Posts Tagged ‘news’


Green issues are sometimes complex.  We need to recycle many things, like electronics, but we certainly don’t want to poison others in the process.  Efforts to protect the environment and conserve valuable resources must be coupled with proper health and safety procedures.  Unfortunately, just saying this doesn’t make it happen.  Developing countries are becoming a dumping ground for much toxic waste and proper environmental health and safety is being ignored, both by local opportunists and suppliers of e-Waste from developed nations.  From Greenpeace:

This shocking documentary from Greenpeace shows how “second hand goods” exported to Ghana for reuse are actually causing horrendous pollution. “People in the developed countries bring them here to bridge the digital gap but in actual fact they are creating a digital dump.”

Ghana — The latest place where we have discovered high tech toxic trash causing horrendous pollution is in Ghana. Our analysis of samples taken from two electronic waste (e-waste) scrap yards in Ghana has revealed severe contamination with hazardous chemicals.

Similar problems occur in China and, surprisingly, even in developed countries.  See related information about toxic waste dumps all over the world here.

However, you can also read good news about environmental protection in Europe and the effect it is having on US companies.

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Original text copyright © 2008 James K. Bashkin

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Nigel Hunt of Reuters reports that

Corn prices rose to record highs on Monday and looked set to climb further as torrential rains threatened to reduce further U.S. crop prospects in a market already facing tight supplies and surging demand.

Strong demand for corn from U.S. biofuel producers has contributed to supply tightness in the corn market. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has forecast about a third of this year’s crop will be consumed by the biofuel sector.

“I am still very bullish. I think $7, $8, $9 corn is well within reach,” said Commerzbank analyst Edward Hands.

Unfortunately, the combination of a foolish corn ethanol program with rising gas prices and rising transportation costs are all conspiring to drive up the price of food. With the additional effects of the recent heavy storms and rain in the Midwest, including flooding in some areas and frequent tornadoes, corn prices are skyrocketing. One simple action that should be taken immediately is to halt all corn ethanol subsidies and programs, so that food and fuel are no longer in competition with each other.

Original text copyrighted © 2008 James K. Bashkin

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Addendum. Devastated US corn crop sends ethanol producer shares into freefall.” The Associated Press reported the following financial news:

The values of ethanol producers hemorrhaged Thursday as the price of their key feedstock, corn, climbed to record levels because U.S. floods have devasted this year’s crop.

“In the last 10 days the world has changed in the corn market with massive flooding causing irreparable damage to this year’s crop and pushing corn prices up $1 over this time frame,” Citi Investment Research analyst David C. Driscoll wrote in a client note.

“As a result of this unprecedented weather event which has happened only twice in the last 25 years, ethanol margins have plummeted over the same ten day time span with small and mid size ethanol producers now running at substantial losses against cash costs.”

He expects such small and mid-sized producers to halt operations.

Unfortunately, these financial and farming problems will increase food prices in the near term, but they may help lower food prices in future growing seasons, as long as the corn ethanol producers stay shut down. Repeal of the tax credits for corn ethanol would help keep corn ethanol from once again driving food prices up.

Original text copyrighted © 2008 James K. Bashkin

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This interesting article from Popular Mechanics examines one possible route the auto industry could take in developing greener transportation options.

Mike Allen’s article says, “With few exceptions, these PHEV engineers and product planners seem to insist on one thing: The prime mover, the onboard engine (or fuel cell, or whatever), has to be powerful enough to move the car whether the batteries are charged or not. That means an engine—gasoline, diesel or E85—of 100 hp or more. That’s not only enough oomph to get to work, but enough power to really drive, chirping the tires at traffic lights, zooming onto freeway entrances and passing lollygaggers on two-lane country roads.

You know what? I think it’s time we re-examined that paradigm.”

Good thought, Mike!  I heartily approve of the sentiment.

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Original text © James K. Bashkin, 2008

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By Bruce Nichols SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Reuters) – “Satellite data show that changes in the sun are contributing to global warming but to a smaller extent than human activity, a space scientist at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington told a group of petroleum geologists…”

This is the third major study in the past year or so negating the “solar activity” claim of climate-change skeptics- the claim suggests that solar activity rather than human activity is responsible for modern global warming. See discussion of another report that show no major effects of solar activity on modern global warming (at this link).

“Climate-change skeptics have suggested that solar cycles may be more responsible than human activity for increasing global temperature. But (scientist Judith) Lean said her findings showed ‘the sun is a factor of 10 less than the anthropogenic.'” In other words, people (and human activity) are responsible for the vast majority of modern climate change according to this study.

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original text © James K. Bashkin, 2008

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Driven by the Energy Star 5.0 requirements as set down by the EPA, in consultation with the industry and PC Magazine, Corsair has reached the 80 PLUS standard with a new series of PC power supplies.

80 PLUS specifies at least 80 efficiency all the way from low (20%) load to high (100%) load.

This is a major improvement and a most welcome one- many power supplies (or PSUs) are near 70% or less efficient, so they generate more heat and waste more electricity (the more efficient power supplies generate less heat and keep more of the energy in the form of electricity that is used by the computer).

With all of the advances in Europe regarding clean and efficient technology, it is nice to see the US EPA making tougher requirements and driving the industry! EnergyStar 5.0 will require 85% efficiency!

I happen to have the HX620W, one of the qualifying 80 PLUS PSUs, in the desktop machine I’m working on now, and I chose it after searching the web for PSU efficiency ratings.

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© James K. Bashkin, 2008

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Michael Rose reports via BusinessWire (London) and http://www.greatcarstv.com/news/: “Plug in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are set to bust out of their niche role and become mainstream. Experts believe the global market for PHEVs is poised for expansion, with major vehicle manufacturers pronouncing plans for their production. As issues related to the cost and safety of lithium ion batteries, used in PHEVs, are resolved there are simultaneous efforts underway to boost production volumes and achieve related decrease in costs.”

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This is a good overview of the solar industry by Michelle Bennett of CleanTechnica.com. The article discusses Nanosolar‘s thin solar cell technology, traditional polysilicon photovoltaics, AVASolar’s CdTe thin film technology, problems with ramping up production of new (and old) PV technology, and alternative clean energy techniques, including solar heating. The article doesn’t mention First Solar, who are in production with thin film, non-silicon based photovoltaics that are, I believe, also based on CdTe (I learned about First Solar from Steve B.). However, it is a nice summary of the solar panel, photovoltaic (or PV) industry. Ms. Bennett mentions that Nanosolar has beaten the $1/Watt goal according to the US Department of Energy (DOE), so their solar panels are officially generating electricity cheaper than coal.

The story does omit mention of the terrible environmental problems in China due to polycrystalline silicon production.

In Ms. Bennett’s article, the point is made that with oil falling out of favor, a potential opportunity for coal exists to compete with solar, etc. Luckily, as I’ve blogged about, some investment banks are refusing to fund coal-fired electricity plants. We need to make sure that our government plays its part in keeping coal from expanding (which is a realistic goal after the current administration is swept out). Coal plant emissions have already been ruled illegal in the US.* A great example is being set by Germany, for example, where solar and wind power are being pursued aggressively. Spain is also very active in solar power, and England is pursuing wind power with vigor.

Thanks to cmanders53 for DIGGing this article, which is how I came across it.

*On Friday, a US federal appeals court in Washington ruled that a policy by the Bush administration that exempted coal- and oil-fired power plants from regulations on emissions of mercury and other hazardous substances “was unlawful”. See the link above for more by Sam Carana on illegal coal emissions.

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© James K. Bashkin, 2008

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Earth Hour was reported by much of the press, and Associated Press writer CARYN ROUSSEAU published

Cities switch off lights for Earth Hour

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 Ireland, 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 Dublin‘s financial district blazed away with light, illuminating floor after empty floor of desks and idling computers.

… much of Europe — including France, Germany, Spain 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.

The wrap-up from Earth Hour US can be found here.

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 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.

From NPR:

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.

From the Los Angeles Times:

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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Note:  please see also my Feb 24 post, which clarifies this article a bit more.

“Years of unchecked pollution in France’s Rhone River have taken their toll with the recent discovery of PCB levels 10-12 times the safe limit in the river’s fish.” The World Wildlife fund has called this the “French Chernobyl”. Please read the comments for important clarification.

Given the recent comment about French responses to power and energy needs (with nuclear power) by a reader on this site, and my sense that French policy has been carried out without regard for the environment in some cases, I thought I would add this to the picture of an industrial situation that is seriously dangerous in France. Industrial chemicals used in generators and other electrical equipment have been leaking toxic PCB chemicals into the Rhone river for a long time. The fish are unsafe to eat.

We have plenty of problems with the environment in the USA, resulting from our own companies and from government choices (or abdication of responsibility). I am simply not in favor of energy policies that make environmental problems worse, which is why I do not see nuclear power as a viable answer to our energy needs.

The first version of my blog entry on this story had some inaccuracies, for which I apologize.

© James K. Bashkin, 2008

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Clarification from my response to the comment by rengler:

As I mentioned, the term “French Cherbonyl” came from the WWF, and I was merely reporting this.

My point in the first place was to respond with more information to a previous comment by a reader, where a laundry list of countries that handle energy in supposedly better ways than we do in the US was presented. One example was how the French use nuclear power. I objected that these countries are often ruining their own environments with these approaches. I also mentioned that the French have to use the army to force construction of nuclear plants and transportation of waste through their own country.

The article cited in this post was meant to be an example of how French environmental policy is not necessarily something to hold up as a shining example, while at the same time trying to point out that this can be said for US practices and policies (which aren’t necessarily in agreement, as my reports of the need to sue the Federal government to obey Federal law and Federal court rulings indicate, for example in the case of pesticide use affecting Northwest salmon).

The use of PCBs is not linked to nuclear power, as you state: it is linked in a nonessential way to a wide range of cooling and insulating applications in electrical transformers, capacitors and other industrial electrical equipment, as you well know. People who want to read more on the subject can look at this summary sheet: http://www.fisherenvironmental.com/faq_pcb.html

I certainly agree that the term “French Chernobyl” is hyperbole, for the reasons you state. This in itself underscores the insidious dangers of nuclear power, dangers which can’t be equaled by even the worst industrial disasters from other industries.

…Thanks for helping to clarify things so effectively.

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