19:09

by Lexicon of Sustainaibility.

Editor's note: This is the first in a weekly installment of images from Douglas Gayeton and Laura Howard-Gayeton's Lexicon of Sustainability. We'll be running one image every Friday this winter, so stay tuned. There's more where this came from!

Industrial agriculture = monoculture.
Small farms = biodiversity.

Small, organic farms like Rick Knoll's are able to eliminate their reliance on petrochemical-based fertilizers and pesticides. The results are fewer pollutants, less environmental degradation, and cleaner air. And by using cover cropping and other soil fertilization principles they are able to sequester carbon and keep topsoil -- which is carbon heavy -- from being lost into the atmosphere (the latter also contributes to climate change).

Biodiversity

Weeds + trees + crops + critters + soil = An integrated food web allowing biota to self-regulate = A self-regulating, multi-layered farm that requires little maintenance and no pesticides.

Additional text taken from the photograph:

The conventional farmer next door¹ calls Rick's organic methods "dirty farming" (they're "clean"). Each winter their fields sit idle for months at a time. Since no cover crop is planted (a process that returns nutrients to the soil and increases fertility), the soil remains exposed to the elements. Wind erosion will carry some of this precious top soil away and, in so doing, release carbon back into the atmosphere.

About Rick Knoll

Rick Knoll is an organic farmer who has been practicing biodynamic farming for 32 years. He owns Knoll Farms in Brentwood, Calif., and holds a Ph.D in Organic Chemistry from UC Irvine. He has also studied Agroecology at UC Santa Cruz. Learn more on the Knoll Farms website.

This image was made possible with generous funding from Google.

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Honeybee problem nearing a ‘critical point’



Categories: Conservation

Honeybee problem nearing a ‘critical point’

Grist - Fri, 01/13/2012 - 18:39

by Claire Thompson.

Anyone who's been stung by a bee knows they can inflict an outsized pain for such tiny insects. It makes a strange kind of sense, then, that their demise would create an outsized problem for the food system by placing the more than 70 crops they pollinate -- from almonds to apples to blueberries -- in peril.

Although news about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has died down, commercial beekeepers have seen average population losses of about 30 percent each year since 2006, said Paul Towers, of the Pesticide Action Network. Towers was one of the organizers of a conference that brought together beekeepers and environmental groups this week to tackle the challenges facing the beekeeping industry and the agricultural economy by proxy.

"We are inching our way toward a critical tipping point," said Steve Ellis, secretary of the National Honey Bee Advisory Board (NHBAB) and a beekeeper for 35 years. Last year he had so many abnormal bee die-offs that he'll qualify for disaster relief from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

In addition to continued reports of CCD -- a still somewhat mysterious phenomenon in which entire bee colonies literally disappear, alien-abduction style, leaving not even their dead bodies behind -- bee populations are suffering poor health in general, and experiencing shorter life spans and diminished vitality. And while parasites, pathogens, and habitat loss can deal blows to bee health, research increasingly points to pesticides as the primary culprit.

"In the industry we believe pesticides play an important role in what's going on," said Dave Hackenberg, co-chair of the NHBAB and a beekeeper in Pennsylvania.

Of particular concern is a group of pesticides, chemically similar to nicotine, called neonicotinoids (neonics for short), and one in particular called clothianidin. Instead of being sprayed, neonics are used to treat seeds, so that they're absorbed by the plant's vascular system, and then end up attacking the central nervous systems of bees that come to collect pollen. Virtually all of today's genetically engineered Bt corn is treated with neonics. The chemical industry alleges that bees don't like to collect corn pollen, but new research shows that not only do bees indeed forage in corn, but they also have multiple other routes of exposure to neonics.

The Purdue University study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, found high levels of clothianidin in planter exhaust spewed during the spring sowing of treated maize seed. It also found neonics in the soil of unplanted fields nearby those planted with Bt corn, on dandelions growing near those fields, in dead bees found near hive entrances, and in pollen stored in the hives.

Evidence already pointed to the presence of neonic-contaminated pollen as a factor in CCD. As Hackenberg explained, "The insects start taking [the pesticide] home, and it contaminates everywhere the insect came from." These new revelations about the pervasiveness of neonics in bees' habitats only strengthen the case against using the insecticides.

The irony, of course, is that farmers use these chemicals to protect their crops from destructive insects, but in so doing, they harm other insects essential to their crops' production -- a catch-22 that Hackenberg said speaks to the fact that "we have become a nation driven by the chemical industry." In addition to beekeeping, he owns two farms, and even when crop analysts recommend spraying pesticides on his crops to kill an aphid population, for example, he knows that "if I spray, I'm going to kill all the beneficial insects." But most farmers, lacking Hackenberg's awareness of bee populations, follow the advice of the crop adviser -- who, these days, is likely to be paid by the chemical industry, rather than by a state university or another independent entity.

Beekeepers have already teamed up with groups representing the almond and blueberry industries -- both of which depend on honey bee pollination -- to tackle the need for education among farmers. "A lot of [farm groups] are recognizing that we need more resources devoted to pollinator protection," Ellis said. "We need that same level of commitment on a national basis, from our USDA and EPA and the agricultural chemical industry."

Unfortunately, it was the EPA itself that green-lit clothianidin and other neonics for commercial use, despite its own scientists' clear warnings about the chemicals' effects on bees and other pollinators. That doesn't bode well for the chances of getting neonics off the market now, even in light of the Purdue study's findings.

"The agency has, in most cases, sided with pesticide manufacturers and worked to fast-track the approval of new products, and failed in cases when there's clear evidence of harm to take those products off the market," Towers said.

Since this is an election year -- a time when no one wants to make Big Ag (and its money) mad -- beekeepers may have to suffer another season of losses before there's any hope of action on the EPA's part. But when one out of every three bites of food on Americans' plates results directly from honey bee pollination, there's no question that the fate of these insects will determine our own as eaters.

Ellis, for his part, thinks that figuring out a way to solve the bee crisis could be a catalyst for larger reform within our agriculture system. "If we can protect that pollinator base, it's going to have ripple effects ... for wildlife, for human health," he said. "It will bring up subjects that need to be looked at, of groundwater and surface water -- all the connected subjects associated [with] chemical use and agriculture."

Related Links:

More tips for avoiding packaged foods

Africa’s first green, locavore, gluten-free beer

Lexicon of Sustainability: Biodiversity vs. monoculture



Categories: Conservation

Saqueadores de tesoros: Ahora van por el agua

Ecoportal - Fri, 01/13/2012 - 17:29

Lo expuesto aqui es sólo parte de la sistemática destrucción del medio ambiente que ocasionan las "potencias" que deberían cuidarlo. Pero no sólo destruyen ecosistemas ajenos... son tan brillantes... que arruinan también los propios. ¿quizás pretendan mudarse de planeta una vez que acaben con éste?... y hay gente que teme que seres extraterrestres aniquilen el planeta... hasta donde yo sé... los Estados Unidos de Norteamérica están dentro del globo terráqueo.

Kicked to the curb: What my kid (and YouTube) taught me about garbage

Grist - Fri, 01/13/2012 - 17:07

by Thomas Hayden.

This story is cross-posted from The Last Word on Nothing.

I live in a bubble. It's called San Francisco, and it is a magical place where everyone recycles, no one smokes, and Nancy Pelosi is considered distressingly conservative. Worse, I teach environmental sustainability at Stanford, where I'm surrounded by bicycle riding, reusable-mug toting, enthusiastically composting colleagues and students. I come from the outside world, so I know my current behavioral baseline is a little skewed. But still, I was recently reminded that some Americans continue to use incandescent light bulbs, and I was genuinely surprised.

A far bigger shock came unbidden, as they usually do, from the internet. Every perversion ever known is freely displayed online, of course. But I never really understood how bad America's garbage problem is until I found a trove of wildly explicit videos documenting it on YouTube.

At home, "garbage truck!" was among my son's first phrases, followed closely by words such as "recycling!" and "compost!" The kid loves everything to do with tossing items into cans, wheeling them to the curb, and, best of all, waiting for the awesome machines that come once a week to grab and hydraulically dump! dump! dump! the carefully sorted stuff into their hungry mechanical maws.

In between garbage days, we sometimes watch garbage truck videos on YouTube. (Not every day, and with full parental participation -- c'mon bubble people, a *little* screen time isn't going to hurt him.)

If you don't have young children, you might not be aware that the garbage truck video is a robust genre. Home-shot compilations with titles like "Garbage Trucks Part II" and "Types of 'Garbage Truck'" amass millions of views, mostly, presumably, by delighted youngsters. They see everything from traditional rear-loaders, to automated side- and front-loaders, to the exotic knuckle boom trucks that look like those arcade games where you try to grab a stuffed doll by the head with a set of metal claws.

And here's what else the kids see: that every last manifestation of the American dream of disposable consumption can be hauled to the curb and disappeared into the crushing jaws of a garbage truck.

Some households astound by sheer volume -- eight, 10, or 12 black garbage bags per pickup elicit nary a comment nor complaint from the municipal workers in their fluorescent green safety vests. But it's the exotic items that really surprise. Is the home basketball hoop a little banged up? Toss it in! Have a five-piece living room set that clashes with the new drapes? Grind it up! An unwanted toilet? In it goes!

In one particularly heartbreaking YouTube moment, senseless violence is committed against what appears to be an entire toddler-hood worth of playthings. I usually enjoy the garbage videos almost as much as my son does, but seeing two perfectly good toy cars -- the Flintstonesque foot-powered ones kids ride in -- pitched into a formidable McNeilus front-end loader is too much. It's like watching a snuff film about toys. I paid $20 for a car much like these on Craigslist last year, and would happily have offered $35 for the pair. But I'm just one guy, darn it, I can't save them all.

Doing something decent with your castoffs has never been easier. Recycling databases at websites like earth911.com and 1800recycling.com make it simple to find local recyclers for even the most exotic goods. Building material salvagers are on the rise; Craigslist and Freecycle make it a snap to sell or donate just about anything that can still be used. And of course, you can always just buy less crap.

Here in the bubble, recycling and composting are the law for households and businesses alike. My students go out of their way to build side tables out of old VHS cassettes, and kinetic pelican sculptures out of scavenged bleach bottles and PVC pipe, for gosh sakes. Overall, the daily generation of landfill-destined trash in the U.S. has declined modestly since a 2000 high of nearly 4.75 pounds per person.

But the ethnographic evidence of YouTube does not lie: Americans still throw out an absurd amount and variety of stuff, most of it sellable, salvageable, or recyclable. When it comes to waste management decisions, nothing is easier than the curb.

I'm no garbage wimp, by the way, effetely bemoaning the excesses of others. As a youngster, I spent a couple of summers intermittently driving a garbage truck in a small community in northern Saskatchewan. But here's the real heartbreak: My time behind the wheel of a rear-loader happened long before the advent of digital cameras, and no video was ever taken. If only I had three or four minutes of that sweet garbage action recorded, I swear I could give "Types of 'Garbage Truck' II" a run for its money."

Related Links:

Here’s what an hour’s worth of ocean trash looks like

Trashtivist: My garbage, in perspective

Trashtivist: Percy goes to the dump



Categories: Conservation

Coalition of 33 Civil Society and Socially Responsible Investment Leaders Call on Congress to Refrain from Introducing Legislation Amending FCPA

Global Witness - Fri, 01/13/2012 - 11:25
13th January 2012 WASHINGTON, DC – More than 30 civil society and business groups, including human rights and anticorruption organizations, sent a letter to every member of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate expressing their opposition to any efforts to amend the world’s flagship anticorruption legislation, the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Include in Homepage Featured Items feed:  off

Proposals to Amend Foreign Bribery Law Could Significantly Undermine Human Rights, Commerce, U.S. Standing in the World

WASHINGTON, DC – More than 30 civil society and business groups, including human rights and anticorruption organizations, sent a letter to every member of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate expressing their opposition to any efforts to amend the world’s flagship anticorruption legislation, the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

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More recognition needed for Blue Carbon’s role in curbing climate change

IUCN Global News - Fri, 01/13/2012 - 08:00

The critical role of coastal ecosystem management in curbing climate change and the need to fully integrate it in climate change and biodiversity policies were the focus of the “Blue Carbon – Managing coastal ecosystems for climate change mitigation” symposium that  took place in the European Parliament in Brussels yesterday.

Chamber of Commerce pushes civilization-ending pollution agenda

Grist - Fri, 01/13/2012 - 04:41

by Brad Johnson.

Cross-posted from ThinkProgress Green.

Thursday morning, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue argued that "free enterprise" requires a future of accelerated, unending global warming. Supporting expanded fracking, shale oil, and tar-sands development, including the Keystone XL pipeline, Donohue said that the United States should burn hundreds of billions of tons of fossil fuels for hundreds of years:

We have 1.4 trillion barrels of oil, enough to last at least 200 years. We have 2.7 quadrillion cubic feet of natural gas, enough to last 120 years. We have 486 billion tons of coal, enough to last more than 450 years -- and we need to use more of this strategic resource cleanly and wisely here at home while selling it around the world.

Burning that amount of fossil fuel would generate 444 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from the oil, 135 billion tons from the natural gas, and 1.3 trillion tons from the coal. To maintain a climate compatible with civilization, all of humanity needs to limit future greenhouse pollution to less than 650 billion tons [PDF].

Far from "keeping the American Dream alive for generation after generation," as Donohue claims, his promotion of catastrophic global warming would grant a diminished, deadly world to future generations.

Read Donohue's remarks promoting the destruction of civilization:

Let's start with a big one -- energy.

Our nation is on the cusp of an energy boom that is already creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, revitalizing entire communities, and reinvigorating American manufacturing.

Unconventional oil and natural gas development is on pace to create more than 300,000 jobs by 2015 in Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia alone. Take a look at what's happening in North Dakota. The state is booming. Unemployment is at 3.4 percent. Oil production just surpassed that of Ecuador -- one of the members of OPEC.

Energy is a game changer for the United States. It is, as the saying goes, "the next big thing." With the right policies, the oil and natural gas industry could create more than 1 million jobs by 2018. Not only can we create jobs, but we can cut our dependence on overseas imports while adding hundreds of billions of dollars to government coffers in the coming years.

Recent discoveries have confirmed that this nation is truly blessed with energy resources. We have 1.4 trillion barrels of oil, enough to last at least 200 years. We have 2.7 quadrillion cubic feet of natural gas, enough to last 120 years. We have 486 billion tons of coal, enough to last more than 450 years -- and we need to use more of this strategic resource cleanly and wisely here at home while selling it around the world.

To tap our energy resources, we must speed up permitting and end many of the restrictions that have put key areas off-limits. Instead of handpicking a few technologies, we must harness all our resources, traditional and alternative -- while expanding nuclear power and driving greater efficiency.

Our biggest and most reliable foreign energy supplier is Canada. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would bring Canadian oil sands down to our Gulf Coast refineries and to other destinations along the way.

This project has passed every environmental test. There is no legitimate reason -- none at all -- to subject it to further delay. Labor unions and the business community alike are urging President Obama to act in the best interests of our national security and our workers and approve the pipeline. We can put 20,000 Americans to work right away and up to 250,000 over the life of the project.

Donohue also expressed disappointment with Republican attacks on Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital, calling them “foolish” and “not doing anything other than setting up the ad base for their opponents.”

Related Links:

Watch: David Roberts on ‘Up with Chris Hayes’

Climate primer: Global warming made scintillating

Don’t believe the hype about the ‘molecule that could solve climate change’



Categories: Conservation

Farmers Ease Climate Woes With Fertiliser Trees

CBD News Headlines - Fri, 01/13/2012 - 03:00
Lilongwe - Smallholder farmers struggling with climate change in this southeast African nation are turning to trees to help their crops grow.

Warm climate helps lizards scale new heights of intelligence

CBD News Headlines - Fri, 01/13/2012 - 03:00
GLOBAL warming may not be all doom and gloom - at least not for lizards.When lizard eggs are incubated at higher temperatures, smarter lizards are hatched from them, a report in the journal Biology Letters says.

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