Archive for March, 2008
Earth Hour was reported by much of the press, and Associated Press writer CARYN ROUSSEAU published
which gave summary of world-wide activity and information from the parent Earth Hour organization. You can read the original story at the above link for details, but here are a few highlights and lowlights from Rousseau’s article:
…. In, where environmentalists are part of the coalition government, lights-out orders went out for scores of government buildings, bridges and monuments in more than a dozen cities and towns.
But the international banks and brokerages of‘s financial district blazed away with light, illuminating floor after empty floor of desks and idling computers.
… much of Europe — including France, Germany,and European Union institutions — planned nothing to mark Earth Hour. …
Given Germany’s strong stand on clean power implementation, I think that is one place that already has the message, loud and clear. For example, the German city of Marburg has made solar energy systems mandatory on new buildings, and Germany and Spain have collaborated on huge solar panel-based power plants.
I think that the event was great for raising awareness and building a sense of community across international borders and locally.
In addition the the great support found in many quarters, there are a lot of cynical comments to be found on the web about Earth Hour. I’ll say this about cynicism- it is just talk, and never achieves anything.
© James K. Bashkin, 2008
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THE HOUR IS NEAR!
This information came to me by email because I signed up and committed to Earth Hour 2008, which is fast approaching. Since the message emphasizes getting the word out, and since it is written so well, I’ve reproduced a portion of it here. The full message can be found at the Earth Hour newsletter. Earth Hour is an important symbolic and real act of conservation and activism, a demonstration of awareness, a statement of how important the issues of sustainability, energy conservation and energy use are to each of us, and more. Go to the Earth Hour website for information about how entire cities and organizations are participating, worldwide, and how you can join in. The environment is our home, let’s keep working on cleaning it up and protecting it for the future. From the earthhourUS.org newsletter of March 27 (the content in the following indented quote is © Earth Hour):
This is the weekend to take a stand. Earth Hour – this Saturday, March 29 from 8-9 pm local time. You’ll be joining millions of people across the U.S. and around the globe in a monumental call for action on climate change. Here’s a last-minute checklist to help you make the most of the hour:
· Go compact — Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), that is. Come out of Earth Hour with better lighting than before. Changing to energy-efficient lighting is just one step, but it’s a part of Earth Hour we all can do. Identify the bulbs you can replace, then hit the hardware store and stock up. And watch for special free and discounted bulbs in many communities across America.
· Prepare to party — Whether you’re hosting a planet-friendly get-together by lamplight, camping out with the kids or just enjoying some unpowered screen-free “you” time, make sure you’ve got all the supplies you need ready at hand. It’s not too late to invite a few more friends.
· Buzz in the dark — You can often hear electric light bulbs buzzing. This weekend, the big buzz comes when we all turn them off. Tell your friends. The more people know about Earth Hour, the bigger an impact we’ll each make. E-mail your friends, link to Earth Hour on your blog, pass out flyers and stickers or just ask your neighbors, “What are you doing Saturday at 8?”
· Think long-term — Turning out the lights for one hour is a great start, but what will you be doing after March 29? As Saturday approaches, make a plan to go green after Earth Hour. Recycle more, drive less, talk to your elected leaders—whatever you do, make Earth Hour the beginning of a new, greener you!
This is another day to do something for the environment (as is every day!). I hope you will be able to join us and participate in this historic event.
James K. Bashkin
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The world-wide Earth Hour movement takes place on March 29, 8-9 pm local time: turn off your lights for one hour to make a statement about the power of conservation and activism to help the environment.
With all the news recently surrounding the company Tata International and its Tara Nano, the world’s cheapest car, it is a bit shocking to see an even cheaper car coming out so soon, but the Tiny is coming. What’s even more surprising is that the Tara vehicles will be all electric and focused on environmental responsibility. The Tara Tiny may show up on the streets of India in June. Manufacturing will be done in partnership with a company from China. It is great to see more good news on the environmental front, with green thinking and sustainability in the driver’s seat!
Since the main story link is sometimes broken, here is an alternative link about the Tara Tiny and here is one more alternative link. However, the main link goes to gas2.org, which has an excellent story.
Based on a DIGG submission from Benjamin Jones (Gas 2.0).
Note added later: I also want to bring your attention to my republication of this on Gather.com, which ended up provoking some rather contentious discussion and had some very useful links and other information added by Sam Carana in the comments.
Just to be clear, there are small gas-powered cars called Tata Nano, and this article refers to them as well as to the Tara Tiny, which is an extremely small electric car that costs about $2500 US. Tata International is behind the design and production of these small cars. The electric car technology used is not new (by a long shot), but the important point, or one of them, is that the technology is actually being used, and used on what we can expect to be a large production scale. This contrasts with the US, where the fanciest new electric car technologies are available, but production seems limited to boutique manufacturers (not necessarily expensive, but not capable of production that will change the face of transportation in the US).
The EPA should be contributing to public health, sustainability, education on complex environmental concerns, and related issues. I know that its members work hard to do so, but they are often thwarted by management. Bob Grant of The Scientist.com wrote about criticism from Congress over the EPA shutting down or limiting access to important libraries (note, free registration may be necessary to view this and other articles linked to below below that are found on The Scientist.com) .
The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) closure of several of its research libraries is flawed, unjustified and is depriving academics, government employees, and the public of crucial environmental data, according to a Congressional report released yesterday (Mar. 13).
Of the EPA’s 26 libraries, six libraries have changed their hours of operation, and four others have been shut since 2006. These include its Office of Environmental Information headquarters library and the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics Chemical library, both in Washington, DC.
The report, issued by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO),…
Since I know EPA staff and scientists who are dedicated to making information available to researchers, State and Local governments, and the public, I can only speculate that these unfortunate plans must come from a combination of EPA’s politically-appointed “leadership” and budget cuts imposed by the will of the Bush White House.
In what may be a closely related story, Christopher Lee of the Washington Post reported that:
Unions at the Environmental Protection Agency have pulled out of a long-standing partnership with management, saying Administrator Stephen L. Johnson has failed to deal in good faith on issues such as scientific integrity and job evaluations.
In a Feb. 29 letter to Johnson, 19 union leaders, who represent 10,000 EPA employees, complained that he and other top managers have ignored the advice of unionized workers and the agency’s own principles of scientific integrity. They cited issues that include fluoride drinking-water standards, a California bid to limit greenhouse gases, and mercury emissions from power plants.
It is important to note what Mr. Lee reports about the scientific integrity agreements between EPA management and employees:
The agency’s scientific-integrity principles, jointly developed by unions and managers during the Clinton administration, call for employees to ensure that their scientific work is of the highest integrity, and to represent it fairly, acknowledge the intellectual contributions of others and avoid financial conflicts.
We see yet more examples of how the Bush White House has weakened the EPA in times of great environmental turmoil, when data and public understanding of data are critically important. At a time when the US needs public trust in the EPA, the actions of political appointees involved with environmental decision-making continue to erode that trust. Specific examples include denial of the requested changes to California automotive CO2 emissions standards, registration of toxic and highly carcinogenic methyl iodide as a fumigant, refusal of the Federal government to obey court orders to uphold the Endangered Species Act and related denial of scientific data that was later overturned by the courts.
The chief of the Environmental Protection Agency has authority to set the air quality standards to protect public health and the environment. But the White House is now interfering with new efforts by EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.
Ignoring scientists is nothing new for Bush, but in this case he also ignored the U.S. Supreme Court. The EPA wanted to include a tougher secondary standard during growing seasons, designed to protect forests, crops and other plants from ozone, which retards plant growth and depletes soil moisture. Alarmed at the costs this would exact on polluters, the White House Office of Management and Budget sent a letter to EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson saying the EPA couldn’t impose such limits without considering their economic effect. This is flatly untrue; a unanimous decision by the Supreme Court in 2001 held that the EPA did not have to consider the costs of its clean-air regulations, only their scientific basis. When the EPA still refused to back down, the White House sent a curt letter saying the agency had been overruled by the president: The secondary standard was out.
© James K. Bashkin, 2008
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China is suffering from many environmental disasters in its rush to industrialize, but some of its environmental problems are being addressed. Which is leading the race, industrialization or the environment? I provide some examples that contrast environmental practices in China and fully-industrialized nations, including a recent revelation from The Washington Post about the Chinese industrial plants that supply “polysilicon” for solar panels.
I once worked with industry insiders who had visited a Chinese chemical plant. They told a frightening story in which the chemical plant manager acted essentially like a Warlord and clearly made things dangerous for local villagers, especially those who might protest toxic waste dumping or other questionable activities by the plant. It was related to me that jail, or worse, might be the consequence of any protests, and the visit was, in many ways, a disturbing experience for these Western scientists and engineers.
More recent stories in the press, including some discussed on this blog, have continued to add to concerns about China’s environmental practices, even though there are signs that, at least in some cases, official or corporate protection of the environment is improving in China. However, I was also told during a recent interview with noted Chinese author Qiu Xiaolong that some restaurants in China are now claiming to soak live fish and sea food in “clean water” for several days to wash out toxic chemicals. This is not a technique that I would expect to be very successful. In fact, the title of this article is a reference to the powerful novel about Chinese corruption written by Qiu Xiaolong, When Red is Black.
Now there are revelations from reporter Ariana Eunjung Cha and the Washington Post, published March 9th, 2008: found here or at Solar Energy Firms Leave Waste Behind in China (one or both of these links should work). From Ms. Cha, we learn about the Chinese response to the world’s hunger for polysilicon, or polycrystalline silicon, a material used to make most current solar panels* and whose price has risen more than 10-fold in the past five years. The rush to meet market demands has led to many new polysilicon plants being built in China. One such plant, which belongs to Luoyang Zhonggui High-Technology Co. and is “located in the central plains of Henan Province near the Yellow River,” is a focus of the Washington Post article.
The result of all these new polysilicon plants in China, in addition to supplying the growing worldwide need for solar panels, is a set of serious environmental problems, mainly for poor Chinese villagers who populate the rural areas where Chinese chemical plants spring up. These (and other Chinese chemical plants) plants are typically located outside normal tourist routes, and operate outside the law, or outside the stated laws and policies of the Chinese National Government. In fact, in true Warlord fashion, chemical plant managers are often synonymous with local law.
The specific problem with polysilicon manufacture is the byproduct SiCl4 (silicon tetrachloride) which can be recycled and processed safely, as is done by “developed nations.” Silicon tetrachloride is both used and generated in the process of refining silicon to high purity. When simply dumped in the countryside, silicon tetrachloride releases highly-toxic, corrosive hydrochloric acid, and generates a fine powder containing silicon dioxide, the same material that sand is composed of, though the fine nature of the powder allows in to be inhaled or ingested. From the Washington Post article:
“The land where you dump or bury (silicon tetrachloride) will be infertile. No grass or trees will grow in the place. . . . It is like dynamite — it is poisonous, it is polluting. Human beings can never touch it,” said Ren Bingyan, a professor at the School of Material Sciences at Hebei Industrial University.
Because of the environmental hazard, polysilicon companies in the developed world recycle the (silicon tetrachloride), putting it back into the production process. But the high investment costs and time, not to mention the enormous energy consumption required for heating the substance to more than 1800 degrees Fahrenheit for the recycling, have discouraged many factories in China from doing the same.
An independent, nationally accredited laboratory analyzed a sample of dirt from the dump site near the Luoyang Zhonggui plant at the request of The Washington Post. The tests show high concentrations of chlorine and hydrochloric acid, which can result from the breakdown of silicon tetrachloride and do not exist naturally in soil. “Crops cannot grow on this, and it is not suitable for people to live nearby,” said Li Xiaoping, deputy director of the Shanghai Academy of Environmental Sciences.””
Even though initial capital cost of silicon tetrachloride recycling facilities is high the operating costs are also high, I believe that it would be wrong to think that funds aren’t available in China to implement this waste processing technology, it is simply a question of priorities (and greed). In fact, some Chinese are becoming extraordinarily wealthy from polysilicon companies, and the company focused on by the Post‘s article, Louyang Zhonggui, as reported by Ms. Cha,
“is a key supplier to Suntech Power Holdings, a solar panel company whose founder Shi Zhengrong recently topped the list of the richest people in China.”
Nevertheless, the arrogance displayed by Luoyang Zhonggui officials is unfortunately all too familiar to those who follow civil rights or environmentalism in China, or who follow the continuing struggle to introduce tighter environmental controls to the United States over the past 50 years:
“Wang Hailong, secretary of the board of directors for Luoyang Zhonggui, said it is “impossible” to think that the company would dump large amounts of waste into a residential area. “Some of the villagers did not tell the truth,” he said.”
Apparently even the impossible is commonplace in China. Ms. Cha and the Washington Post are to be congratulated for their investigative field work. In fact, the situation is simply terrible:
“Each night, villagers said, the factory’s chimneys released a loud whoosh of acrid air that stung their eyes and made it hard to breath. “It’s poison air. Sometimes it gets so bad you can’t sit outside. You have to close all the doors and windows,” said Qiao Shi Peng, 28, a truck driver who said he worries about his 1-year-old son’s health.
The villagers said most obvious evidence of the pollution is the dumping, up to 10 times a day, of the liquid waste into what was formerly a grassy field. Eventually, the whole area turned white, like snow.”
As I hope I’ve made clear, the disregard for human safety and environmental health exhibited by Luoyang Zhonggui and numerous other Chinese companies is not unique to China. In the US, we’ve seen this attitude from many sources over the years, including mining companies and various energy and chemical producers (please ask if you would like examples, or read my back pages). In Europe, similar problems also are well documented. However, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the European Union, and growing public awareness (dating back to publication of Rachel Carson‘s Silent Spring) have eliminated, remediated and prevented many environmental problems (even if there are still areas that badly need intervention or need the government to enforce its own laws and regulations).
So, should China be allowed to poison its own people and land just the way other countries did during the rise of industrialism? Of course, outsiders have little influence on internal Chinese policies, even with the so-called pressure of the Olympic Games facing China now. However, that doesn’t mean we should ignore the problems. While developed nations still have a great deal of work to do at home, and must remain vigilant in protecting the environment, it is a tragedy for the Chinese people that their country is unwilling to learn much from the industrial history of more-industrialized nations.
In the meantime, there is new solar panel technology that doesn’t require polysilicon, for example “solar paint” developed by Nanosolar and “solar ink” recently described by Konarka. Nanosolar’s solar technology is reportedly more efficient than coal at generating electricity. We can hope that this new technology will continue to make inroads into the marketplace and will drive the construction of greener manufacturing facilities. Given the growing demand for green electricity from solar power, such advances can’t come soon enough.
James K. Bashkin © 2008
*Related links: Lifecycle Assessment of Crystalline Photovoltaics by Niels Jungbluth (note this links to a PDF!); for more background on polysilicon fabrication and related processes, see The Handbook of Silicon Semiconductor Technology, W. C. O’Mara, R. B. Herring, L. P Hunt eds., Pub.: William Andrew, Inc. (Noyes Data Corporation/Noyes Publications), 1990, 795pp, Chapter 2, “Polysilicon Preparation” by L. C. Rogers, p 33ff. Also see Wacker Polysilicon, the History of the Future, available as a 13-page PDF or as a (less readable) web page.
A slightly different version of this article was published earlier today (3/11/08) by the author under a nonexclusive license at BlogCritics Magazine: When Light is Dark: Waste from Key Solar Cell Ingredient Damages Chinese Environment. I am grateful to their editors for help.
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Energy conservation is on nearly everyone’s mind these days, and people are looking for ways to make a statement about their commitment to the environment. With just three weeks left until Earth Hour 08, 8-9 pm on March 29, a wide array of companies, cities and other organizations from around the world have signed on to participate by turning off their lights for one hour. This worldwide event, which grew out of a local event in Sydney Australia last year, is sponsored by WWF, the World Wildlife Fund.
Sponsoring companies include:
- Hewlett-Packard (official Earth Hour technology partner)
- National Geographic Channel (official U.S. media partner)
Participating US cities include:
- Atlanta, Georgia
- Phoenix, Arizona
- Chicago, Illinois
- San Francisco, California
- Charlotte, North Carolina
- Northbrook, Illinois
- Denver, Colorado
To find out more, go to the Earth Hour web site and sign up. Sign up, participate and organize to help raise awareness of energy-related environmental issues.