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Watch this video from the Post Carbon Institute, an organization leading the transition into a more resilient, equitable, and sustainable world.

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Post Carbon Institute provides individuals, communities, businesses, and governments with the resources needed to understand and respond to the interrelated economic, energy, environmental, and equity crises that define the 21st century. We envision a world of resilient communities and re-localized economies that thrive within ecological bounds.

Post Carbon Institute has four primary goals:

  • Build awareness and understanding. Our aim is to help people face reality, understand the true nature of the crises at hand, and take thoughtful, confident action.
  • Foster collaboration. To successfully navigate the transition at hand will take unprecedented cooperation. Too often, efforts take place in isolated silos. Our goal is support true collaboration that sees both the causes and solutions to these crises as interconnected.
  • Integrate knowledge. Individual approaches and responses in one area can sometimes exacerbate other problems or escalate an overall crisis. Post Carbon Institute takes a whole systems approach to ensure that solutions amplify, rather than cancel out, one another.
  • Inspire action. The sheer enormity of the challenge at hand and the uncertainty of times ahead can lead to fear, hopelessness, or paralysis. We offer people and communities concrete, practical, and replicable actions to build resilience and manage the transition.

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(Reuters) – Japanese nuclear power plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) hopes it will be able to achieve cold shutdown of its crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant within six to nine months, the company said on Sunday.

The firm said the first step would be cooling the reactors and spent fuel to a stable level within three months, then bringing the reactors to cold shutdown in six to nine months. That would make the plant safe and stable and end the immediate crisis, now rated on a par with the world’s worst nuclear accident, the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

TEPCO, founded 60 years ago, added it later plans to cover the reactor buildings, damaged by a massive earthquake and tsunami that struck on March 11.

The latest data shows much more radiation leaked from the Daiichi plant in the early days of the crisis than first thought, prompting officials to rate it on a par with Chernobyl, although experts were quick to point out Japan’s crisis was vastly different from Chernobyl in terms of radiation contamination.

TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata said he was considering resigning over the accident, but that he couldn’t say when.

“This is the biggest crisis since the founding of our company,” Katsumata told a news conference at which the timetable was unveiled.

“Getting the nuclear plant under control, and the financial problems associated with that… How we can overcome these problems is a difficult matter.”

The toll from Japan’s triple catastrophe is rising. More than 13,000 people have been confirmed dead, and on Wednesday the government cut its outlook for the economy, in deflation for almost 15 years, for the first time in six months.

TEPCO and the government are under pressure to clarify when those who have had to evacuate the area around the damaged plant will be able to go home. Prime Minister Naoto Kan faced heavy criticism over comments, which he later denied making, suggesting the evacuees might not be able to return for 10 or 20 years.

“We would like to present objective facts to help the government make judgment and outlook on when those who have evacuated can come back home,” TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata told a news conference at which the timeframe was unveiled.

Katsumata also said the company was taking steps to cope with the possibility of another big tsunami. The area has been rocked by large aftershocks since the magnitude 9.0 quake struck and triggered the devastating tsunami.

But he said he had no idea how much it would ultimately cost to stabilize the plant.

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With Valentine’s Day approaching, the search for an eco-conscious gift is on many people’s mind.  Portable electronic devices become more prevalent everyday and the attachment some people have to their devices borders on addiction.  So what better gift for the junkie in your life than a virtually limitless free supply of juice, you know, electricity.

The amount of solar energy that reaches the Earth in one hour, every hour, 24 times a day, is roughly equivalent to the energy consumed by the entire planet in one year.  When looking into devices that use solar energy to charge portable electronics like an iPod, iPhone or other portable electronic item, it is necessary to establish what factors are important and compare them.  In the light of day there are really just two broad factors to consider.  First is the charging device practical: lightweight, sturdy, convenient to use.  Second, and perhaps more importantly, is the planet better off over the lifetime of the charging device: do you receive more energy from the charging device than it took to create it, don’t forget to include the emissions from production.

Slapping photovoltaics (PV) onto a device is all it takes for some companies to call it green.  Without knowing the production history of the device it is impossible to determine if using the device will be a net gain for green or a net loss.  In a vast oversimplification, if it takes 100 units of energy to produce the charging device and you get 80 units of energy over the lifetime of the device then even without considering the emissions from the original energy, perhaps it was from coal, and not considering the materials that may end up in a landfill, simple math shows a net green loss of 20 units.  A company that uses green as a marketing ploy is better than one that does not.  Best of all is a company that uses green in their marketing because they are truly green and they understand the triple bottom line.  The triple bottom line is the consideration of environment, economics, and social equity, not just considering one factor at the expense of the others.

Part one of this article introduces the use of solar energy for charging portable electronics in the urban jungle and beyond.  Part two touches on the inclusion of a battery and finds one company walking the talk.

The inclusion of a battery in a charging device adds to the environmental cost as batteries have a limited lifespan.  Devices without a battery must charge directly and limit mobility during charging.  Charging times vary from device to device but understand that it may take up to two days of direct sun to reach a full charge.  Depending on use and proximity to other energy sources, this may be less than convenient and even a deal breaker for some.  The inclusion of a battery allows the device to store a charge that can be expended later.  The ability to connect to multiple devices extends the useful life of a charger beyond the life of one portable electronic item.

Searching Amazon for “solar charger” brings up a diverse list of products including the Premium Solar Charger by XTG Technology and the ReVIVE Series Solar ReStore by Accessory Genie or possibly Accessory Power.  These two products appear to be identical except for branding which indicates that the product is made by a third party and resold under a variety of brands.  This hides the producer of the product behind a wall of resellers and insulates them from scrutiny.  One website, of the two resellers, is even coming soon.  The green glow desired from making this purchase is beginning to turn a confusing shade of brown.  Is there a company out there that is proud of their product and the manufacturing footprint of it?

Enter Solio by Better Energy Systems (BES).  BES appears to walk the talk.  The Solio website has a page dedicated to “Environmental Benefits” which mentions Solio recycling and battery recycling.  The third and second to last bullet points, buried entirely too deep, read:

“Solio is intended to achieve a net energy benefit over its lifetime. To reach this goal, energies needed for raw materials and production have been minimized.”
“Better Energy Systems, makers of Solio, has planted trees in a bio-diverse sustainable forest to offset the carbon dioxide produced in the manufacture of Solio.”

The next step beyond offsetting the carbon produced during manufacturing is to produce clean energy for manufacturing.  Since the business of BES is clean energy, it doesn’t seem too much to ask to take this next step.

Has a great company or product been overlooked?  As a consumer would you like companies to tell you more about themselves and the production of their products?  Please take a moment to share your experience with solar chargers and help us all move toward a greener tomorrow.

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LONDON — Scientists say they are close to achieving a 200-year-old goal of creating a universal system of measurements based on stable quantities, as they progress toward changing how the kilogram is defined.

The kilogram is the only base unit in the International System of Units (SI) that is still defined by a physical object — a prototype of platinum-iridium kept in the vaults of the International Bureau of Measurements (BIPM) in France.

The stability of the kilogram is crucial as it forms the basis from which many other units are derived.But measurements made over more than 100 years suggest that the mass of the international prototype may have changed by about 50 micrograms — the size of a small grain of sand — prompting the BIPM to try to develop a new definition based on a fundamental physical property.

Scientists will gather at the Royal Society, Britain’s national academy of science, on Monday to present their progress on redefining the kilogram according to something called “the Planck constant,” a fundamental constant of quantum physics.

“International consensus has been achieved, that in the near future the kilogram shall be redefined, based on a fixed value of the Planck constant,” Michael Stock, a physicist at the International Bureau of Weights and Measurements (BIPM), said in a statement.

Stock said researchers have been conducting experiments that establish a link between mass and the Planck constant by comparing measurements of electrical and mechanical power.

But the new definition of the kilogram can’t take place until the results of tests, conducted in laboratories across the world, are in agreement, he explained.

The International System of Units is the world’s most widely used system of measurements for commerce and science. It is made up of seven base units — meter, kilogram, second, ampere, kelvin, candela and mole — each of which represents a different physical quantity.

Its origins can be traced back to 18th century France and it has been recognized internationally as the standard metric system since the 1960s.

The meter was once defined as the distance between two lines on a platinum-iridium prototype, but is now defined by the speed of light.

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A new report offers more ammunition in the never-ending debate over green jobs.

Next 10, a San Francisco nonprofit, published a survey Wednesday that shows that California’s “core green economy” grew more than three times as fast as the state’s old brown economy between 2008 and 2009. It’s a trend that resembles the boom in software jobs since 2005.

“The green job data is significant because these jobs are growing in every region across the state, outpacing other vital sectors, and generating business across the supply chain,” F. Noel Perry, Next 10’s founder, said in a statement. “There are very few business sectors in a state as large as California that employ people across every region. The emergence of this vibrant Core Green Economy can be attributed to California’s history of innovation, as well as our forward-looking energy and energy efficiency policies.”

Relying on state employment data, Next 10 calculates that some 174,000 Californians are employed in the core green economy.

“These ‘green’ jobs identified across the economy include existing occupations with new tasks such as a laborer who carefully dismantles materials for recycling purposes and architects who design energy efficient buildings,” the report’s authors wrote. “These jobs also include new occupations such as solar installers, biomass collectors, and wind turbine technicians.”

“Some of the top occupations identified in the survey include carpenters working in green activities, hazardous waste specialists, farm workers in sustainable agriculture,” they added, “assemblers of green products, recycling center operators, electricians and plumbers in green activities, architects, industrial production managers, biomass collectors, alternative fuel vehicle technicians and engineers, health and safety managers, and transportation program specialists.”

In other words, many of these green jobs are in traditional occupations that have now taken on an emerald tinge as they’re applied to sustainable endeavors.

Which, of course, raises the question of whether we all — or many of us, anyway — will be working in the green economy one day. (Do I, for instance, qualify as a card-carrying member of the California’s core green employment base because I write exclusively about environmental and green tech issues?)

If you live in certain parts of California it certainly seems like everyone is wearing a green hard hat or eyeshades. Growth in green jobs in the San Francisco Bay Area jumped 8 percent between 2008 and 2009 and 109 percent since 1995, according to the report.

The Bay Area, in fact, accounts for 28 percent of all green jobs in the state. No surprise there, given Silicon Valley and the cluster of solar and energy companies that have flocked to the regionor have been spun out of universities like Stanford or the University of California, Berkeley.

Los Angeles has a 23 percent share of green jobs and is a hub of electric car and energy development. But the report found that the green economy has expanded to most corners of California.

One interesting statistic: The green economy has revived, to some extent, the long decline of manufacturing in California. About 26 percent of green workers are employed actually making things, compared to 11 percent of all employees.

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At one time riding the rails was a delightful way to travel; quick and easy as well as a reasonable and profitable way to move goods. Something happened over the last 50 years. Some people objected to railroads as unsightly. They also became crowded and in many cases run down. A new report prepared by the Worldwatch Institute and the Apollo Alliance, Global Competitiveness in the Rail and Transit Industry, draws on lessons from dominant international rail manufacturing countries to conclude that greater investment in the U.S. rail industry could revive America’s former leadership in the world rail industry—and potentially create hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Rail transport is the means of conveyance of passengers and goods by way of wheeled vehicles running on rail tracks. In contrast to road transport, where vehicles merely run on a prepared surface, rail vehicles are also directionally guided by the tracks they run on. Track usually consists of steel rails installed on ties and ballast, on which the rolling stock, usually fitted with metal wheels.

One of the earliest evidence of a railway was a 3.7 miles Diolkos wagonway, which transported boats across the Corinth isthmus in Greece during the 9th century BC. Trucks pushed by slaves ran in grooves in limestone, which provided the track element. The Diolkos ran for over 600 years.

Today, most rail transport in the United States is based in freight train shipments. The U.S. rail industry has experienced repeated convulsions due to changing U.S. economic needs and the rise of automobile, bus, and air transport. Despite the difficulties, U.S. railroads carried 427 billion ton-miles of cargo annually in 1930. This increased to 750 billion ton-miles by 1975 and doubled to 1.5 trillion ton-miles in 2005. In the 1950s, the U.S. and Europe moved roughly the same percentage of freight by rail; but, by 2000, the share of U.S. rail freight was 38% while in Europe only 8% of freight traveled by rail.

As early as the 1930s, automobile travel had begun to cut into the rail passenger market, somewhat reducing economies of scale, but it was the development of the Interstate Highway System and of commercial aviation in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as increasingly restrictive regulation, that dealt the most damaging blows to rail transportation, both passenger and freight. Soon, the only things keeping most passenger trains running were legal obligations. Meanwhile, companies who were interested in using railroads for profitable freight traffic were looking for ways to get out of those legal obligations, and it looked like intercity passenger rail service would soon become extinct in the United States beyond a few highly-populated corridors.

Case studies of four of the leading countries in intercity rail and urban transit—Germany, Spain, Japan, and China—illuminate a set of common principles that those countries have used to nurture and grow some of the largest, most successful railroad manufacturing companies in the world. Among them are:

Sustained, long-term national investment in rail and transit far and above the one-time injection of $8.3 billion provided by the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. In terms of investment in rail infrastructure, the United States currently lags far behind countries like Austria, the Netherlands, and Russia, and just ahead of Turkey.

Commitment to protecting and nurturing young industries until they have achieved the economies of scale necessary to compete globally. All of the countries in the report were served for decades by strong and competent national rail monopolies, which helped ensure robust demand for rail products and technologies.

A national vision that ensures that rail development will be linked with other forms of urban transit; use an integrated, uniform system of operations; provide extensive geographic coverage; and be well run. The report shows that systems that do this help produce a strong domestic market for rail transit, thus ensuring continued growth.

“Growing a strong rail transit industry demands large and sustained capital investment combined with national vision. Rail ridership in the U.S. is going up, but that demand alone won’t generate the private investment necessary to compete globally,” author Renner said. “The federal government needs to be committed to building a strong, national system with competitive prices, solid geographic reach, and reliable trains. If it does that, not only will people ride it, but the United States will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs as well as internationally competitive companies.”

The report contains a wealth of facts and statistics that show the U.S. position relative to other countries, as well as the potential for growth. Some are shown below.

– The global market for passenger and freight rail equipment, infrastructure, and related services was $169 billion in 2007 and is projected to grow to $214 billion by 2016.

– China invests far and above the most money in its rail network relative to its economy, spending $12.5 dollars for every $1,000 of GDP. In contrast, the United States spends $0.8 dollars per $1,000 of GDP.

– By 2015, the number of high-speed train sets in operation worldwide is expected to rise by 70 percent.

– European high-speed rail travel grew from 9.3 billion passenger miles in 1990 to 61 billion passenger miles in 2008.

– Measured in passenger miles, Spanish rail travel increased 55 percent between 1990 and 2008, far outstripping population growth.

– Spain will double the length of its high-speed rail network over the next three years, to 2,136 miles by 2012. Government plans call for an expansion to 6,200 miles of high-speed track by 2020.

– Germany’s rail transit and related construction and operations industries employ some 580,000 people.

– Total passenger miles for rail transit in Japan increased 29 percent between 1980 and 2007, while population expanded by just 9.1 percent.

In order to change US policies towards railroads must change. The benefits are improved efficiency, lower costs for delivered good, and, in some vase, reduced pollution

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The results from the 2010 midterm elections are just about all in, and surprises are few and far between. As expected, the GOP swept back into power in the House of Representatives, taking at least 60 seats so far. John Boehner will be the new Speaker of the House. Democrats hung onto the Senate, with Majority Leader Harry Reid surviving a close contest against a Tea Party favorite. But you already know all this from having read any given newspaper’s front page, seen any blaring cable news show, or generally having been within a 200 miles of any American media outlet in existence. The real question is, what’s the impact going to be on climate, clean energy, and other green issues?

To be blunt: It’s not going to be good. At all. Besides a few silver linings here and there, the results paint a pretty grim outlook for the prospect of making any real progress in terms of meaningful energy legislation — we can expect to be stuck firmly in the mud, wheels spinning, for years to come on clean energy and climate policy.

An Anti-Climate Congress
This is because the current crop of GOP politicians have adopted a somewhat united ideological front opposing not only climate legislation, but the general notion of climate science itself. Nowhere else in the world has a leading political party availed itself of a position so directly in opposition to science — indeed, today’s GOP is the only party in the world that incorporates climate change denial as part of its political platform.

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New Speaker John Boehner. Photo: CS Monitor

Furthermore, the Tea Partiers responsible for sweeping many of the new politicians into power are vocal in their belief that no policy should be adopted to address climate change or clean energy generation — most are skeptical that global warming is occurring at all. This means those elected officials will likely ignore or oppose clean energy or climate action, and will suffer no political consequences for doing so — in fact, in our upside-down cultural climate, they may even be rewarded for vocal opposition by those galvanized voters who think cap and trade is a useless tax, Al Gore is a conspirator behind a globe-spanning hoax, and that scientists are colluding to deceive the public about climate change.

Plan of Attack
But it gets worse. The GOP has already announced plans to attack the EPA for its plans to reign in the nation’s biggest polluters’ carbon emissions and to try to stop it from regulating things like mountaintop removal mining so ardently. Republican leadership has also announced plans to launch an investigation into climate scientists for their alleged involvement in the long-debunked climate gate event.

Now that it’s firmly in power, expect it to make good on those plans. In addition to the above, the GOP plans to turn the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming into a farce — literally. The committee, formerly run by the environmental advocate (and climate bill co-author) Ed Markey, may be taken over by Wisconsin Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a climate skeptic, who will use the office to extract “sweet revenge”, according to Politico. He wants to keep the global warming committee alive to attempt to prove that global warming doesn’t exist, and to “police Obama’s green policies.”

Goin’ on a Witch Hunt?
But he’s not the only one: GOP Rep. Issa of California plans on using his position as chairman of the Oversight Committee to make launching more investigations into the already-exonerated climate scientists whose emails were hacked into a “top priority”.

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Photo: Reuters, for FT

You’re probably getting the picture: This is a Congress that is not only opposed to forging clean energy and climate solutions, but one that is openly hostile to the basic concepts in the first place. It will be extremely difficult for any important initiatives to gain traction in this kind of a political climate — even if Obama tries to push green policies through in small “chunks” as he hinted he would, he may face strident opposition.

The Good News?
Yes, there is nonetheless some good news: Namely, that California voters struck down the big oil-funded Prop 23 that would have overturned the state’s climate law — and they struck it down resoundingly. In fact, the best lesson to be learned from this election, from a climate politics perspective, is that good, concerted, effective campaigning for clean energy can be a true political winner.

The three major victors in California this election — Jerry Brown (governor), Barbara Boxer (senator), and the “No on 23” campaign — all focused on climate and clean energy issues to generate a groundswell of popular support, instead of running away from the issue (I delved deeper into that notion earlier today: Climate & Clean Energy Can Win Elections). It’s a model that can be looked to in the future to combat the rising tide of political opposition to expanding clean energy and taking climate action. And let’s face it: We’re going to need all the help we can get.

 

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While 63 percent of Americans believe that global warming is happening, many do not understand why, according to a Yale project study on climate change communication. The study finds that eight percent of Americans have knowledge equivalent to an A or B grade, while 40 percent would receive a C or D, and 52 percent would get an F.

The study, “Americans’ Knowledge of Climate Change” (PDF), also finds gaps in knowledge and common misconceptions about climate change and the earth system, which has led some people to doubt global warming or that human activities are a major contributor, say researchers.

Researchers say this lack of knowledge can lead to uninformed decision making.

Here are some of the key findings:

–57 percent know that the greenhouse effect refers to gases in the atmosphere that trap heat

–50 percent of Americans understand that global warming is caused mostly by human activities

–45 percent understand that carbon dioxide traps heat from the Earth’s surface

–25 percent have ever heard of coral bleaching or ocean acidification

The study also finds that most Americans understand that emissions from cars and trucks and the burning of fossil fuels contribute to global warming, and that a transition to renewable energy sources is an important solution.

Researchers also say despite the recent controversies over “climategate” and the 2007 IPCC report, Americans trust scientists and scientific organizations far more than any other source of information about global warming.

They also recognize their own limited understanding of the issue. Only 1 in 10 say that they are “very well informed” about climate change, and 75 percent say they would like to know more.

 

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