Green Bits: August 2011

July 29, 2011

Pax Rasmussen

Drive the solar highway; expensive year for disasters; $19/gallon gasoline; humanity’s footprint; the road to self reliance; passive homes; fracking news.

Drive the solar highway

One major objection to a solar-powered future is the space photovoltaic panels take—you’ve got to have large, unobstructed stretches of land to create an efficient solar farm. Good thing the U.S. already has huge stretches of unobstructed land we’re not doing anything with: the shitty, beer can-littered empty space along the national highway and interstate grid.

Oregon is investigating this opportunity: Solar highways are already powering a considerable portion of the highway lights themselves. A startup company, Republic Solar Highways, has a plan to use 65 acres of unused land around highway 101 in California to build a 15-megawatt solar network. This could be just one more drop in the bucket: A recent report form the U.S. Energy Information Administration says America now gets more of its energy from renewable resources than from nuclear; the Brookings Institution says there’s more jobs in the “clean economy” than in oil!

http://tinyurl.com/solarhighwayontheway, http://tinyurl.com/moreenergythannukes,

The road to self-reliance

If anything is going to break the U.S. addiction to oil, it’s going to be ideas like solar highways—and we’re closer than you might think. A report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance indicates that 31 states could meet their own electricity needs internally using renewable resources (in Utah we could generate nearly twice what we use)—and the report is from 2009!

Report: http://tinyurl.com/selfreliancereport, interactive map: http://tinyurl.com/selfreliancemap

A happy home is a passive home

The passive house movement is booming in NYC—a move that is sure to help us on the road to self-reliance, for sure. Passive houses, a building so well insulated it doesn’t require a heater, could be the wave of the future. Insulation has long been called the “low-hanging fruit” of the green-living trend—it’s by far the easiest and most cost-effective way to retrofit a home to keep heating and cooling costs down (beating out solar and heat-pumps sometimes hundreds of times to one)—and if you build the house that way in the first place, even better. Right now, 12 passive houses in the NYC area are being built, 15 more are planned.

http://tinyurl.com/passivehomesnyc

Those disasters really add up

The year is just two-thirds over and already 2011 has been the most expensive year for natural disasters in history. The biggest chunk of this year’s disaster-related expenses was due to Japan’s earthquake and tsunami in March ($210 billion), and in the U.S. most of the money was spent dealing with twisters and storms ($23.5 billion so far). Plenty of folks at risk-assessment groups are blaming climate change. As we reported in July’s CATALYST, the more we mess with the ecology of the Earth, the more global weirding we’re going to get—whether it’s in the form of fires or hurricanes or tornadoes.

http://tinyurl.com/expensiveyear

Hacking for the planet

From Anonymous, the hacker group that brought down PayPal because they quit taking donations for WikiLeaks: “Watch out, anti-greenies!” Moving on from purely political targets, Anonymous is now planning to use their computer-disrupting ninja skills in support of green causes. First on their hit list: Monsanto, which Anonymous calls “corrupt, unethical and downright evil.” And take on Monsanto they did: In two days they crippled all three of the megacorporatioin’s mail servers and took down their main websites worldwide, according to Anonymous. Next on their list is Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, Canadian Oil Sands, Ltd., the Royal Bank of Scotland and more. Anonymous is the Earth First! of Internet hacktivism—these guys are badasses—and I, for one, fully support the chutzpah of anyone who dares call out corps as big as the ones they’ve flagged.

http://tinyurl.com/hackingfortheplanet

Worried about $4/gallon gasoline? Try $19

Everyone knows that government subsidies keep gasoline from costing here what it does in the U.K. (about $10 per gallon)—but what about the social cost? According to Economics for Equity and the Environment Network, when you take into account damage caused by carbon emissions, we should add about $9 per gallon to the cost of gas. Remove government subsidies and we’re looking at a true gas cost of $19 per gallon.

http://tinyurl.com/truecostgasoline

Humanity’s footprint

Ever wished you could comprehensively see what the human footprint on the planet looked like? Well, now you can—or at least the footprint of our transportation activities. Globaia has made a map that shows cities in yellow, shipping routes in blue, roads in green and air networks in white, criss-crossing the Atlantic in a schizophrenic spider’s web. It’s actually kind of pretty.

http://tinyurl.com/atlanticfootprintmap

Stop fracking around

If you read this column at all regularly, you know I’m anti-fracking (a method of natural gas extraction that involves pumping chemical-laden water deep into the ground to fracture the surrounding rock, making the gas easier to get). The fluid they use is toxic and seeps into groundwater—in some cases leading to flammable municipal tap water. Here’s some news on the fracking front: Surprise! The nasty water used in fracking kills trees. A recent study by researchers from the U.S. Forest Service calls for more research into the safe disposal of the poisonous stuff. They found that two years after the fracking wastewater was sprayed on a two-hectare patch of national forest in West Virginia, the land sufferend a “quick and serious loss of vegetation,” and more than half of the trees were found dead. The companies that use this fluid for fracking won’t disclose the fluid’s chemical composition (they consider that information proprietary), but several states permit them to dispose of it on land (that is, dump it somwhere).

Folks are responding to this idiocy, though. In June, New Jersey became the first state in the country to pass a legislative ban on fracking, and in July, France passed a nationwide ban, as well.

Texas should take a lesson from NJ and France: Last year, in the middle of the worst drought in Texas state history,  natural gas companies used 13.5 billion gallons of fresh water for fracking.

http://tinyurl.com/frackingkillstrees, http://tinyurl.com/firstfrackingbans,

The road to self-reliance

If anything is going to break the U.S. addiction to oil, it’s going to be ideas like solar highways—and we’re closer than you might think. A report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance indicates that 31 states could meet their own electricity needs internally using renewable resources (in Utah we could generate nearly twice what we use)—and the report is from 2009!

Report: http://tinyurl.com/selfreliancereport, interactive map: http://tinyurl.com/selfreliancemap