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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Seeing total solar eclipse difficult, expensive

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A total solar eclipse will darken some of Earth's skies on Friday, but geography, weather, the economy and even the Olympics are combining to make it a hard and expensive for people to see it.

In March 2006, a solar eclipse blotted out the sun, turning day into night from Brazil to Africa to Mongolia.

In March 2006, a solar eclipse blotted out the sun, turning day into night from Brazil to Africa to Mongolia.

The total blotting out of the sun, which occurs when the moon's dark inner shadow falls on parts of the Earth, can only be seen in mostly remote places: the northeastern edge of Canada, the tip of Greenland, parts of Russia, China and Mongolia, including the famed Gobi desert.

For those who can't be there, it will be shown live on the Internet.

Some of the areas where the eclipse will last the longest -- including parts of the Arctic -- have a 75 percent chance of bad weather that will make it tough to see. This eclipse at its peak will last for 2 minutes and 27 seconds.

Yet eclipse chasers can't wait for the sky to darken, animals to howl and people to stare in awe.

"It's so rare and unusual, it's unfortunate to pass up any chance," said NASA astrophysicist Fred Espenak, who has been chasing eclipses since 1970 and has his own Mr. Eclipse Web site and a NASA solar eclipse Web site.

Espenak will be in northern China to watch the eclipse with a tour group.

The Olympics, which start a week later in Beijing, are making it expensive and difficult to get plane tickets and hotel rooms, Espenak said.

And the world's economy and fuel prices are making it even tougher, so fewer people are going, said Richard Fienberg, editor emeritus of Sky and Telescope magazine and spokesman for the American Astronomical Society.

Past eclipse tours cost around $1,000 to $2,000, but many of the China tours are $3,000 to $6,000, plus airfare. To join Fienberg on a Russian icebreaker that includes a North Pole stop costs about $23,000.

There is a a cut-rate closer to home option.

"The northeastern part of Maine will see a little bit of this eclipse right at sunrise," Espenak said.

And the eclipse can also be seen remotely. Museums, such as the Exploratorium in San Francisco, will have eclipse events. NASA, the Exploratorium and others will broadcast the eclipse live on the Internet. It reaches its peak at 7:09 a.m. EDT.

Next year's total solar eclipse -- July 22, 2009 -- will be more southern and last the longest of the 21st Century: 6 minutes, 39 seconds. But it will be during monsoon season and can be seen, only if the weather cooperates, in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, China and the Pacific Ocean.

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Nukes Are Not the Best Way to Stop an Asteroid

By Aaron Rowe

Nuclear weapons could be used to stop earth-bound asteroids, but in most instances, they are not the best option, said Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart during a public lecture this Wednesday in San Francisco.

The venerable scientist explained that all but the largest heavenly bodies can be redirected by rear-ending or towing them with an unmanned spacecraft. But last year, NASA issued a report stating that using nukes is the best strategy to prevent a catastrophic collision with earth.

Although Schweickart has a great deal of faith in the agency, enough to risk his life piloting their lunar lander, he feels that they issued the misleading statement -- under immense political pressure. It was a nefarious excuse to put nuclear weapons in space.

Rusty His own organization, the B612 Foundation, intends to use gentler tactics to alter the course of an asteroid by 2015.

Right now, humans are not tracking most of the objects that could cause serious damage to earth, but in the next century, as powerful new telescopes come online, we will begin watching many of them. When that day comes, we will know which ones stand a chance of hitting earth, and it will be time to make some tough decisions.

Since tracking asteroids contains an element of uncertainty, there will be a lot of false alarms, so it may not be necessary to take action at all. If it must be stopped, should we bump it, drag it, or blow it off course?

The astronaut compares our current situation to standing blindfolded in a batting cage. Right now, we can't do anything, but we know that some balls are hurling towards us. In a few years, our blindfold will come off, and the whole world will be forced to decide -- together -- when to duck.

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Mars lander has trouble getting sample in oven

Science Video

When Good Science Goes Bad: 3 Ideas that Went Really Wrong

By Meghan Holohan. The history of scientific discovery is full of missteps. Sometimes iffy ideas lead to stronger theories. Other times, a good idea becomes a bad idea. And still others seem like they were always bad ideas (if scientists don’t understand why something glows in the dark, maybe you shouldn’t paint your face with it).

1. Fire-proof Aprons!

Picture 112.pngThe bright idea: In the early 1900s, designers offered the perfect solution for women who hated seeing a dirty ashtray on the kitchen table—asbestos tablecloths. In fact, housewives (and magicians) were delighted to find out that asbestos materials came with a neat cleaning trick: if you set an asbestos tablecloth on fire, stains would come out, and the things would look brand new! No more washing and drying. Of course, with such a novel, fireproof material in their hands, suppliers didn’t want to limit asbestos’ potential to the kitchen table. So, they expanded to kitchen clothing. “Careless ladies” who leaned against the stove and caught aflame didn’t have to worry anymore thanks to asbestos aprons and oven mitts. In fact, a 1936 article from The Monessen Daily Independent reported that the only disadvantage to the aprons was that they felt a little “starchy.”
The downer: Although humans had used asbestos since the Greek and Roman empires (and even though physicians back then noticed that exposure to the fibrous material caused lung ailments), the United States didn’t start investigating asbestos’ negative affects until the 1970s. While it took governments centuries to ban asbestos, lawyers caught on much faster and mesothelioma attorneys have been suing companies ever since.

2. Glow-in-the-dark Paint

Picture 123.pngThe bright idea: In 1889, Marie Currie and husband Pierre discovered radium and coined the term radioactive. And while little was known about the alkaline earth metal, one thing was for sure: it glowed in the dark! Suddenly, the public was captivated by raduim’s luminescence. Manufacturers painted airplane dials, instruments, and watch faces with radium, spawning a huge glow-in-the-dark fad. Women began painting their nails with it to impress suitors, for Halloween, people even coated their faces with the stuff to get that oh-so-ghoulish look.
The downer: A dentist in New Jersey noticed that many of his patients, who worked at U.S. Radium, suffered from deteriorating jaws or phossy jaw. Worse still, the Essex County coroner discovered that women from a plant were dying of severe anemia and leukemia. By 1925, he’d collected enough data to prove that radiation was so high in the women’s bodies that it was likely the cause of death. As if exposure to the material wasn’t bad enough, many of the watch-painting women had been dipping the tip of their paintbrushes in their mouths to make a finer point for painting tiny numbers on watches. Unfortunately, it took physicians a little while to officially link the substance with cancer.

3. An Automatic Flosser

Picture 132.pngThe bright idea: It’s tough reaching those back molars with dental floss, and it’s even harder to floss them. That’s why Oral-B created the Hummingbird flosser, the Cadillac of dental aids. The ergonomically designed, vibrating electric flosser was made to gently massage those hard to reach spots and turn the flossing experience into a dream.
The downer: Oral-B investors had no idea the Hummingbird flosser would make picking padlocks a dream, too. With a few modifications—mainly changing the power source from a AAA battery to a D battery and replacing the floss with a pick—nefarious MacGyvers can create a vibrating pick that will pop open most padlocks. Even those inept at building can follow the step-by-step directions on the Web (not that we’re encouraging it!).

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BlackLight's physics-defying promise: Cheap power from water

blacklight.03.jpgBlackLight Power CEO Randell Mills with the fuel cell he says turns water into power.

By Mina Kimes

(Fortune Small Business) -- Imagine being able to convert water into a boundless source of cheap energy. That's what BlackLight Power, a 25-employee firm in Cranbury, N.J., says it can do. The only problem: Most scientists say that company's technology violates the basic laws of physics.

Such skepticism doesn't daunt Dr. Randell Mills, a Harvard-trained physician and founder of BlackLight, who recently claimed that he has created a working fuel cell using the world's most pervasive element: the hydrogen found in water.

"This is no longer an academic argument," Mills, 50, insists. "It's proven technology, and we're going to commercialize it as quickly as possible."

For the first time in his company's 19 years of persistent trial and error, Mills says he has a market-ready product: a fuel cell that produces a chemical reaction to alter hydrogen atoms. The fuel cell releases heat that turns water into steam, which drives electric turbines.

The working models in his lab generate 50 kilowatts of electricity - enough to power six or seven houses. But these, Mills says, can be scaled to drive a large, electric power plant. The inventor claims this electricity will cost less than 2 cents per kilowatt-hour, which compares to a national average of 8.9 cents.

While his business has been working on the "BlackLight Process" since its inception almost two decades ago, Mills developed the patented cocktail that enables the reaction - a solid fuel made of hydrogen and a sodium hydride catalyst - only a year ago. (He recently posted instructions on the company's Web site, blacklightpower.com). Now that the device is ready for commercialization, he says, BlackLight is negotiating with several utilities and architecture and engineering firms, but he won't disclose any partners' names until the deals are finalized.

About 20 of the generators, which look like small copper water heaters turned on their sides, rest on lab benches inside the company's 55,000 square foot headquarters, once a Lockheed Martin facility. BlackLight's 11 scientists barely make a sound as they slip among the cavernous rooms, blue lab coats flapping behind them. The near-emptiness is eerie, but it's also portentous, says Mills: "Within the next two years, we're going to grow to 500, maybe 1,000 employees. This could satisfy a majority of the world's power needs, and the demand is going to be huge."

Such grandiose predictions invite comparison to cold fusion, a source of cheap and abundant energy that two scientists in Utah claimed to unearth in 1989, only to be immediately discredited by government and independent experts.

But while the cold-fusion scientists rushed to the media shortly after their "discovery," BlackLight hasn't courted press until it considered its invention commercially viable, and had lined up financing and respected board members. The business, Mills says, has attracted $60 million in funding from wealthy individuals, investment firms, and utilities such as Delaware's Conectiv, and it is no longer seeking money. BlackLight's board of directors reads like a Who's Who of finance and energy leaders, including Michael Jordan, former CEO of both Electronic Data Systems (EDS, Fortune 500) and Westinghouse; Neil Moskowitz, CFO of Credit Suisse First Boston; and Shelby Brewer, former CEO of ABB (ABB) Combustion Engineering Nuclear Power. BlackLight has all of the trappings of prestige, minus one hitch: Mills' theory is rejected by almost all of the scientific community.

"He's wrong in so many ways, it's beyond counting," says Robert Park, a professor of physics at the University of Maryland and former spokesman for the American Physics Society. Parks, 77, uses BlackLight as an example of phony physics in his 2002 book, Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud. He says of Mills, "I don't know of a single scientist of any reputation who takes his claims seriously."

Mills' theory, which he expounds upon in his self-published 2,000 page book, The Grand Unified Theory of Classical Quantum Mechanics, rests on what he describes as his discovery of the hydrino - an altered version of hydrogen that has an energy level lower than its ground state, or the baseline energy level. These modified atoms, he argues, are the stuff that comprises dark matter, the invisible material that many scientists believe composes more than 90% of the universe. The mechanism that creates hydrinos - a chemical reaction whose released energy can allegedly be harnessed for power - is what Mills calls the BlackLight Process.

Why do scientists give Mills so much heat? By positing that a molecule's energy level can dip below its ground state, he rewrites the principles of quantum mechanics, which are widely viewed as incontrovertible. Perhaps the most widely-known critique of his theory was published by Andreas Rathke of the European Space Agency, who argues that Mills' mathematics is flawed.

Jan Naudts, a physics professor at the University of Antwerp, says of Mills' work, "The few people who looked at it immediately found errors." He adds, however, "That's quite common with new theories. And his hasn't been investigated on a large scale."

Mills attributes the lack of engagement with his theory to the self-preserving nature of academia.

"As long as you're in the mainstream, you're fine. But if you're doing something paradigm-changing, you're proving that academics have been going down the wrong path," he says. Such self-interested politics, argues Mills, have led mainstream scientists to seek BlackLight's demise by blacklisting the company from publications and spreading disinformation on the Web.

Brewer, who has served on the firm's board since 1997, agrees that the fear of losing government grants has bred widespread skepticism towards the hydrino: "Hell hath no fury like a professor whose funding is cut off."

BlackLight does have a few fans among scientists. Gerrit Kroesen, a professor Eindhoven University in the Netherlands, wrote in an e-mail that he's attempted to replicate Mills' experiment and produced surprising, if not conclusive, results.

In 2005, leaders at Greenpeace asked Randy Booker, chair of the physics department at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, to fly to New Jersey to investigate BlackLight's claims. Booker says he was skeptical at the outset, but during his visit, "I found that they really were producing a great deal of excess energy with hydrogen," he says. "Some people may disagree with the theory, but the experiments work." Booker believes that commercialization could lead more independent laboratories to validate BlackLight's claims. He now performs paid research work for the company.

Critics such as Park say the high-profile CEOs on BlackLight's board are following each other over a cliff. He could be right: Both Jordan and Jim Lenehan - a BlackLight investor, senior consultant at hedge fund Cerberus, and former president of Johnson and Johnson (JNJ, Fortune 500) - say they were led to the business by friends. But Lenehan, who does not sit on BlackLight's board, says, "It's no longer a high-risk part of my portfolio. It now has the ability to make a huge difference in the world of power."

Jordan, who earned science degrees from Yale and Princeton, expresses a similar sentiment.

"In the beginning, I thought it was worth putting money into because it was going to be a huge flop or a huge success." he says. "But when they made the breakthrough last fall, I saw the results."

That logic could explain BlackLight's success in garnering investors, despite its lack of scientific approval: While the academic community stresses theoretical backing for a new discovery, the business world is more concerned with practical applications.

Lenehan says, "My point of view is, just do it - generate power. In terms of influencing investors, it's about results."

Jordan agrees: "Theoretically, the bumble bee can't fly - but no one told the bumble bee. Now they're saying this can't be done, but it's happening."

While the company's followers already extol the high-energy, green, and thrifty virtues of BlackLight's technology, the rest of the world will have to wait for evidence until the fall of 2009, when the business promises to install its cells in power plants. Whether or not Mills' team meets that deadline will likely determine how BlackLight goes down in history - as a revolutionary startup or a flop 19-years in the making.

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Ancient tree needs help: environmentalists

Lomatia tasmanica flower

The red flower of the Lomatia tasmanica, also known as Kings Holly or Kings Lomatia. (Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens)

The founder of National Tree Day wants the Federal Government to help save a rare Tasmanian tree.

There are less than 500 kings holly, or kings lomatia, trees left in a small patch of the state's south-west.

Kings lomatia is the oldest known plant clone. It stopped seeding and has been cloning itself for at least 43,000 years, remaining genetically identical over that time, which increases its vulnerability to disease and other threats.

Planet Ark and National Tree Day founder, John Dee, says more should be done to help the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens expand its insurance population.

"The future of this tree is definitely not assured," he said.

"It's survived an ice age but it may not survive us. It certainly won't survive a bushfire, and that's why the conservation of this tree must be made a national priority by the Federal Government."

A botanist from the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, Natalie Tapson, says it is hard to increase the plant's numbers because it does not make seeds.

"The wild population is threatened by root rot disease. Fire is another problem. So this is an insurance collection basically, in case something happens in the wild at least we've still got some that are surviving," she said.

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Researchers Discover New States Of Electrons That Behave Like Light


This torque cantilever is used to measure magnetic property of bismuth in intense magnetic fields. The bismuth crystal (5.6 mm tall vertical pillar) is glued to the end of a thin cantilever beam made of gold. Deflections of the cantilever in a field are detected by measuring changes in capacitance. (Credit: N. Phuan Ong, Princeton University)

A team of researchers at Princeton University's Materials Research Science and Engineering Center has observed electrons moving through a crystal of bismuth metal behaving like light.

This discovery, supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and detailed in today's edition of the journal Science, could lead to new kinds of electronic devices.

Electrons, or the particles of electricity, fly through space like tiny baseballs. Alternatively, when an electron speeds between a crystal's periodic arrangement of atoms it behaves very differently. The fundamental equations that describe its motion in the crystal are very different from those of a free-flying baseball. For example, in bismuth, the fundamental equations of electron motion resemble those that describe the behavior of light. Although the electrons whirl about the crystal slower than at the speed of light, the electrons behave as if they are without mass like photons, the tiniest unit of light.

Over a decade ago, theoretical physicists supported by NSF studied electrons confined to artificial layered structures made of semiconductors--the stuff of which transistors are made of. They predicted that new kinds of electronic matter governed by the rules of quantum mechanics would emerge from the electrons in different layers coordinating their motions. Scientists hypothesized that bismuth crystals should also exhibit analogous electronic states.

The Princeton group, led by physics professor N. Phuan Ong, fixed a crystal of bismuth onto a flexing beam, or cantilever, and then placed this apparatus in a high magnetic field created at the NSF National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, which can generate magnetic fields that are more than a million times stronger than the earth's faint magnetic field.

Under such enormous magnetic fields, the cantilever twists. The way it twists tells the Princeton researchers about the subtle new kind of matter in the bismuth crystal.

In a single crystal of bismuth, electrons are often confined to three valleys in a complex abstract landscape that scientists use to represent an electron's energy in the crystalline structure. Through careful study of the twisting cantilever, they observed a transformation from a state where the electrons prefer to occupy only one valley to a state in which the electrons share their time among all the valleys in a dance choreographed by the fundamental rules of quantum mechanics.

"This is exciting because this was predicted but never shown before, and it may eventually lead to new paradigms in computing and electronics,"said Thomas Rieker, NSF program director for materials research center.

With this work, the theory of electrodynamics suggests a rich landscape of electronic states of semiconductors, and the Princeton researchers are continuing their adventure. Someday, these newly discovered electronic states of matter may enable powerful new electronic devices that exploit the principles of quantum mechanics to compute and communicate. For now we can marvel at the subtle beauty of nature that lives in a universe of electrons that lies beneath the shiny skin of a metal crystal.

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Researchers Synthesize Evolution of Language


Languages1For all the talk about memes acting like genes and cultures evolving like organisms, no theory of non-biological evolution exists -- but that could change.

In a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, linguists observed an artificial language evolve from random to ordered, naturally adapting in ways that assured its reproduction.

Languages2 The findings duplicated a phenomena they'd already simulated on a computer, and hint at the earliest evolutionary origins of language -- that cultural version of the opposable thumb, and the basis of humanity's civilizational complexity.

Even more tantalizingly, by showing that cultural evolution can be examined in a controlled setting, the study lays a framework for studying evolution outside its standard biological habitat.

"From Darwin onwards, there's been a mechanism for nature producing a design without there being a designer," said study co-author Simon Kirby, an evolutionary linguist at the University of Edinburgh. "We're used to that in biology. People have claimed that the same might happen in culture, and here we've shown a mechanism for language."

Kirby and his team showed people a collection of pictures paired with gibberish words, and later tested which pairs they could recall. Whether or not the recollections were accurate, they were recorded and used as the basis of the next group's language training. As the process was repeated, patterns emerged: a certain word might be used, for example, to describe anything that moved horizontally, and another to indicate objects that bounced.

The language that emerged from the first set of iterations, said Kirby, was limited and simplistic. But for the next set, they discarded duplicate words. Confronted with this selection pressure -- analogous, perhaps, to that exerted by nature on hunters with few words for their prey -- the language became precise and highly structured.

Structure, said Kirby, was the key to a language being remembered.

"Over many generations, the grammar goes from ad-hoc and inexpressive into a language that's cleanly structured and expressive," he said. "But what's evolving here isn't the agents" -- the speakers -- "but the language itself. It has its own evolutionary imperative. It wants to be passed on, and finds ways of doing that. We're its hosts."

Kirby believes the experiment touches on the same process that provided humans with the first languages. However, he said that linguistic evolution has largely stalled in modern times: though languages continue to change -- witness Chinglish -- and our communications skills vary, the underlying rules remain stable, having already found a successful form.

Some researchers have proposed studying religion in terms of cultural evolution, said Kirby, but he's not interested.

"That's an incredibly difficult thing to study. But with language, we have tons of data. It's the best case study we have for understanding evolution," he said.

He continued, "But people who are interested in culture more generally might take this work and study the emergence of design in a lab. I'd like to see how far that can be pushed. What kinds of adaptations would a culturally evolving practice come up with? How much of what happens around us, that appears rational and intelligently designed, is the product of a blind process?"

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Francisella Tularensis: Stopping A Biological Weapon

Scientists hope a vaccine is on the horizon for tularemia, a fatal disease caused by the pathogen Francisella tularensis, an organism of concern as a potential biological warfare agent. Until recently we knew very little about this bacterium. However, according to the August issue of the Journal of Medical Microbiology, research on the bacterium has been reinvigorated and rapid progress has been made in understanding how it causes disease.

Infection with F. tularensis can result in a variety of symptoms, depending on the route of infection. For example, infection via an insect bite can lead to a swollen ulcer or fever, chills, malaise, headaches and a sore throat. When infection occurs by eating contaminated food, symptoms can range from mild diarrhoea to an acute fatal disease. If inhaled, F. tularensis infections can have a 30% mortality rate if left untreated.

"Only very few bacteria are needed to cause serious disease," said Prof Petra Oyston from Dstl, Porton Down. "Because of this and the fact that tularemia can be contracted by inhalation, Francisella tularensis has been designated a potential biological weapon. Since the events of September 2001 and the subsequent anthrax attacks on the USA, concern about the potential misuse of dangerous pathogens including F. tularensis has increased. As a result, more funding has been made available for research on these organisms and has accelerated progress on developing medical countermeasures."

Tularemia circulates in rodents and animals like rabbits and hares. Outbreaks in humans often happen at the same time as outbreaks in these animals. The disease is probably transmitted by insects like mosquitoes, ticks and deer flies. People can also become infected by contact with contaminated food or water and by breathing in particles containing the bacteria. Farmers, hunters, walkers and forest workers are most at risk of contracting tularemia.

There is currently no vaccine against tularemia. Because there are few natural cases of tularemia, money was not spent on the development of a vaccine. However, various nations developed F. tularensis as a biological weapon, including the reported production of antibiotic-resistant strains, so research into its pathogenesis has become a biodefence issue.

"Progress is being made," said Prof. Oyston. "Since the genome of F. tularensis was sequenced, researchers have taken great strides in understanding the molecular basis for its pathogenesis. This is essential information for developing a vaccine and getting it licensed."

We are still unsure about the function of most F. tularensis genes. "Recently genes needed by F. tularensis for growth and survival have been identified," said Prof. Oyston. "These could be targets for novel antimicrobial development or could be used in the production of a vaccine."

"Although we are getting closer to addressing key issues such as the need for an effective vaccine, it appears we are still some way from understanding the pathogenesis of F. tularensis. More research is needed in this area."

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The Science of Sniffing Out Liars

liariStockphoto

Armed with a doctorate in physiological psychology, Eric Haseltine has explored the boundaries of perception and illusion in commercial projects ranging from flight simulators for Hughes Aircraft to virtual reality and special effects for Disney theme parks. After the events of 9/11, he became engaged in the study of a different kind of illusion: the shadowy world of international espionage. He headed research and development for the National Security Agency in 2002, and in 2006 he was named associate director for science and technology for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. One of his responsibilities involved research on how to extract information from people during interrogation and how to determine whether the information is valid. Now an independent contractor who calls himself a “technology futurist,” Haseltine divulges as much as he can about deception detection.

Can science help us determine if someone is deceiving us?
The very high-tech stuff we rely on includes functional magnetic resonance imaging, magnetic encephalography, and some very, very sophisticated electroencephalography—one of the techniques used to test so-called guilty knowledge. That’s where you expose somebody to something and they have guilty knowledge—they’ve seen it before, let’s say. You can tell by looking at their brain response, up to a point, whether their brain has seen that thing or not. You say, well, do you know X, or have you seen X, and they say no, but their brain says otherwise.

Other work is trying to make traditional polygraphy better by using, for example, algorithms instead of humans to look at what’s coming in on the needle. The polygrapher, who is only human, can have a positive or negative bias about the subject that will color the interpretation of what’s on the needles, so there is a lot of work to make it objective. Algorithms can do a better job of telling if there is a good physiological response, but it’s still a big leap to telling whether the person is lying. It’s still in the basic research phase and far from being something that I would feel comfortable relying on, especially when it gets into the issue of cross-cultural communications. And there are other factors that we don’t completely understand. For example, the kind of person you worry about the most is one who has what we call antisocial personality disorder [a person who is indifferent to the needs of others]. Those people seem to have low guilt and anxiety. Do they have the same physiological response as someone who is “normal”? Yes and no. Lying requires a mental workload, which, according to some scientists, drives up the blood pressure and heart rate regardless of your emotional state, and so there may be some similarities and there may not be. Those are questions that require more investigation. So I personally would not put a lot of stock in any of these measures, including polygraphy per se.

We now get into the category of things that I would call low tech, which I think have a fair amount of validity. For example, Paul Ekman looks at microexpressions as evidence of what you’re really feeling. What he feels is that when you are suppressing things, things leak out in microbursts. If someone says, “Gee, I really am saddened by the death of my wife” and a microexpression shows that he is happy or contemptuous, then it would give you pause. By itself, I wouldn’t call it lie detection. But it does give you information that would either support or not support the hypothesis of deception.

What are interrogators told to look for?
There isn’t a lot of behavioral research data about which particular techniques are most effective. There was a Luftwaffe [German air force] corporal who was legendary in World War II for interrogating. His name was Hanns Scharff. He spoke flawless English. He was an incredibly gentle person. He was warm, he never in any way pressured interviewees, and he extracted tremendous intelligence. People who talked about being interrogated by him said they didn’t know they were being interrogated. He had an incredible memory and he never wrote anything down. So you’d be walking out in the exercise yard, smoking a cigarette with him, and he’d just be talking. And he would remember everything.

Who makes a good spy or a good liar?
I don’t think there’s any one answer to that. Being a good actor, being a good poker player. Being a good con man. Con men are people who are sociopathic, who do not feel remorse, and who are very attuned, strangely, to other people and can read them very well. If I know what you really want to hear and what is in your heart of hearts, your fondest desire, because I’m good at reading you and I’m street-smart about assessing you, then I can feed you what you want to hear. A good con man does that. A good magician does that. You also have to have a good memory.

So behavioral scientists have a leg up on technology as far as interrogation goes?
I think that’s right. You think of things like thermal imaging and pupil dilation, and you can look at heart rate with ultrawideband radar, and blood pressure and breathing rate and galvanic skin response—signals like sweat—and you can look at the constellation of all of these things, and they may tell you that the person is aroused or that he’s having an autonomic response. But it’s a big leap from that to “He’s lying.” I’ve undergone polygraphs, and I will tell you it’s a very stressful experience. And some people react very differently to stress than others without being liars at all.

Does torture work as a method of extracting the truth?
I’m going to go back to the findings of the Intelligence Science Board, a group of scientists who advised the U.S. intelligence community and studied the most effective ways to gather information in a free society. When they looked at all the techniques that are used, their conclusion is that we don’t have the behavioral science to give us the answers. As to coercive methods, I don’t think we have good information to say one way or another. [The notion that] if you’re in intense pain then you’ll break may not be true.

What is the hottest area today in deception detection?
Human lie detectors. I think the low-tech training of humans to be better interpreters of information is where the most productive work is going to be. The reason being that you can either train a human to do it or train a computer to do it, and human brains are still much better computers than computers are.

Is there any technique that scares or worries you?
I think it’s inevitable that with neuroscience we’re going to get to a point where, without [a person’s] cooperation, we can be pretty accurate about knowing what a person knows or feels or thinks. And so I wouldn’t say it scares me, but I would say that there are going to be some really tough issues for society to deal with [regarding] where privacy and human dignity begin and the right of the larger group to protect itself ends.

It’s kind of like the same question as: Is it okay to take the fingerprint of a criminal or a suspect? Yes. Is it okay to take their DNA? Less clear. Is it okay to find out what’s going on in their brain without their cooperation? Let’s say we can train a computer to do better than a human does looking at facial expressions and body language and everything else, right? I think that it will be possible and maybe not too far off in the future. So imagine if a computer can look at you through a camera and know whether you are suppressing information or having feelings that are not consistent with what you’re saying, and you don’t have any ability to volunteer that. I think that society has got to wrestle with that question. And I’m not saying that I’m scared, I’m saying that I’m not optimistic that there are any easy answers.

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Experts try to block flu virus replication

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Scientists in Japan have gained a better understanding how influenza viruses replicate, possibly opening the way for the development of drugs to hamper their reproduction.

In the latest issue of Nature, the researchers described how they zeroed in on an enzyme that flu viruses need to replicate, and managed to capture a snapshot of the enzyme.

Enzymes in influenza viruses are made up of three proteins bound tightly together.

"Scientists have been trying to study its (enzyme's) structure and no one has yet got a detailed picture of the whole thing," said Yokohama City University's Jeremy Tame, a member of the research team.

But the team managed to crystallize the proteins and get a peek at part of the structure, which involves the tip of one of the proteins coming into contact with another protein.

"This gives us some hope that we can interrupt this interface (contact point)," Tame said.

Such an interruption would "kill the virus, or slow it down sufficiently", he added.

All influenza A viruses, including the H5N1 bird flu virus, are believed to have similar structures. Theoretically, one drug could fight all of them.

"We would like to start work. We're hopeful that will lead to efforts to work on completely novel drugs," Tame said.

(Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn; Editing by David Fogarty)

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Warp Drive Engine Would Travel Faster Than Light

It is possible to travel faster than light. You just wouldn't travel faster than light.

Seems strange, but by manipulating extra dimensions with astronomical amounts of energy, two Baylor University physicists have outlined how a faster-than-light engine, or warp drive, could be created that would bend but not break the laws of physics.

"We think we can create an effective warp drive, based on general relatively and string theory," said Gerald Cleaver, coauthor of the paper that recently appeared on the preprint server ArXiv.org

The warp engine is based on a design first proposed in1994 by Michael Alcubierre. The Alcubierre drive, as it's known, involves expanding the fabric of space behind a ship into a bubble and shrinking space-time in front of the ship. The ship would rest in between the expanding and shrinking space-time, essentially surfing down the side of the bubble.

The tricky part is that the ship wouldn't actually move; space itself would move underneath the stationary spacecraft. A beam of light next to the ship would still zoom away, same as it always does, but a beam of light far from the ship would be left behind.

That means that the ship would arrive at its destination faster than a beam of light traveling the same distance, but without violating Einstein's relativity, which says that it would take an infinite amount of energy to accelerate an object with mass to the speed of light, since the ship itself isn't actually moving.

The fabric of space has moved faster than light before, says Cleaver, right after the Big Bang, when the universe expanded faster than the speed of light.

"We're recreating the inflationary period of the universe behind the ship," said Cleaver.

While the theory rests on relatively firm ground, the next question is how do you expand space behind the ship and contract it in front of the ship?

Cleaver and Richard Obousy, the other coauthor, propose manipulating the 11th dimension, a special theoretical construct of m-theory (the offspring of string theory), to create the bubble the ship would surf down.


If the 11th dimension could be shrunk behind the ship it would create a bubble of dark energy, the same dark energy that is causing the universe to speed up as time goes on. Expanding the 11th dimension in front of the ship would eventually cause it to decrease, although two separate steps are required.

Exactly how the 11th dimension would be expanded and shrunk is still unknown.

"These calculations are based on some arbitrary advance in technology or some alien technology that would let us manipulate the extra dimension," said Cleaver.

What the scientists were able to estimate was the amount of energy necessary, if the technology was available, to change these dimensions: about 10^45 joules.

"That's about the amount of energy you'd get if you converted the entire mass of Jupiter into pure energy via E = mc^2," said Cleaver, an energy far beyond anything humanity can currently envision creating.

While the challenges to creating a warp drive are quite formidable, the concept is intriguing, says Tufts University theoretical physicist Lawrence Ford.

"If there are extra dimensions and we could manipulate them, that would open up all sorts of exciting possibilities," said Ford.

"I don't see this leading immediately to a warp drive, but I could see it leading to other interesting possibilities in basic scientific research," said Ford.

Cleaver agrees that the creation of a real warp drive is still far away.

"Warp drive isn't doable now, and probably won't be for the next several millenia," said Cleaver.

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Incredible Fish Armor Could Suit Soldiers

By Jeanna Bryner, LiveScience Senior Writer

African fish that have trolled for prey in murky freshwater pools for nearly 100 million years sport the best of the best in body armor. Now a team of engineers has dissected the aquatic armor, figuring out how it works in an effort to suit up future soldiers.

The armor of the fish, Polypterus senegalus, is so effective because it is a composite of several materials lined up in a certain way, the engineers state in a their analysis detailed in the July 27 issue of the journal Nature Materials.

"Such fundamental knowledge holds great potential for the development of improved biologically inspired structural materials," said lead MIT researcher Christine Ortiz, "for example soldier, first-responder and military vehicle armor applications."

The fish's shield would've been particularly critical in the past, when it had to fight off members of its own species along with the likes of typical predators, such as giant sea scorpions with biting mouth parts, grasping jaws, claws and spiked tails. An extinct aquatic enemy, the ancient armored fish, Dunkleosteus terrelli, could have bitten through the exoskeleton of its prey and munch on the flesh beneath.

Today, though the armor may be overkill, it protects the fish from its own species and other carnivores in the water.

With funding from the U.S. Army, the engineers measured the material properties of a single fish scale and its four layer materials, including bone and dentine (a major mineral in teeth).

The different chemical properties of each material, the shape and thickness of each layer and the junctions between layers all contributed to the armor's strength.

"That doesn't surprise me that millions of years or hundreds of millions of years of evolution would be a good starting point for what we need for this day and age," said Leo Smith, assistant curator of zoology at The Field Museum in Chicago, who was not involved in the study. "[The armor's] been sort of fine-tuned during that time for different aspects."

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A Modest Proposal: Eco-Friendly Stimulus

By ALAN S. BLINDER

ECONOMISTS and members of Congress are now on the prowl for new ways to stimulate spending in our dreary economy. Here’s my humble suggestion: “Cash for Clunkers,” the best stimulus idea you’ve never heard of.

Cash for Clunkers is a generic name for a variety of programs under which the government buys up some of the oldest, most polluting vehicles and scraps them. If done successfully, it holds the promise of performing a remarkable public policy trifecta — stimulating the economy, improving the environment and reducing income inequality all at the same time. Here’s how.

A CLEANER ENVIRONMENT The oldest cars, especially those in poor condition, pollute far more per mile driven than newer cars with better emission controls. A California study estimated that cars 13 years old and older accounted for 25 percent of the miles driven but 75 percent of all pollution from cars. So we can reduce pollution by pulling some of these wrecks off the road. Several pilot programs have found that doing so is a cost-effective way to reduce emissions.

MORE EQUAL INCOME DISTRIBUTION It won’t surprise you to learn that the well-to-do own relatively few clunkers. Most are owned, instead, by low-income people. So if the government bought some of these vehicles at above-market prices, it would transfer a little purchasing power to the poor.

AN EFFECTIVE ECONOMIC STIMULUS With almost all the income tax rebates paid out, and the economy weakening, Cash for Clunkers would be a timely stimulus in 2009. As was made clear during the Congressional debate last winter, prompt spending is critical to an effective stimulus program. And the quickest, surest way to get more consumer spending is to put more cash into the hands of people who live hand-to-mouth.

Here’s an example of how a Cash for Clunkers program might work. The government would post buying prices, perhaps set at a 20 percent premium over something like Kelley Blue Book prices, for cars and trucks above a certain age (say, 15 years) and below a certain maximum value (perhaps $5,000). A special premium might even be offered for the worst gas guzzlers and the worst polluters. An income ceiling for sellers might also be imposed — say, family income below $60,000 a year — to make sure the money goes to lower-income households.

The numbers in this example are purely illustrative. By raising the 20 percent premium, lowering the 15-year minimum age, or raising the $5,000 maximum price or the $60,000 income ceiling, you make the program broader and costlier — and create a bigger stimulus. By moving any of these in the opposite direction, you make the program narrower, cheaper and smaller.

People who sell their clunkers would receive government checks, perhaps paid to them at the motor vehicle bureau office where they turn in their old vehicles. They would be free to spend this money as they see fit, whether on a new car or truck or some other form of transportation — or anything else. To ensure that the program really pulls clunkers off the roads, only vehicles that had been registered and driven for, say, the past year would be eligible.

The government can either sell the cars it buys to licensed recyclers for scrap, or refit them with new emissions controls and resell them. But the government must not ship the cars to poor countries, where they would continue to belch pollutants.

Cash for Clunkers is not the pipe dream of some academic scribblers. Local variants are either now in operation or have been tested in California, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Texas, Virginia and several Canadian provinces. So there is no need for a “proof of concept.” Rather, a national Cash for Clunkers program could learn from all this experience in building a better system.

THE big need to date has been money, which is why the scope of Cash for Clunkers programs has been limited. And that, of course, is where the need for stimulus comes in. We now want intelligent ways for the federal government to spend money.

Here’s a high-end cost calculation for a national program. Suppose we took two million cars off the road a year, at an average purchase price of $3,500 (the top price in the Texas program today). Including all the administrative costs of running the program, that would probably cost about $8 billion. Compared with other nationwide income-transfer or environmental policies, that’s a pretty small bill. For stimulus purposes, it would, of course, be better to run the program on a larger scale, if possible. There are over 250 million cars and light trucks on American roads, and some 30 percent are 15 years old or older. That’s at least 75 million clunkers. At five million cars a year — an ambitious target, to be sure — the program would cost less than $20 billion, still cheap compared with the $168 billion stimulus enacted in February.

And what would all this money buy? First, less pollution. The Texas program estimated that clunkers spew 10 to 30 times as much pollution as newer cars. Second, the subsidy value (the 20 percent premium in my example) is a direct income transfer to the owners of clunkers, who are mostly low-income people. Third, these folks would almost certainly spend the cash they receive — not just the subsidy, but the entire payment, giving the economy a much-needed boost.

Oh, and I left out a fourth possible goal. By pulling millions of old cars off the road, Cash for Clunkers would stimulate the demand for new cars as people trade up. It need hardly be pointed out that our ailing auto industry, like our ailing economy, could use a shot in the arm right now. Scrapping two million or more clunkers a year should help.

With today’s concerns over stimulus, inequality and greenhouse gases, as well as an aging vehicle fleet, Cash for Clunkers is an idea whose time may finally have come. Write your congressman.

Alan S. Blinder is a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton and former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve. He has advised many Democratic politicians.

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Ice Free

By STEPHAN FARIS

Greenland’s ice sheet represents one of global warming’s most disturbing threats. The vast expanses of glaciers — massed, on average, 1.6 miles deep — contain enough water to raise sea levels worldwide by 23 feet. Should they melt or otherwise slip into the ocean, they would flood coastal capitals, submerge tropical islands and generally redraw the world’s atlases. The infusion of fresh water could slow or shut down the ocean’s currents, plunging Europe into bitter winter.

Yet for the residents of the frozen island, the early stages of climate change promise more good, in at least one important sense, than bad. A Danish protectorate since 1721, Greenland has long sought to cut its ties with its colonizer. But while proponents of complete independence face little opposition at home or in Copenhagen, they haven’t been able to overcome one crucial calculation: the country depends on Danish assistance for more than 40 percent of its gross domestic product. “The independence wish has always been there,” says Aleqa Hammond, Greenland’s minister for finance and foreign affairs. “The reason we have never realized it is because of the economics.”

Climate change has the power to unsettle boundaries and shake up geopolitics, usually for the worse. In June, the tiny South Pacific nation of Kiribati announced that rising sea levels were making its lands uninhabitable and asked for help in evacuating its population. Bangladesh, low-lying, crowded and desperately impoverished, is watching the waves as well; a one-yard rise would flood a seventh of its territory. But while most of the world sees only peril in the island’s meltwater, Greenland’s independence movement has explicitly tied its fortunes to the warming of the globe.

The island’s ice cover has already begun to disappear. “Changes in the ocean eat the ice sheet from underneath,” says Sarah Das, a glaciologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. “Warmer water causes the glaciers to calve and melt back more quickly.” Hunters who use the frozen surface of the winter ocean for hunting and travel have found themselves idle when the ice fails to form. The whales, seals and birds they hunt have begun to shift their migratory patterns. “The traditional culture will be hard hit,” says Jesper Madsen, director of the department of Arctic environment at the University of Aarhus in Denmark. “But from an overall perspective, it will have a positive effect.” Greenland’s fishermen are applauding the return of warm-water cod. Shops in the island’s capital have suddenly begun to offer locally produced potatoes and broccoli — crops unimaginable a few years earlier.

But the real promise lies in what may be found under the ice. Near the town of Uummannaq, about halfway up Greenland’s coast, retreating glaciers have uncovered pockets of lead and zinc. Gold and diamond prospectors have flooded the island’s south. Alcoa is preparing to build a large aluminum smelter. The island’s minerals are becoming more accessible even as global commodity prices are soaring. And with more than 80 percent of the land currently iced over, the hope is that the island has just begun to reveal its riches.

Offshore, where the Arctic Ocean is rapidly thawing, expectations are even higher. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that Greenland’s northeastern waters could contain 31 billion barrels of undiscovered oil and gas. On the other side of the island, the waters separating it from Canada could yield billions of barrels more. And while Greenland is still considered an oil exploration frontier, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Canada’s Husky Energy and Cairn Energy and Sweden’s PA Resources are aleady ramping up exploration.

In November, Greenlanders will vote on a referendum that would leverage global warming into a path to independence. The island’s 56,000 predominantly Inuit residents have enjoyed limited home rule since 1978. The proposed plan for self-rule, drafted in partnership with Copenhagen, is expected to pass overwhelmingly. It would grant the first $16 million of oil and mineral income to the local government, with further revenues split equally until Denmark’s share reaches roughly the $680 million a year Greenlanders currently receive from the Danes. Then there would be no further obstacles to sovereignty. “When we reach the point where we no longer need the subsidy, we’ll be able to say we’re economically independent,” Hammond says. “There will be nothing that ties us anymore.”

Stephan Faris is author of “Forecast: The Consequences of Climate Change, From the Amazon to the Artic, From Darfur to Napa Valley”, to be published inJanuary.

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France Plans Groundbreaking Tidal Power Experiment

Aptera Electric Car Closer to Production After Cash Infusion

Why we never need to build another polluting power plant

By Joseph Romm

News

July 28, 2008 | Suppose I paid you for every pound of pollution you generated and punished you for every pound you reduced. You would probably spend most of your time trying to figure out how to generate more pollution. And suppose that if you generated enough pollution, I had to pay you to build a new plant, no matter what the cost, and no matter how much cheaper it might be to not pollute in the first place.

Well, that's pretty much how we have run the U.S. electric grid for nearly a century. The more electricity a utility sells, the more money it makes. If it's able to boost electricity demand enough, the utility is allowed to build a new power plant with a guaranteed profit. The only way a typical utility can lose money is if demand drops. So the last thing most utilities want to do is seriously push strategies that save energy, strategies that do not pollute in the first place.

America is the Saudi Arabia of energy waste. A 2007 report from the international consulting firm McKinsey and Co. found that improving energy efficiency in buildings, appliances and factories could offset almost all of the projected demand for electricity in 2030 and largely negate the need for new coal-fired power plants. McKinsey estimates that one-third of the U.S. greenhouse gas reductions by 2030 could come from electricity efficiency and be achieved at negative marginal costs. In short, the cost of the efficient equipment would quickly pay for itself in energy savings.

While a few states have energy-efficiency strategies, none matches what California has done. In the past three decades, electricity consumption per capita grew 60 percent in the rest of the nation, while it stayed flat in high-tech, fast-growing California. If all Americans had the same per capita electricity demand as Californians currently do, we would cut electricity consumption 40 percent. If the entire nation had California's much cleaner electric grid, we would cut total U.S. global-warming pollution by more than a quarter without raising American electric bills. And if all of America adopted the same energy-efficiency policies that California is now putting in place, the country would never have to build another polluting power plant.

How did California do it? In part, a smart California Energy Commission has promoted strong building standards and the aggressive deployment of energy-efficient technologies and strategies -- and has done so with support of both Democratic and Republican leadership over three decades.

Many of the strategies are obvious: better insulation, energy-efficient lighting, heating and cooling. But some of the strategies were unexpected. The state found that the average residential air duct leaked 20 to 30 percent of the heated and cooled air it carried. It then required leakage rates below 6 percent, and every seventh new house is inspected. The state found that in outdoor lighting for parking lots and streets, about 15 percent of the light was directed up, illuminating nothing but the sky. The state required new outdoor lighting to cut that to below 6 percent. Flat roofs on commercial buildings must be white, which reflects the sunlight and keeps the buildings cooler, reducing air-conditioning energy demands. The state subsidized high-efficiency LED traffic lights for cities that lacked the money, ultimately converting the entire state.

Significantly, California adopted regulations so that utility company profits are not tied to how much electricity they sell. This is called "decoupling." It also allowed utilities to take a share of any energy savings they help consumers and businesses achieve. The bottom line is that California utilities can make money when their customers save money. That puts energy-efficiency investments on the same competitive playing field as generation from new power plants.

The cost of efficiency programs has averaged 2 to 3 cents per avoided kilowatt hour, which is about one-fifth the cost of electricity generated from new nuclear, coal and natural gas-fired plants. And, of course, energy efficiency does not require new power lines and does not generate greenhouse-gas emissions or long-lived radioactive waste. While California is far more efficient than the rest of the country, the state still thinks that with an even more aggressive effort, it can achieve as much additional electricity savings by 2020 as it has in the past three decades.

Serious energy efficiency is not a one-shot resource, where you pick the low-hanging fruit and you're done. In fact, the fruit grows back. The efficiency resource never gets exhausted because technology keeps improving and knowledge spreads to more people.

The best corporate example is Dow Chemical's Louisiana division, consisting of more than 20 plants. In 1982, the division's energy manager, Ken Nelson, began a yearly contest to identify and fund energy-saving projects. Some of the projects were simple, like more efficient compressors and motors, or better insulation for steam lines. Some involved more sophisticated thermodynamic "pinch" analysis, which allows engineers to figure out where to place heat exchangers to capture heat emitted in one part of a chemical process and transfer it to a different part of the process where heat is needed. His success was nothing short of astonishing.

The first year of the contest had 27 winners requiring a total capital investment of $1.7 million with an average annual return on investment of 173 percent. Many at Dow felt that there couldn't be others with such high returns. The skeptics were wrong. The 1983 contest had 32 winners requiring a total capital investment of $2.2 million and a 340 percent return -- a savings of $7.5 million in the first year and every year after that. Even as fuel prices declined in the mid-1980s, the savings kept growing. The average return to the 1989 contest was the highest ever, an astounding 470 percent in 1989 -- a payback of 11 weeks that saved the company $37 million a year.

You might think that after 10 years, and nearly 700 projects, the 2,000 Dow employees would be tapped out of ideas. Yet the contest in 1991, 1992 and 1993 each had in excess of 120 winners with an average return on investment of 300 percent. Total savings to Dow from just those projects exceeded $75 million a year.

When I worked at the Department of Energy in the mid-1990s, we hired Nelson, who had recently retired from Dow, to run a "return on investment" contest to reduce DOE's pollution. As they were at Dow, many DOE employees were skeptical such opportunities existed. Yet the first two contest rounds identified and funded 18 projects that cost $4.6 million and provided the department $10 million in savings every year, while avoiding more than 100 tons of low-level radioactive pollution and other kinds of waste. The DOE's regional operating officers ended up funding 260 projects costing $20 million that have been estimated to achieve annual savings of $90 million a year.

Economic models greatly overestimate the cost of carbon mitigation because economists simply don't believe that the economy has lots of high-return energy-efficiency opportunities. In their theory, the economy is always operating near efficiency. Reality is very different than economic models.

In my five years at DOE, working with companies to develop and deploy efficient and renewable technologies, and then in nearly a decade of consulting with companies in the private sector, I never saw a building or factory that couldn't cut electricity consumption or greenhouse-gas emissions 25 percent to 50 percent with rapid payback (under four years). My 1999 book, "Cool Companies," detailed some 100 case studies of companies that have done just that and made a great deal of money.

There are many reasons that most companies don't match what the best companies do. Until recently, saving energy has been a low priority for most of them. Most utilities, as noted, have little or no incentive to help companies save energy. Funding for government programs to help companies adopt energy-saving strategies has been cut under the Bush administration.

Government has a very important role in enabling energy savings. The office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy has lots of (underfunded) programs that deliver savings every day. Consider, for instance, Chrysler's St. Louis complex, which recently received a DOE Save Energy Now energy assessment. Using DOE software, Chrysler identified a variety of energy-saving measures and saved the company $627,000 a year in energy costs -- for an upfront implementation cost of only $125,000.

The key point for policymakers now is that we have more than two decades of experience with successful state and federal energy-efficiency programs. We know what works. As California energy commissioner Art Rosenfeld -- a former DOE colleague and the godfather of energy efficiency -- put it in a recent conversation, "A lot of technology and strategies that are tried and true in California are waiting to be adopted by the rest of country."

So how do we overcome barriers and tap our nearly limitless efficiency resource? Obviously, the first thing would be to get all the states to embrace smarter utility regulations, which is a core strategy of Barack Obama's plan to reduce greenhouse gases. But how does the federal government get all the states to embrace efficiency?

We should establish a federal matching program to co-fund state-based efficiency programs, with a special incentive to encourage states without an efficiency program to start one. This was a key recommendation of the End-Use Efficiency Working Group to the Energy Future Coalition, a bipartisan effort to develop consensus policies, in which I participated. The first year should offer $1 billion in federal matching funds, then $2 billion, $3 billion, $4 billion, and finally stabilizing at $5 billion. This will give every state time to change their regulations and establish a learning curve for energy efficiency.

This program would cost $15 billion in the first five years, but save several times that amount in lower energy bills and reduced pollution. Since the next president will put in place a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases, the revenues from auctioning the emissions permits can ultimately be used to pay for the program.

We should restore a federal focus on the energy-intensive industries, such as pulp and paper, steel, aluminum, petroleum refining and chemicals. They account for 80 percent of energy consumed by U.S. manufacturers and 90 percent of the hazardous waste. They represent the best chance for increasing efficiency while cutting pollution. Many are major emitters of greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide. A 1993 analysis for the DOE found that a 10 to 20 percent reduction in waste by American industry would generate a cumulative increase of $2 trillion in the gross domestic product from 1996 to 2010. By 2010, the improvements would be generating 2 million new jobs.

For these reasons, in the 1990s, the Energy Department began forming partnerships with energy-intensive industries to develop clean technologies. We worked with scientists and engineers to identify areas of joint research into technologies that would simultaneously save energy, reduce pollution and increase productivity. The Bush administration slashed funding for this program by 50 percent -- and keeps trying to shut it down entirely.

Indeed, conservatives in general have cut the funding or shut down entirely almost all federal programs aimed at deploying energy-efficient technologies. Conservatives simply have a blind spot when it comes to energy efficiency and conservation, seeing them as inconsequential "Jimmy Carter programs."

I recently testified at a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on nuclear power and spoke about how alternative technologies, particularly energy efficiency, were a much better bet for the country. Senator George Voinovich (R-Ohio) said this was "poppycock," and then asked all the pro-nuclear witnesses to address the question, "If nuclear power is so uncompetitive, why are so many utilities building reactors?"

Voinovich apparently has forgotten about the massive subsidies he himself voted to give the nuclear industry in 2005. He seems to be unaware that states like Florida allow utilities to sharply raise electric rates years in advance of a nuclear plant delivering even a single electron to customers. If you could do that same forward-pricing with energy efficiency, we would never need to build another polluting plant.

Although he is a senior member of the Senate and a powerful voice on energy and climate issues, Voinovich doesn't seem to know the first thing about the electricity business; namely, that a great many utilities have a huge profit incentive to build even the most expensive power plants, since they can pass all costs on to consumers while retaining a guaranteed profit. But they have a strong disincentive from investing in much less costly efforts to reduce electricity demand, since that would eat into their profits.

The next president must challenge the public service commission in every state to allow utilities to receive the same return on energy efficiency as they are allowed to receive on generation. That single step could lead the country the furthest in solving our ever-worsening climate and energy problems.

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