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[1THING] Blog: Archive for April, 2012

[ The Environment: A Long Term Investment Strategy? ]

Recently, Warren Buffet, often referred to as the “Oracle of Omaha” for his legendary investment strategies, offered a recipe for success in an annual report published by Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Buffet named three “key ingredients” for companies to remain profitable and competitive in the 21st century: invest in “people, communities and the environment,” advising that “taking shortcuts is not the pathway to achieving sustainable competitive advantage, nor is it an avenue toward satisfying customers.” 

Buffet also noted that “today our world is changing faster than ever before – economic, geo-political and environmental challenges abound.” Berkshire Hathaway has made significant forward looking investments in renewable technologies including solar. If we heed his words, a smart strategy would be to invest in infrastructure for the future—for example, to link remote areas of the west that contain many of the country’s most excellent renewable energy resources. As Warren Buffet prophesizes, gaining competitive advantage requires businesses to think long term about where people live, how to tread lightly on the land and technologies with a long shelf life.

Remarkably, Congress recognized the wisdom of protecting “people, communities and the environment” over 40 years before Buffet offered his multi-billion dollar advice. In 1969, Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) with overwhelming, and now rare, bipartisan support. The law requires that before undertaking projects that may significantly affect the environment, including air and water resources, federal agencies must assess the impacts of proposals, solicit the input of all affected stakeholders and disclose their findings publicly.

Critically, NEPA recognizes that the public – which includes industry, landowners, local and state governments and business owners – can make important contributions by providing unique expertise. NEPA’s common sense axiom is simply “look before you leap,” which is exactly the type of smart investment strategy Warren Buffet prescribes.

If Buffet’s advice doesn’t win you over, heed the advice of the national security experts, which advocates that renewable energy project developers should consult with military bases at the initial “napkin planning stages” of project development, a practical step towards avoiding project delays due to conflicting uses of the land.

Nowhere are the benefits of public input and environmental analysis more evident than in the current solar development and planning efforts taking place across the west. Solar development has shown NEPA is working—the average time for environmental review for utility-scale solar projects on public lands in 2010 was 1.4 years, well within other permitting time frames for similarly sized projects, and remarkable given these projects’ are unique in scale and complexity.

To spur further responsible investment in large-scale solar , the Department of the Interior has nearly completed a six-state study of the best solar resources on public lands with the lowest environmental and other conflicts. This process—afforded under NEPA’s “programmatic” review, will lead investors and developers to low conflict project sites across the southwest, and result in better projects.  Using the NEPA process, the DOI has received invaluable input from industry groups, other agencies, environmental groups and concerned citizens.

Recently however, many in Congress have failed to recognize that long-term economic competitiveness requires both investment in sustainable technologies and robust environmental review.  In the past year alone, over forty pieces of legislation have been proposed which aim at weakening or waiving NEPA’s requirements for public participation and early environmental analysis.  In reality, circumventing environmental review has the potential to result in “real” costs to projects by ignoring potential alternatives, inviting litigation and delaying permits. And as Mr. Buffet’s advises “taking shortcuts is not the pathway to achieving sustainable competitive advantage” – what’s good for the environment is good for the bottom line. 

This piece was co-authored by Stephen Schima of the Partnership Project.



[ Help fight invasive species- Eat Them! ]



[ The 1 Percent’s Electric Car: The $980,000 Rimac Concept_One ]

In life there will be most of us, and there will be the one percent. There will be those of us who fly in coach, and there will be those of us who have their own private jets. There will be those of us who enjoy our small homes, and those of us who dwell in luxury manors. When it comes to green cars, there will be those of us who drive the Prius, and those who drive the $980,000 Rimac Concept_One electric sports car.

We first brought you word of the very expensive Rimac Concept_One last year, when we reported about how this Croatian-built electric supercar would be capable of going 0 to 60 in just 2.8 seconds. The vehicle is now back again, reported Wired, being shown off recently at Top Marques Monaco, which is considered one of the world’s most exclusive car shows. Considering it is in Monaco, we don’t find that hard to believe.

The Concept_One, noted HybridCars, will only be available to 88 drivers. Those willing to pony up will get quite the green technology car, though not all might consider such a vehicle to have any environmental qualities at all. What you do get for your close to $1 million is a vehicle with 1,088 horsepower output and 250 kilowatt electric motors for each wheel.

Sporting a 92 kilowatt hour LiFeP04 battery system, the car has an impressive range of over 370 miles, making it a strong contender against other all-electric luxury companies like Tesla Motors — though with a much higher price tag to boot. The vehicle on the interior is tailored for comfort and looks to include a rear-view camera display, two side displays for the driver, and an interactive console display, which we assume is for non-essential features like stereo systems and GPS navigation.

The car, with its 1,180 pound feet of torque, also has some special tires from Vredestein that Rimac says “can guarantee superior road handling and performance with an elegant and stylish appearance.”  These tires will operate well on the vehicle’s limited by the manufacturer 185 MPH top speed. When asked why they limited it to this, Rimac said “it can go 500 kph [310 mph], but we can’t guarantee the passenger’s safety.”

–Nino Marchetti

This post originally appeared at EarthTechling and was republished with permission.


[ Just ‘say no’ to the yellow pages ]



[ Big Oil’s big profits show they don’t need tax breaks ]


The latest round of oil industry quarterly profits is trickling in.  Once again, the oil industry is posting multi-billion profits – much of thanks to the high price that consumers are paying at the gas pump.  Shell oil saw an 11% jump in profits over this time last year, raking in $7.7 billion in just three months.

Their profits for the first quarter of 2012 are expected be more than $21 billion – nearly $10 million every hour in pure profit. Over the last decade the oil industry has made more than $1 trillion.  In the last year alone the largest oil companies took home more than $137 billion in profits.  Every time the price at the pump ticks up just a penny, another $200 million flows into the oil industry coffers.

These latest profits come on the heels of a vote in the Senate to repeal some of the tax breaks that the most profitable oil companies receive.  These unnecessary tax breaks come at the expense of American taxpayers, who fund the subsidies and still pay at the pump. While a majority of the Senate voted to eliminate the tax breaks, the bill needed 60 votes – so the oil companies win again.

Perhaps it isn’t surprising that the oil and gas industry has already given nearly $4 million to electoral campaigns in 2012 alone.  That’s less than an hour of work to guarantee that their sweetheart tax breaks stay in place – not a bad return on investment. And it keeps paying off – there are several bills in Congress that hand over more land to the oil industry – including places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

But despite their push to drill in the arctic tundra, oil companies are sitting on millions of acres of land they aren’t even using.  Of the more than 38 million acres of federal lands leased out to the oil industry, more than 26 million acres are sitting idle. That’s an area the size of Ohio – locked up by the oil industry, and not doing anything.  On top of that, there are more than 7,000 drilling permits also going unused.  For an industry that wants more, more, more they certainly aren’t using what we’ve already given them.

While they’re hoarding land and permits, they aren’t shy about shipping the final product overseas.  For the first time since the 1950s we’re exporting more gasoline than we’re importing. This means that rather than keeping gasoline here in America and lowering the price for consumers, they’re selling it overseas for higher profits.

The oil industry clearly has its priority: profits. And they are doing good job getting them.  But it is also clear that they don’t have the interests of American consumers, American lands and communities in mind.  It’s time to stop coddling the oil industry, cut their subsidies, and quit handing them land and permits that they don’t need.  It’s time to give the American people a break.


[ Arctic Oil Drilling Opens as Pitfalls Pondered Miles Away ]

Nearing record highs in March, gasoline prices have dropped for most of April across the U.S. and on average are cheaper than they were a year ago. As pump prices ease, federal prosecutors are turning up the heat in the BP oil spill case, arresting an ex-engineer accused of obstructing justice by deleting potentially damaging e-mails. And as the feds begin arrests, local reactions in the Gulf among individuals and businesses harmed by the spill are mixed, with oyster leaseholders “overjoyed” by the BP settlement, while shrimp processors are challenging some features of the deal. While watermen and women digest the settlement, Gulf of Mexico fish near the spill—such as grouper and red snapper—are showing telltale signs of sickness associated with oil exposure.

Across the world, a new pact by Russia and Italy has opened the Arctic to drilling. Some say an Arctic oil rush could damage ecosystems; others worry about the special challenges an oil spill in the Arctic would pose. Meanwhile, a new study says climate change is posing “significant challenges to the survival of some of the Arctic’s unique marine species.” And the European Space Agency’s CryoSat satellite is providing data on Arctic ice thickness—offering a more complete view of rapidly melting ice.

Climate Change Threatens to Alter Agricultural Landscape

Last weekend marked Earth Day, and some critics say the environmental movement has lost its mojo, while others were critical of President Obama’s Earth Day address after he failed to directly mention climate change. Later in the week, however, President Obama told Rolling Stone climate change will be a central feature of the presidential campaign. “I suspect that over the next six months, this is going to be a debate that will become part of the campaign, and I will be very clear in voicing my belief that we’re going to have to take further steps to deal with climate change in a serious way,” he said.

Beyond climate politics, a warming world will increase the cost of corn, according to a new study. The study warns that unless farmers plant more heat-tolerant varieties, corn prices will be subject to greater volatility. Another study suggests that scrapping corn ethanol subsidies and converting much of corn country to pasture for management-intensive grazing would reduce agricultural land-use emissions by 36 percent. Meanwhile, corn growers are speaking out about the “grave threat” climate change poses to their livelihoods.

While Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster is still fresh in many people’s minds, Ukraine recognized the 26-year anniversary of the Chernobyl explosion this week by unveiling a new, safer shelter over the damaged reactor. Others, such as Britain, continue to debate building new nuclear facilities.

Renewables Gaining Momentum with Farmers

Renewable energy makes economic sense, at least in Virginia, according to a new study. Across the country, Americans are split on whether to get rid of U.S. subsidies—with 47 percent favoring the idea.

More and more farmers are turning to renewables and earning the name “new green pioneers,” harvesting fuel cells, biogas, cogeneration and solar arrays to lower costs. While farmers embrace alternative energy despite time and risks, the solar energy industry has created a new plastic film that sprays on like an adhesive, enabling solar power to be harvested inside buildings and not just by way of conventional rooftop panels. Yet, the discovery of Native American bone fragments is throwing the large Genesis solar project into question.

Wind is not doing much better than solar, with a measure to extend production tax credits stalled in Congress despite bipartisan support. Uncertainty as to whether Congress will extend the credit is making it more difficult for developers to advance and fund wind projects. Offshore, the U.S. and Great Britain have announced plans to develop floating wind turbines in deep water where conventional technology cannot reach. Because the turbines do not require deep seabed installation, the technology is expected to be cheaper than current offshore wind projects. Despite the vagaries of renewable power, UN chief Ban Ki-moon called on nations to double the amount of power produced from renewable sources by 2030.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday for National Geographic’s News Watch by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.


[ TUfast Eco: With Innovation to Victory ]

It was just two years ago when a couple of young highly motivated students at the Technical University of Munich in Germany decided to found the TUfast Eco team and build a car for Shell Eco-marathon Europe.

Building race cars for the Formula Student has already become a tradition at our university, but designing a new prototype for an eco-challenge from scratch with completely different requirements was another situation altogether.  It was exactly this challenge that made it so interesting for us, because the TUfast Eco project presented us with the perfect opportunity to apply our knowledge from lectures immediately. A lot of research and hard work went into our first prototype before we were able to participate in the 2011 Eco-Marathon Europe at the Lausitzring in Germany for the first time.  Our initial participation was an enjoyable eye-opening experience.

On the basis of structured failure analysis and the use of creative problem-solving techniques, new ideas along with various improvements were put into our 2012 prototype.  In comparison to the previous year, a completely new rear axis was constructed, along with the creation of a smart phone as a gauge for the driver. This enabled us to monitor and analyze the car comfortably from the pit and at the same time provide the driver with useful information.

The move from the fuel cell class to the “battery only” category was another relevant change for us. In the course of this, we followed the common trend of electrification with batteries, concluding that fuel cell technology is very complex to handle and simply too heavy.

Here, the prototype weight was dramatically reduced by using lithium-ion batteries.   Our goal is now to participate successfully in 2012 Shell* Eco-marathon Europe, taking place in the beautiful Dutch city of Rotterdam from the 17th to the 19th May.

Preparing for Eco-marathon Europe is not our only endeavor. In October we are participating in the Eco-Challenge – SolarRaceMurcia in Spain.  Our goal here is to implement and test our initial improvements and next evolutions of vehicle parts under competitive conditions while implementing the data collected during Eco-marathon.

Work is already being done on our new chassis concept making CFD (Computer Fluid Dynamics) simulations to improve the aerodynamics of the vehicle.

Moreover, optimization algorithms for stiffness calculation to max out the lightweight potential are being developed. FEM (Finite Element Method) simulations are absolutely mandatory in bridging the gap between building an extremely light car while at the same time providing a safe and stiff chassis.

Only four weeks remain until the final showdown, when more than 200 teams from all over the world are competing for the Most Efficient Car title. Right now, we are entering the final phase of preparation performing final tests and ironing out any potential problems.  Optimal performance is our goal as we eagerly await a great event in Rotterdam.

More information about the team and the vehicle can be found on our homepage.

Tufast Eco trailer from TufastECO on Vimeo.
* Shell is sponsor of The Great Energy Challenge. National Geographic maintains autonomy over content.


[ There’s still time to volunteer for Earth Month! ]

Sign up to join EarthCorps this Saturday. We’ll be in Seattle, Federal Way, and Mercer Island.

If you can’t make it this weekend, check out the EarthCorps volunteer calendar and sign up soon!



[ Green Quiz Challenge – Wind Power ]

Green Quiz – Wind Power

Rainbow windAlthough coal, nuclear and gas all supply more electricity to the U.S. grid than wind power, the future looks much different: wind capacity is blasting ahead of these other sources when it comes to the pace of growth and new installed capacity.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, “wind accounts for 35% of all new electricity generating capacity since 2007” and powers nearly 10 million homes in the U.S. Some states already get a sizable chunk of their energy supply from wind power. In this green quiz, we test your knowledge of wind power supply.

Which state gets nearly 20% of its electricity supply from wind power, a higher percentage than any other state?   

A. Texas    B. California   C. Maryland     D. Iowa

The correct answer is D. Iowa. Congratulations to our green quiz winners: Heather Epkins, Michael Glausser, and Clint Carney!

While Texas has more total wind capacity than any other state, Iowa gets the largest chunk of its energy supply from wind compared to other states. To learn more about the state of wind power in the U.S., check out the American Wind Energy Association factsheets.


[ Statement from The Wilderness Society on Horsepacking in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks ]

“We support the sustainable use of horsepacking trips in wilderness, including in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks.  Horses allow all Americans to enjoy our wilderness, including seniors and those facing an array of physical challenges.  We believe that, when properly evaluated and managed, guided horsepacking trips, including commercial ones, are consistent with the Wilderness Act and protecting wilderness values. 

“While Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks works to address concerns laid out by a federal district court, a process that is likely to take multiple years to complete, we support the continuation of commercial trips – including those already scheduled for this summer – that are consistent with preserving the wilderness values in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks.  This will allow the range of visitors to continue to enjoy Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks’ beautiful backcountry.”

See also:

Attachment Size
The-Wilderness-Society-and-Back-Country-Horsement-of-America.pdf 112.02 KB
The-Wilderness-Society-Letter-SKCNP-Superintendent.pdf 6.17 MB