Saturday, May 30, 2009

17 Arrested in West Virginia Protesting Mountaintop Mining

Protesters left a banner on top of 7 billion gallons of toxic waste and were fined for littering. The irony of this is over the top.

We think nothing of flipping a switch to light our homes, to turn on a computer, or a TV, or keep food in a refrigerator. We pay our electrical bill and think nothing of it. These people are paying for our convenience with more than money.

They live downstream from a dam holding back billions of gallons of toxic sludge. The fear they live with day and night worrying when that dam will break must be overwhelming.

I wonder, if we were to trade places with these people and let them flip an electrical switch for the sake of convenience, what they would think of us protesting against what coal companies are doing to our surroundings, to our homes, to our sanity.

Remember, all their protests are falling on deaf ears at every level of government. Their representatives turn their backs on them and have them arrested for exercising their right to protest.

Protest photo by Chris Irwin, Margaret Killjoy

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Obama gives biofuels the big thumbs up

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President Obama
announced steps to further his Administration’s commitment to advance biofuels research and commercialization
a Biofuels Interagency Working Group, to be co-chaired by the Secretaries of Agriculture and Energy and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
This Working Group will work with the National Science and Technology Council's Biomass Research and Development Board in undertaking its work
Develop the nation’s first comprehensive biofuel market development program
The President also announced that $786.5 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will be provided to accelerate advanced biofuels research and development and expand commercialization by providing additional funding for commercial biorefineries
The new categories include:

  • Cellulosic biofuels;

  • Biomass-based diesel;

  • Advanced biofuels; and

  • Total renewable fuel.

  • blog it
    On the surface this may seem like a good idea, but the mandate to, by 2022, have up to 15 billion gallons of corn ethanol counted toward the 36 billion gallon biofuel production level will only worsen its effect on food production. We’re at 6-9 billion gallons of corn ethanol now and with all the havoc that has wreaked on agriculture worldwide, the concept of almost tripling that amount over the next 20-odd years is terrifying. What may yet save us is the fact that it will likely prove a simply impossible standard to meet.

    And the fact that the administration’s rationale for expanding the use of biofuels continues to be the misplaced desire “to reduce our dependence on foreign oil” is just ludicrous. Addressing climate change WILL reduce our dependence on foreign oil. But simply reducing dependence on foreign oil won’t save the planet—only zeroing out our carbon emissions will do that. So energy policy in this country must be seen through that one, single lens.

    Hog Giant Smithfield Transforms Eastern Europe

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    Smithfield Foods.
    Almost unnoticed by the rest of the Continent, the agribusiness giant has moved into Eastern Europe with the force of a factory engine, assembling networks of farms, breeding pigs on the fast track, and slaughtering them for every bit of meat and muscle that can be squeezed into a sausage.
    The upheaval in the hog farm belts of Poland and Romania, the two largest E.U. members in Eastern Europe, ranks among the Continent’s biggest agricultural transformations.
    Smithfield’s global approach is clear
    Smithfield enlisted politicians in Poland and Romania, tapped into hefty European Union farm subsidies and fended off local opposition groups to create a conglomerate of feed mills, slaughterhouses and climate-controlled barns housing thousands of hogs
    It moved with such speed that sometimes it failed to secure environmental permits or inform the authorities about pig deaths
    blog it
    The Virginia-based pork giant has squashed small-scale hog farming in Romania and Poland, just as it did in the United States in the 1990s.

    Smithfield says pork prices dropped by about one-fifth, saving consumers about $29 per year. While this is good news for us, farmers are run out of business forced to seek employment elsewhere and the new Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are creating vast open disease ridden cesspools. Unbearable stenches, and wrecked communities.

    They used high-level cronyism to move through the maze of the Romanian political system.

    This is a prime example of the poisonous downside of corporate globalization.

    Cheaper More Efficient Solar Tech

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    The next frontier in traditional solar panels is concentrators - devices, usually lenses, that concentrate solar power onto the most expensive part of a solar panel - the silicon. Skyline Solar's "solar trough" design concentrates sunlight without using expensive lenses or complicated robotic armatures for tracking the sun as it crosses the sky.
    The entire system is built from commodity parts in an effort to make it cheap and scalable – the ultimate goal being 'grid parity,' or a system that is competitive with fossil fuels as a means of generating electricity. That's why the Department of Energy gave Skyline a $3 million grant as part of its Solar Energy Technologies Program. (Investors have plunked down another $25 million.)
    blog it
    Next evolutionary step in solar panels. Anything that increases efficiency and lowers costs is alright in my book.

    These things will be everywhere within the next couple of years.

    Microbe-powered ‘fart’ machine stores energy

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    It sounds like a gag gift instead of serious science, but a new electrical farting machine could improve fuel cell technology by turning C02 in the atmosphere into methane.

    The technique won't combat global warming directly, since both CO2 and methane are potent greenhouse gases, but it could help store alternative energies such as wind and solar more efficiently.

    It works like this: giving small jolts of electricity to single-celled microorganisms known as archea prompts them to remove C02 from the air and turn it into methane, released as tiny "farts." The methane, in turn, can be used to power fuel cells or to store the electrical energy chemically until its needed.

    Archea are older, and more primitive, than bacteria, lacking a nucleus and other cellular machinery.

    methane-producing archea
    team up with termites to digest wood pulp. With other microorganisms, they help decompose organic matter.
     blog it
    A device that can both improve fuel cell technology and entertain 12-year-old boys. That's what I call the modern biathlon.

    All in all a very ingenious and creative way to use micro organisms for our benefit.