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Friday, June 27, 2008

California Will Offer Plan to Cut Harmful Emissions

California will introduce a detailed plan on Thursday to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels in 12 years by requiring more energy-efficient appliances and buildings, lowering vehicle emissions and generating 33 percent of its energy from renewable sources.

But the greatest source of reductions would come from capping emissions from utilities, industrial facilities and other businesses, while allowing them to use permits to emit authorized amounts of pollutants. The companies could buy and sell these permits with their counterparts in seven Western states and three Canadian provinces.

These are the broad details of the plan by state regulators to meet the goals of California’s groundbreaking 2006 law requiring reductions in carbon dioxide and other emissions that contribute to climate change.

Since the probable death of national climate-control legislation after a brief Senate debate this month, the California plan is the most comprehensive effort in the country to devise an economy-wide program to reduce heat-trapping gases.

The plan does not , however, offer details about some politically delicate questions, including the costs it will impose on various industries, among them automobile manufacturers and electric utilities, which together contribute 61 percent of these emissions.

Rather than assessing the costs that will be borne by industry, Mary D. Nichols, who heads the California Air Resources Board, said the agency’s “macroeconomic analysis” had shown that the state’s gross domestic product would increase by 1 percent when the plan was fully put into place.

The plan also assumes that the federal Environmental Protection Agency will reverse itself and allow the state to impose stringent emission standards on cars.

A final version of the plan, which makes a 28 percent cut in the 596 million tons of greenhouses gases the state would emit in 2020, is scheduled for adoption by California regulators by the end of the year.

The plan does not propose a formal mechanism for distributing the emissions permits, although it speaks favorably of an auction system.

In general, those companies that produce or use energy largely generated by burning coal have greater emissions and would need more emission allowances than competitors that use different energy sources.

Auctions tend to favor the low-emission companies, while free distribution favors those with substantial greenhouse gas emissions.

California utilities are divided among those that use little coal, like Pacific Gas and Electric in Northern California, and those heavily dependent on it, like the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and the coal-dependent municipal utilities have been strongly opposed to a plan that seemed likely to favor their investor-owned counterparts.

H. David Nahai, chief executive of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, said Wednesday: “What we’ve said is the considerable investments we’re making in reducing our greenhouse gas emission footprint should be allowed to continue. We should not be put in the position of having potentially hundreds of millions of dollars” diverted to pay for allowances in a cap-and-trade market.

“This document recognizes that and recognizes that utilities such as ours are doing the right thing by increasing their renewable energy investments.”

About 46 percent of his utility’s output is fueled by coal and 30 percent by natural gas; renewable sources now provide 8 percent of the energy, up from 3 percent when California’s climate-change law was passed two years ago.

Harness volcano power, energy experts say

Volcanoes and hot springs could supply up to 25 per cent of America's power needs, energy experts have said.

As fuel prices soar, Alaskan officials announced the exploration of the state's volcanoes, saying they could be exploited to provide energy for thousands of homes.

Harness volcano power, energy experts say
'High prices and climate change are definitely creating a renaissance in geothermal interest'

Companies are being invited to lease the rights to explore geothermal resources beneath Mount Spurr, a snowcapped 11,070-foot volcano that most recently erupted in 1992 showering much of Anchorage with volcanic ash.

The state Division of Oil and Gas hopes the lease sale, due to go ahead in August, will be the first of many. It is also considering allowing exploration of the 4,134-foot Augustine Volcano, 171 miles southwest of Anchorage.

The move echoes a trend underway across much of the US as fuel prices, worries about dependence on foreign oil and climate change trigger a surge in geothermal projects, particularly in the West and along the Gulf Coast.

According to experts, America is only just waking up to the ancient power source lying beneath dozens of states that has the potential to supply as much as 25 percent of the nation's energy needs.

"High prices and climate change are definitely creating a renaissance in geothermal interest, particularly on a state and local level," said Karl Gawell, executive director of the Geothermal Energy Association.

"There really is a tremendous amount going on right now."

  • US volcano may hold key to UK oil reserves
  • Geothermal probe sinks German city
  • Chaiten volcano forces evacuation of towns
  • As well as Alaska, geothermal projects, which are eligible for tax benefits, are underway in most Western states and across the Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida, he said.

    "It's only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what is possible," said Mr Gawell.

    "If we really want to go all out for it, we could easily achieve a substantial amount, 20, 25 per cent of US energy needs within a few decades. We're limited more by public policy than the resource - the resource is enormous."

    The Bureau of Land Management has just surveyed 11 western states and Alaska for "lands with high potential for renewable geothermal resources".


    The study showed around 200 million acres of public land with geothermal potential, Mr Gawell said.

    But he estimates 80 per cent of geothermal systems remain undiscovered as they have no tell-tale surface feature such as a hot spring. "We're still just finding the obvious stuff."

    Alaska, which is rich in oil and gas, sits on the Pacific Rim of Fire but despite "clear evidence of geothermal resources" the state had shelved its geothermal development "in the 1970s once they hit the major oil streaks", Mr Gawell said.

    "It's really only been rediscovered in the past couple of years in part because prices are up."

    The biggest challenge to harnessing underground power is working out how to access and tap heat buried deep under earth or rock.

    Interest has partly been spurred by the Alaska's successful geothermal venture at Chena Hot Springs, a resort near Fairbanks, which is completely powered by underground energy.

    Mr Gawell said that although mentioned this week by Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, during a speech about alternative energy policies in Nevada, geothermal power had yet to receive enough attention in the national energy debate.

    "The problem is it's only being produced in a handful of states. It's well known in those states but it's unknown in others," Mr Gawell said.

    Geothermal power is also enjoying a renaissance in Europe, home to the first geothermal steam power plant in Larderello, Italy, which began operating in 1904.

    The GEA estimates that the number of countries producing geothermal energy will more than double by 2010 to 46 countries.

    Original here

    NASA's Leading Climate Scientist Says Corrupt Politics is Covering Up the Truth About Global Warming


    Refinery_2 James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, is widely respected as one of the world's leading climate scientists. He says the public is being lied to and duped by special interest groups about the severity of the threat that global warming poses. He also claims that policy makers and big oil executives are sacrificing public interest to line their own pockets.

    "The problem is not political will, it's the alligator shoes - the lobbyists. It's the fact that money talks in Washington, and that democracy is not working the way it's intended to work," says Hansen.

    Hansen told US Congress earlier this week that CO2 is already almost certainly at unsafe levels, and the situation will only become more dangerous the longer we continue to largely ignore the problem. Currently, CO2 concentration is 385 parts per million and is rising by 2ppm a year.

    Hansen called on a moratorium for any new coal-fired power plants. He also advocated the creation of a huge grid of low-loss electric power lines buried under ground and spread across America. Such a move would give clean energy like wind and solar power a chance to compete with polluting energy like coal and oil. He believes that in order for this to happen it has to be made a national priority in the next presidency.

    "The new U.S. president would have to take the initiative analogous to Kennedy's decision to go to the moon."

    Hansen also caused a stir by calling on chief executives of large fossil fuel companies to be put on trial for “high crimes against humanity”. Hansen says their agenda to cause public confusion about very real and legitimate science is nothing less than criminal. He likens the current situation to how tobacco companies once intentionally blurred the links between smoking and cancer—even when they knew full well that the link was strong and credible.

    Hansen is no stranger to controversy. The Bush administration has attacked Hansen on several fronts, but the most frustrating attack is perhaps its outright attempt to silence scientific reports like the U.S. National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change. This multi-volume assessment, mandated by the Global Change Research Act of 1990, included a decade of thorough scientific study. Shortly after George W Bush became president, the White House barred government scientists from using its contents or even referring to it. In a severe “conflict of interest” move that has defined the Bush administration, oil industry lobbyist Philip Cooney was appointed chief of staff at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Cooney resigned from the CEQ when he was caught changing data and deleting scientific information from reports in 2005. Immediately after his resignation he was hired by ExxonMobil.

    Hansen says chief executive officers of companies such as ExxonMobil and Peabody Energy are fully aware of the disinformation about climate change they are intentionally spreading. It’s time, he says, for them to be held accountable for their propaganda. The oil lobby, driven by millions of dollars spent on sophisticated misinformation campaigns and organizations created solely to dissuade the public with anti-global warming rhetoric is endangering the public, he says.

    Hansen says the oil industry is intentionally spreading doubt about a subject they know full well is a real and serious concern, and that it’s a crime that can no longer go unchallenged.

    Posted by Rebecca Sato

    Related Daily Galaxy posts:

    The End of Oil?
    http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2007/11/the-end-of-oil.html

    Exponential Technologies: Cheer Up World—We Are On the Verge of Great Things
    http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2008/06/exponential-tec.html

    Are Global Warming Models Accurately Predicting Our Future? New Study Reveals the Answer—A Galaxy Interview
    http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2008/04/are-global-warm.html

    A Bright New Perspective: Sunshine Could Power the U.S.
    http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2007/09/a-bright-new-pe.html

    The Renewable Revolution: World's Biggest Solar Farm Is About to Open—Is the End of Oil Near?
    http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2008/06/the-renewable-r.html

    Related articles:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/jun/23/fossilfuels.climatechange

    http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2008/1/14/32422/5770

    700 California Wildfires: Why Don’t We Have Enough Firefighing Resources?

    Almost three years ago, Americans watched in horror as this country failed to provide adequate disaster relief resources during Hurricane Katrina. Currently, the scenario is being repeated in California, where an estimated 600 to 900 lightning sparked wildfires are burning. Many of these fires began last Friday afternoon (6/20/08); many of these fires remain unmanned. As someone personally surrounded by over 80 fires in a 10 mile radius of my home, I am pissed, frightened, anxious, and depressed.

    On Saturday, I called 911 twice to report seven fires, six of which only appeared on a map yesterday! I called CalFire, the United States Forest Service (two ranger districts), the Humboldt County Sheriff Department, the Trinity County Sheriff Department, and our local volunteer fire department. I wanted to know what road I could take out of our valley if I needed to escape the firestorm. The response, “Ma’am, there are fires everywhere. We don’t know where they are or what roads are open.” I felt trapped, and we began putting dozer lines around our meadow, hooking up more sprinklers, and connecting fire hoses to the pump in our pond.

    Friends of ours in Mendocino were told by CDF, “We have so many fires, you are on your own.” YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN! Five days later, there has still not been any agency to help with their fire; however, the BLM showed up to tell them to stop using private bulldozers to put fire lines in around the blaze on public land. They didn’t listen and protected their homes on their own.

    We’ve been through fire before, but never of this magnitude. There is no doubt that local agencies are doing the best they can with limited resources. The Firefighter Blog explains:

    The State of California is in the midst of the worst wildfire crisis in modern state history. More than 900 wildland fires are burning, many unstaffed. Incident commanders are making do with skeleton crews in most cases.

    Of course, the priority for resources has been homes and life, and I commend the job the firefighters are doing, but why did it take our governor three days to declare a state of emergency from the fires? Does he not work on the weekends during a natural disaster? Why do we have skeleton crews? The most apparent lack of support is air support. We are lucky if one plane or helicopter shows up for an hour to fight one fire out of 80 in our smoldering community.

    The Bush administration has left this country’s infrastructure to deal with natural disasters in shambles. National Guard troops and resources are in Iraq, and local agencies are underfunded. Increased wildfires have been predicted as a result of global warming; this should not have hit us out of the blue. If we can’t handle natural disasters on our own, we need to ask other countries for help. We often send assistance to other countries during times of need. It’s time to swallow our patriotic pride and admit we can’t fight the magnitude of these fires on our own. We let immigrants earn citizenship by fighting in our wars; why not let them earn citizenship for fighting wildfires?

    Locals are trying to make noise to get anyone’s attention: We are in DESPERATE need of help! We have been contacting our county board of supervisors, who have been trying their best to get us resources. We have called the governor, Boxer, Feinstein, Berg, etc. We receive compassionate responses to our pleas for help, but the answer is always the same: We don’t have any resources to send your way. Here is what one impassioned citizen wrote:

    We appreciate your efforts in the past week to try and obtain the needed resources to fight the fires in Trinity County. However after five days, there are still few if any resources on any of the eighteen or so fires threatening our home and business, and the homes of our eight to ten other neighbors. All told there are about ten houses, one commercial building, our winery, numerous barns and outbuildings( probably about 25 ) and historic ranches that are being threatened. After we called 911 on Friday afternoon, a spotter plane flew over Friday night, but since then no planes or helicopters have worked on any of the eighteen fires near us…So far the weather has been ok so the fires have not spread too badly, but we need resources at some point to fight these fires, or they will eventually reach our homes and businesses, our lives that we have built over the past twenty years and longer. We are trying our best to be patient, but it is difficult. While we were watching the fires burn last night from our deck, we realized there is at least one that is not on the map and does not have a name…We are doing what we can to remain safe, keep our place green, build defensible barriers, and would like to remain here as long as we can to keep our place safe, especially since so far very little help appears to be on the way. Help is getting closer, which is a good start, but I wish it could get even closer. The fire camps are quite large, I hope they can spare some bodies out our way, and any air support would really help both the fires and our spirits. More resources are needed or the situation in Northern California could turn into another Hurricane Katrina type situation when the government took too long to take care of its citizens.

    Local citizens have stepped up to the plate to keep each other informed and squelch wild rumors. What few firefighters have arrived have needed locals to help them find roads and locate fires on the map. Email has been utilized to keep the community informed; however, power was turned off to our town two days ago because of fire near the poles. Maps finally showed up yesterday at the store, and tomorrow there will be a community meeting. The information aspect of the fires is improving, as our local volunteer fire chief explained, “I don’t feel like a mushroom anymore, kept in the dark and fed s**t.” Despite local information efforts, websites reporting incident news are unreliable. This occurs every fire season, when the server for InciWeb can’t handle the demand. Firefighters and families rely on InciWeb for updated information, why can’t the government upgrade the server?

    We are lucky the thunderstorms occurred early in fire season, when much of the foliage is still green. These fires are moving slowly, for the most part, which has been a blessing, as agencies scramble for very limited resources. The weather has mostly cooperated with cooler temperatures and light winds, but more thunderstorms are predicted for this weekend.

    Original here

    BioDiesel: A Not So Green Alternative

    Oil prices are through the roof and the planet is getting hotter. We are facing an energy crisis and many truckers, and other professional drivers, have been forced to stay parked until the prices come down.

    With no relief in sight a lot of “green” advocates are jumping on the biodiesel bandwagon. After all it’s a cheaper, cleaner burning fuel and most diesel engines need little or no modifications to start using it*. However, recent studies suggest that biodiesel might not be the “green” solution many are hoping for.

    Biodiesel is heralded as an alternative, cleaner burning cousin to diesel. It’s made through the processing of various forms of vegetable oil. It is then blended with conventional diesel or used alone. Biodiesel can be manufactured using waste vegetable oils, like those thrown out by fast-food restaurants. However, a rising demand has lead to the cultivation of farmland for the sole purpose of growing crops for the manufacture of biodiesel fuel.

    Approved and toted as a “clean air” fuel, even a 20% biodiesel mix creates a significant reduction in CO2 emissions. The way biodiesel burns is not a point of concern. The way that it is currently being produced, may raise an environmentalist eyebrow or two.

    The well respected Science magazine released two reports this year calling attention to the destruction of essential rain forest and other vital natural habitats and eco-systems due to the increased demand for palm, soy and other vegetable oils for bio-diesel production. (Report 1) (Report 2)

    These studies warn that biodiesel may not be as green as it seems here’s why:

    More Green House Gases
    According to the studies the process of clearing grasslands, rain forests, and other land for farming actually releases more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than would be saved by the fuel that the land produces. Not to mention the natural CO2 absorption that is stopped when this dense growth is destroyed. Considering farm land absorbs less CO2 and produces less oxygen than the rain forest or other growth it replaces, the farming and production of oils for bio-fuel arguably does more to harm the environment than to help it.

    Of course this “clearing” of farmland for bio-fuels also lends to other problems:

    Killing Endangered Species
    In Borneo, by 2020 most of the rain forest will be gone. It is home to thousands of unique species of insect and animals, including the endangered Sumatra and Borneo Orangutan, the Sumatra Tiger, Asian Elephant and Sumatran Rhinoceros. In fact the conditions are so dire in Indonesia and Borneo it is estimated that if we continue at the current rate of destruction, the Orangutan will be extinct in 10 years. (www.redape.org)

    Creating Dead Zones In the Gulf of Mexico
    A “Dead Zone” is an oxygen starved patch in the ocean. These “Dead Zones” occur all around the world and are caused by decomposing algae which depletes the oxygen and suffocates marine life. According to the June edition of National Geographic, the main cause of the rise in “Dead Zones” in the Gulf of Mexico is runoff of fertilizer that comes down the Mississippi. With farmers growing more corn for biodiesel, more fertilizer is being used resulting in the death of marine life.

    The World Food Crisis

    The world is already experiencing a global food shortage. The price of wheat has doubled in the last year, and palm, soy, and other food prices are rising across the board. If more crops are grown for fuel less will be grown for food. Tearing down the rain forest for farmland is bad enough, millions of starving people is even worse.

    By the end of this year, Europe wants all diesel fuel to contain 5% biodiesel. By 2012 20% of all diesel fuel must be biodiesel. The only way the world’s farmers can keep up with rising demands is to clear more land for farming.

    The allure of cheaper, cleaner burning fuels can cause many uninformed “greenies” to applaud the advantages of biodiesel fuel; however there is one buzzword that must be remembered in any conversation about new energy: sustainability.

    The facts are clear. We cannot continue to abuse the ecosystem to support our accustomed lifestyle. Fortunately, world leadership is starting to take notice, and people are finally starting to look for new sustainable energy answers. Unfortunately, however, bio-diesel may not be the perfect solution everyone was hoping for.

    (*Note: bio-diesel is a solvent and will eat your rubber fuel lines and seals, older vehicles are more susceptible to this possibility. Make sure your fuel lines are non-rubber if you plan to use biodiesel.)

    Original here

    Is The Colorado River Becoming Radioactive from Upstream Uranium Mines?

    It All Depends On Who You Ask

    Las Vegas Water Offical Warns Radioactive Levels Rising

    Sunday’s news was a bit disconcerting, when I read a small story at Tri-State Online. Pat Mulroy, head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority was quoted as saying measurable quantities of uranium are showing up in Colorado River water, something difficult and expensive to remove before passing it on to consumers in Las Vegas.

    She blames upstream uranium mining, especially in the Moab, Utah area, so I decided to take a look and see what’s happening up there.

    To the best of my knowledge, there are no operating uranium mines in or near Moab, UT, or anywhere in the state of Utah. So, I felt Ms. Mulroy was referring to the uranium mill tailings just outside Moab, where they’ve been for decades after the failure of the Atlas Minerals Corporation mill.

    Well, the 16 million tons of radioactive dirt is still there, but according to Moab Mayor David Sakrison, they are no danger to the community or the river.

    In a phone interview, the mayor said the federal government has done an exemplary job of mitigating dust and water runoff that would contaminate the Colorado. Sakrison did say, however, this has been the case for the past eight years, and before that, Colorado River water was indeed being polluted.

    Had the tailings pile presented a health risk to his community, especially through it’s drinking water? “No”, said the mayor, “our aquifer is on the other side of the Colorado and our water supply is not contaminated.”

    It was in 2000 that then Energy Secretary Bill Richardson promised to relocate the tailings pile, and Congress had given the Department of Energy authority to begin cleanup. President Bush, however, included NO money in his 2000 budget for the removal project.

    Cleanup About To Begin at Moab

    Donald Metzler, Federal Project Director for the Moab cleanup, told me everything is in place to begin transporting the contaminated soil to a storage area at Crescent Junction, Utah. The site is about 30 miles north of Moab, and is in a formation called Mancos Shale bedrock, a hard, almost impenetrable formation that will isolate the site from any aquifer. After all the tailings have been removed from the Moab site and placed in storage, it will be capped and should be safe for at least 1000 years.

    I asked Mr. Metzler about the possibility that the tailings were still polluting the river, and he assured me there is absolutely no contamination. He said tests from a few hundred feet south of the Ajax site showed no increase in radiation other than background, caused by nature.

    Taking my query a bit further, some 500 miles, I spoke with Mitch Basefsky, PIO for the Tucson Water District, and he assured me they are monitoring the level of radiation in water coming into the area from the Colorado River via the Central Arizona Project. Basefsky said they have not seen a change in water radioactivity over the years, but remain concerned that eventually, if nothing is done to stem the release of radioactive materials into the river, it will become a problem here.

    So, Where’s The Radiation Coming From?

    Southern Nevada’s Mulroy has supposedly written federal Interior Secretary Dick Kempthorne, asking him to “carefully evaluate” further uranium mining along the Colorado to determine the risk of further contamination of the river.

    I’ve tried for days to get someone in her office to talk with me about her statement and what they’re finding in the water near Las Vegas, but no one has been forthcoming, and I can find nothing on the SNWA website concerning the issue.

    There are no operating uranium mines in Utah, and according to Mayor Sakrison, most of the abandoned sites have been cleaned up, and clean water is leaving the Moab area. What’s the problem?

    Grand Canyon Exploration and Possible Uranium Mining

    While writing this story, word came to me from the Sierra Club, stating the House Natural Resources Committee has ordered the Bush administration to immediately stop mining claims on public lands surrounding the Grand Canyon. Good news, because of fears that pollution from uranium mines could threaten the drinking water for more than 25 million people living in the southwest, and just the idea that mining operations are going on within three miles of the canyon is unthinkable.

    Until I hear something concrete from the folks in Nevada, there appears little or no danger at this time from uranium-polluted Colorado River water.

    Stay tuned.

    original here

    Block a burn bleach a reef?


    Photo by: Bradley Cornelius Groot

    The bleaching of the world’s coral reefs has been an increasingly concerning mystery in recent years. Healthy corals harbor a host of zooxanthelae, colorful algae that live symbiotically within the coral tissue providing energy to the coral. The coral in turn provides shelter, plenty of carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, nutrients, and protection. When the corals are “bleached” these necessary algae are expelled leaving only the shell of the coral, its white, bleached skeleton. Scientists for years have struggled trying to identify a cause for this. Climate change is still a major contender but National Geographic just came out with an article that suggests something else, sunscreen.

    “Four commonly found sunscreen ingredients can awaken dormant viruses in the symbiotic algae called zooxanthellae that live inside reef-building coral species.

    The chemicals cause the viruses to replicate until their algae hosts explode, spilling viruses into the surrounding seawater, where they can infect neighboring coral communities. “

    Those four ingredients are as follows:

    1. Parabens
    2. Cinnamate
    3. Benzophenone
    4. “A camphor derivative” (likely methylbenzylidene camphor)

    Photo by: Breno PeckParabens in particular are in all sorts of other products, even our food. If they are the culprits in this fiasco we have a lot more to worry about other than just sunscreens. With growing concern around them I suggest reading all of your product labels and seeking out companies that are paraben-free. Even some main stream companies are transitioning over to paraben-free now so it should be getting easier in the near future.

    The study is not the end all be all, it is just a step in the direction of possibly understanding this phenomena. It isn’t that hard to find a sunscreen that is made with physical sunblock rather than chemical sunblocks. Look for titanium dioxide or zinc oxide on the ingredient list and avoid the ingredients listed above. If all else fails put on a long sleeved white shirt and a giant hat.. you may look silly but you won’t get burned and you just might make a difference.

    One advantage developmental biologists have over paleontologists is that they can experiment on the development of these animals. Most of the genes in

    I live in a very windy area. Pretty much every afternoon as I ride my bike home directly into the full-force wind, I wonder how I could set up some sort of sail system so that I don’t have to pedal as hard as possible only to go about 2 miles an hour. I also think about how I can be capturing all this wind so I can power my home. In other words, because of where I live, wind is on my mind a lot. So, over the weekend I was glad to read about the WINDPOWER 2008 conference. It was the first time I’d heard about the annual conference and tradeshow and it sounded like something I’d love to attend. Well, clearly not knowing about it in the first place made attending a little difficult, but luckily the folks at Clean Tech were there and posted some video and interesting info on vertical wind turbines.

    Vertical turbines have a few one-ups on the traditional three-blade turbines for urban areas like where I live. They’re quieter, blend in with a rooftop more seamlessly, take up less space, can produce 50% more electricity per year, can produce energy at lower wind speeds, and are safer for wildlife such as birds and bats.

    Considering the amount of thought going in to urban turbines, I’m curious as to why vertical turbines aren’t gaining more popularity. It seems like there are myriad ways to utilize them. For instance, many cities are installing solar panels on streetlamps to generate electricity to power the lamp…but not as many are combining solar and wind. Seems like the more logical thing to do since the odds of getting enough electricity go way up. “Gus” (shown in the above image) is a turbine from Tangarie, and it has been combined with solar for streetlamps. But, I suppose when you look at the price tag, my “why” question is answered – the package runs about $7,000 and that doesn’t include the cost of installation. “Gus” creators have thought about aesthetics, and have utilized a reflective coating to reduce glare. It’s the little things like this that will help turbines gain popularity as the aesthetics are boosted and innovation is amped up.

    The video below shows a design from Energy in which light metal bands surround the turbine to give it a low start-up wind speed, which allows users with a less substantial wind resource to get at least a little power from local winds. With designs like these helping people even in soft breezy environments to utilize wind, I just can’t help but wonder why not more…

    Apparently vertical wind turbines are expected to grow in popularity in urban settings, but I’m surprised that it hasn’t taken off more quickly. I know I’m already geared up for how to retrofit my house to be powered by some pretty rooftop vertical axis turbines!

    Original here

    Darwin Still Rules, but Some Biologists Dream of a Paradigm Shift


    Corrections Appended

    Is Darwin due for an upgrade? There are growing calls among some evolutionary biologists for just such a revision, although they differ about what form this might take. But those calls could also be exaggerated. There is nothing scientists enjoy more than the prospect of a good paradigm shift.

    Paradigm shifts are the stuff of scientific revolutions. They change how we view the world, the sorts of questions that scientists consider worth asking, and even how we do science. The discovery of DNA marked one such shift, the theory of plate tectonics another.

    Many scientists suffer from a kind of split personality. We believe that this is the most exciting time to be working while yearning for the excitement of a revolution. What ambitious scientist would not want to be part of a paradigm shift? Not surprisingly, this yearning occasionally manifests itself in proclamations that a revolution is at hand.

    To understand the current tumult it helps to understand how our evolutionary framework developed. It was constructed from the 1930s to 1950s by early geneticists, paleontologists and others, who disagreed about the efficacy of natural selection in driving evolutionary change (Darwin’s big idea) and about the nature of the underlying genetic variation upon which natural selection could act. What they came to agree on was called the modern synthesis, and it established an intellectual zeitgeist that continues today, and has been continually adapted, in the best evolutionary fashion, to encompass new discoveries.

    That synthesis holds that mutations to DNA create new variants of existing genes within a species. Natural selection, driven by competition for resources, allows the best-adapted individuals to produce the most surviving offspring. So adaptive variants of genes become more common. Although selection is often seen, even by biologists who should know better, as primarily negative, removing poorly adapted individuals, Charles Darwin understood that it was a powerful creative tool.

    It is the primary agent in shaping new adaptations. Analytical studies have shown how selection can produce a complex eye from a simple eyespot in just a few hundred thousand years.

    In the past few years every element of this paradigm has been attacked. Concerns about the sources of evolutionary innovation and discoveries about how DNA evolves have led some to propose that mutations, not selection, drive much of evolution, or at least the main episodes of innovation, like the origin of major animal groups, including vertebrates.

    Comparative studies of development have illuminated how genes operate, and evolve, and this places less emphasis on the gradual accumulation of small genetic changes emphasized by the modern synthesis. Work in ecology has emphasized the role organisms play in building their own environments, and studies of the fossil record raise questions about the role of competition. The last major challenge to the modern synthesis came in the 1970s and 1980s as my paleontological colleagues, including the late Stephen Jay Gould, argued for a hierarchical view of evolution, with selection occurring at many levels, including between species.

    Transitions between species documented by the fossil record seemed to be abrupt, perhaps too abrupt to be explained by the modern synthesis. If this were generally true, it could render irrelevant much of natural selection occurring within species, because just as mutations are produced randomly with respect to the needs of a species, with selection shaping these into new adaptations, new species might evolve randomly with species selection shaping them into evolutionary trends. This challenge was greeted with less than fulsome praise by evolutionary biologists studying changes within species. The resulting hubbub has yet to fully die down. But the newer work cuts closer to the core of the modern synthesis, and is potentially more revolutionary, because it addresses the fundamental question of how really new things happen in the history of life. What brought about the origin of animals, or the invasion of land?

    The Achilles’ heel of the modern synthesis, as noted by the philosopher Ron Amundson, is that it deals primarily with the transmission of genes from one generation to the next, but not how genes produce bodies. The recent discoveries in the new field of evolutionary developmental biology, or evo-devo, that the gene Pax-6 controls the formation of eyes in mice and humans, Nkx2.5 heart formation, and a suite of other genes the formation of the nervous system, has provided a means to investigate the genetic and developmental mechanisms influencing how the form of organisms has evolved, not just their genes. Perhaps the most exciting area in evolution is in exploring how rewiring the circuitry of genes produces different arthropod appendages, or wingspots on butterflies.

    Eric H. Davidson, a colleague of mine at CalTech, has dissected the network of interactions between the genes that build the gut of sea urchins and starfish during development. When he compares these gene networks, there is a core of about five genes whose interactions are essential to forming the gut, and which have been preserved for some 500 million years.

    One advantage developmental biologists have over paleontologists is that they can experiment on the development of these animals. Most of the genes in this network can be removed, and the developing embryo finds a way to compensate. But these five core genes, which form what Davidson calls a kernel, cannot be modified: change any one of them and no embryo forms at all. There is no reason to think that there was anything unusual about how this kernel first evolved some 500 million years ago (before sea urchins and starfish split into different groups), but once the kernel formed it locked development onto a certain path. These events, small and large, limit the range of possibilities on which natural selection can act. These questions about mechanism were not even being asked under the modern synthesis.

    The failure to consider how biodiversity grows reflects an even more troubling flaw in the modern synthesis: it lacks any real sense of history. This may sound odd, as evolution is about history. A geologist would describe evolutionary theory as uniformitarian: “The present is the key to the past.” This is the principle we use that by understanding how processes operate today we can understand past events. Evolutionary theory assumes that the processes we can study among fruit flies disporting themselves in a laboratory capture the broad sweep of evolutionary change.

    But just as the erosive power of a river changes the future options for the course of the river, so evolution itself changes future evolutionary possibilities. This can happen in simple ways, as termites construct their own environment by building termite mounds. These mounds may last for dozens or hundreds of years and provide a sort of ecological inheritance for generations of termites.

    The first cyanobacteria turned carbon dioxide into oxygen and set off a revolution that completely changed the chemistry of the oceans and atmosphere. Most species modify their environment and this often changes how selection affects them: they construct, at least in part, their own environment. As evolutionary biologists we have little understanding of what these processes mean for evolution.

    Does all this add up to a new modern synthesis? There is certainly no consensus among evolutionary biologists, but development, ecology, genetics and paleontology all provide new perspectives on how evolution operates, and how we should study it. None of these concerns provide a scintilla of hope for creationists, as scientific investigations are already providing new insights into these issues. The foundations for a paradigm shift may be in place, but it may be some time before we see whether a truly novel perspective develops or these tensions are accommodated within an expanded modern synthesis.


    Project to reveal choc's DNA code


    Cocoa pod (Mars)
    The work will take about five years to complete

    The chocolate company Mars has announced that it is to decode the genetic structure of the cacao tree.

    The research project, which is to be done in collaboration with the US Department of Agriculture and IT firm IBM, aims to improve cocoa production.

    Scientists hope the Chocolate Genome Project can assist breeding programmes.

    Understanding the tree's DNA could make crop production more resistant to pests, diseases, and water shortages that may come from a warming climate.

    Howard-Yana Shapiro, Mars' global director of plant science, said African farmers stood to benefit the most as they accounted for nearly two-thirds of world cocoa production.

    The research would "ultimately improve cacao trees, yield higher quality cocoa and increase income for farmers", he told BBC News.

    Dr Shapiro would not be drawn on whether the research might lead to genetically modified chocolate.

    "Researchers worldwide will have access to our work, the cacao genome. What they do with it, I can't control," he explained.

    It is likely to take approximately five years to sequence, assemble, annotate and analyse the cacao genome.

    But information will be available before then, as it is gathered, through the Public Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture (PIPRA)

    DNA sequence information will be publicly available for no charge and no information will be patented.

    Dr Jane Rodgers, of the John Innes Centre in Norwich, UK, welcomed the fact that the research results would be put in a public database.

    "This kind of approach is the norm," she said. "The results of the project will underpin all research in the field and stimulate its application to the greater benefit of all."

    Dr John Orchard, of the Natural Resources Institute in Kent, said that it was essential to develop hardier varieties regardless of climate change.

    "The cocoa crop is particularly vulnerable to disease. Sixty percent of the Brazilian harvest was wiped out by a disease called witches recently and this kind of impact is not uncommon," he told BBC News.

    The research is similar to the sequencing of the rice genome five years ago.

    That project has already led to "huge strides" in the basic understanding of the food crop, according to Dr Hugh Jones of the Institute of Arable Crop Research in Harpenden in Hertfordshire.

    "This study should lead to similar benefits," he said.

    Project workers at IBM's TJ Watson Research Centre in New York will use their experience of computational biology to create a detailed genetic map of cacao.
    Original here