Our Common Good
Even as battlelines are drawn between developed and the developing world for Doha climate talks, India and China —- key allies at global climate negotiations —- on Monday agreed to collaborate on clean technologies and finding solutions to their environmental problems.

“We (India and China) have similar environmental problems and can find joint solutions,” planning commission deputy chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia said, after signing an agreement with Zhang Ping, chairman of Chinese National Development and Reforms Commission to conduct pilot studies in joint areas of interest. 

Both India and China have adopted innovative methods to deal with rising urban municipal and water waste, and Ahluwalia said both the countries could learn from each other’s experiences.

Although high cost solutions are available with western world, its applicability in the two countries is difficult because of the scale of the waste. 

To assess the ground situation, India and China will conduct joint pilot studies, which would be scaled up, if found viable.

“We are also working on signing an agreement on collaboration in area of small hydro power projects,” Ahluwalia said.

India and China at second strategic economic dialogue also signed an agreement with the commission to enhance cooperation in the field of energy efficiency.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass), has penned a letter to Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, looking for answers about a Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS.A) containment dome that “crushed like a beer can” in tests earlier this Fall.

Markey, who is the Ranking Member of the US House Committee on Natural Resources, is referring to a story first broken by Seattle radio station KUOW investigator John Ryan, revealing that in September Shell performed tests on a containment dome that was to be deployed as part of the company’s controversial Arctic offshore oil drilling operations.

According to government reports obtained by KUOW, the dome “breached like a whale” and then sank to the bottom of Puget Sound off the coast of Washington State. When the dome was recovered a government official described the dome as “crushed like a beer can.”

The containment dome is a key piece of emergency spill equipment that is used to cap an oil well when a pipe burst occurs, like the one we saw in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster. Markey describes the failed test in his letter to Salazar:

"Remotely operated submersible robots became tangled in rigging lines, warning indicators were dismissed as defective, and divers were requested, even though using divers would likely not be possible during an actual disaster in the Arctic. The test was conducted in Puget Sound, far away from the actual Arctic environment."

Markey goes on to ask the question that should be on everyone’s mind given this disturbing revelation:

“Shell’s unsuccessful test in Puget Sound raises new questions about the company’s ability to successfully drill offshore in the Arctic and, more generally, about the ability of containment devices to function properly in the harsh Arctic environment. The outcome of the containment dome test, the fact that Shell may have missed warning signals that something was wrong and Shell’s problems using ROVs, which could be required in an Arctic environment, raise troubling questions about whether Shell can drill safely in this harsh and sensitive area.”

 You can read the full text of Markey’s letter here: Markey Questions Interior on Failed Arctic Spill Containment Test.”

Ms. Anadi is the star of the documentary film Solar Mamas. The film follows Ms. Anadi and her friend, the older, quieter Umm Badr, as they journey to India to be trained in solar engineering and return to their remote village to implement what they have learned.

The women were selected to be trainees at the Barefoot College, a programme created by the Indian activist, Bunker Roy, where illiterate and semi-literate grandmothers from rural villages around the world are trained to become solar engineers. With many of the women unable to speak the same language as their instructors, knowledge during the six-month course is transferred using sign language, repetition, and visual aids.

Amazingly, the technical challenges these women faced were just the beginning of their story. Six weeks into the course, Ms. Anadi’s husband called to tell her that if she did not return immediately he would divorce her and take her children. By staying at Barefoot College, she was breaking radically with the moral order of her community. But remember those eyes: Rafea Anadi cannot be intimidated.

Did she have doubts?

“Never. I always wanted to do it. On the contrary, you tell me ‘no’ and I want to do it ten times more,” she says with only the faintest hint of a smile.

Mona Eldaief, the director of Solar Mamas, focused on these women from Jordan because she wanted to capture some of the cultural obstacles that women can face when attempting to change their communities.  Anadi and Umm Badr went through “hell” to reach their goal, according to Ms. Eldaief.

At the same time, the director wanted the film to demonstrate how much can be accomplished by putting the responsibility for alleviating poverty into the hands of women.

“If you give a man training he might take his skills and move to the city, away from his family. But when a woman has control her instinct is to give it back to her children,” says Ms. Eldaief. “And we see in Rafea’s case that she was able to bring sustainable income and sustainable energy to where there’s no resources.”

The other lesson of Ms. Anadi’s experience is that the knowledge she gained can bring profound, positive changes to the sustainability of small communities.

Raouf Dabbas appeared in the film when he was senior adviser to Minister of the Environment in Jordan. He is now vice-president of Friends of the Environment, which has taken over the mission of training and equipping local women in solar engineering. “Jordan is the fourth poorest country in the world for water resources… and receives 90 per cent of its energy from outside,” he says.

This means that in small impoverished towns where fuel is extremely expensive, villagers must burn firewood. The frequent uprooting of trees loosens ground soil and destabilises the entire ecosystem.

The knowledge and resources provided by Barefoot College and Friends of the Environment allowed villagers to halt this practice at a stroke. Ms. Anandi was also trained in the installation of solar cookers and water harvesting technology, making the town even more independent and sustainable.

What makes the programme different than other solar initiatives, says Mr. Dabbas, is the fact that training local women creates a lasting change. While solar systems implanted by other NGOs broke down after six or seven years, the systems in Ms. Anadi’s village can last indefinitely as she passes on her knowledge to the community.

“By doing it this way the people of the village are empowered … It’s a great model that we can replicate everywhere,” says Mr. Dabbas. “I hope that through COP18, we’ll shed light to all the legislators who are here that we can do the change if we’re thinking in a sustainable way.”

Earlier this year, Michelle Bamberger, an Ithaca, N.Y., veterinarian, and Robert Oswald, a professor of molecular medicine at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, published the first and only peer-reviewed report to suggest a link between fracking and illness in food animals.

The authors compiled 24 case studies of farmers in six shale-gas states whose livestock experienced neurological, reproductive and acute gastrointestinal problems after being exposed — either accidentally or incidentally — to fracking chemicals in the water or air. The article, published in “New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health,” describes how scores of animals died over the course of several years. Fracking industry proponents challenged the study, since the authors neither identified the farmers nor ran controlled experiments to determine how specific fracking compounds might affect livestock.

Despite the lack of attention paid to the issue during this year’s presidential campaign (at least, before Sandy came along), Barack Obama’s first term was a bit of a quiet revolution for climate change policy in America. It’s true that within his first two years in the Oval Office, the president had abandoned any efforts at passing a cap-and-trade bill, which went from the policy of choice for both major-party candidates in 2008 to political poison in 2010. But that failure belied a massive shift in energy and climate change policy that Obama was able to accomplish with relatively little fanfare in just his first few months in office. This profound change came in the form of the stimulus bill.

More than 13 percent of the $700 billion American Recovery Act went to energy spending, most of it green. Of the $97 billion spent on renewables, smart-grid infrastructure, fuel efficient vehicles, and the like, the largest portion—$32 billion—went to energy efficiency and retrofitting projects. This was the biggest such investment in the history of history. It may even have finally heralded the arrival of a “Negawatt Revolution” that noted environmentalist and Rocky Mountain Institute founder Amory Lovinsdescribed 23 years ago.

The Negawatt is the general principle of cutting electricity consumption without necessarily reducing energy usage through things like energy efficiency. Lovins first introduced it in the keynote address to the 1989 Green Energy Conference in Montreal:

Imagine being able to save half the electricity for free and still get the same or better services! … You get the same amount of light as before, with 8 percent as much energy overall—but it looks better and you can see better. … In the space conditioning case—heating and cooling—you get improved comfort. … It is doing more with less.

The U.S. government temporarily banned BP Plc from federal contracts on Wednesday over its “lack of business integrity” in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, a move that the British company had said could force it to rethink its entire U.S. operations.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the suspension was “standard practice” following criminal actions. Earlier this month, BP plead guilty to criminal misconduct in the Gulf of Mexico disaster, the worst oil spill in U.S. history, and agreed to pay record penalties of $4.5 billion.

The suspension means that BP will not be able to secure any new contracts with the U.S. government, including the lease of new exploration territory in the federal Gulf of Mexico, one of BP’s biggest oil production regions globally. Some 20 million acres of offshore territory is being auctioned later Wednesday.

The suspension will not affect existing leases.

theapothecarysrose:

CHIPPEWA COUNTY, Wis. — Where County Highway A crests a knoll, Ken Schmitt pulls up to the edge of a farm and idles the car. Above a cornfield yellowed and brittle from a killing frost is a 100-foot hill with a wide section cut away, revealing bands of stone, clay and sand neat as a layer cake.

In time, 800 acres of farmlandwill be mined to feed an energy boom sweeping the United States.

No one is drilling for oil or gas amid the gently rolling farmland and wooded ridges of western Wisconsin. But the same battles over jobs, public health and the environment that have erupted in Pennsylvania, Texas and Colorado as part of the latest energy wave now echo through the small towns of the upper Midwest.

Here the particular types of sand vital to the controversial production technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, lie just beneath the surface. Ground zero for industrial sand mining is western Wisconsin, in counties like Trempealeau, Buffalo and Chippewa. At least 60 industrial sand mines are functioning or in the permit process in the area, up from five in 2010.

The rapid expansion of sand mining through the quiet of western Wisconsin has raised fears among some residents and hope in others, often pitting neighbors against one another, just as fracking has done elsewhere.

To get to the sand, companies must blast and strip-mine fields and ridges. Their trucks ply the two-lane country roads nonstop to haul the sand to processing plants and railheads, where it is shipped to far-flung oil and gas fields. Residents worry that when strong winds lift the fine, washed sand from outdoor piles, the dust could lead to respiratory problems.

“People here say this is an issue of property rights, that they can do what they want with their land,” said Schmitt, a cattle farmer and anti-mining activist from the town of Howard. “But individual rights end when you start affecting others’ health and welfare.”

Still, those who lease their land get royalties. Locals work at the mines and drive the trucks. When the companies build plants that wash, sift and dry the sand, they pay tens of thousandsof dollars in property taxes. A trade-off is needed, mining’s supporters say, if Wisconsin wants jobs and the country wants cheap energy.

“I liked the land the way it was before, but the country itself has to be more efficient one way or the other in the future,” said Jeff Sikora, who leased 50 acres of his land to EOG Resources, a Houston-based oil, gas and mining company. “Everyone wants the country to be more self-sufficient, but no one wants the effects of it. We can’t have our cake and eat it too.”

KHOU-TV says that two people are dead and two people are missing after an explosion at a platform in the Gulf of Mexico.
In addition, four people have been airlifted to West Jefferson Hospital, two of them who are said to be in critical condition.
The platform is believed to belong to Black Elk Energy out of Houston. It produces both oil and natural gas.
“We cannot confirm or deny anything at this time, but we are assembling an incident command team right now,” said Black Elk Energy asset manager Kirk Trascher
He said several boats are responding to the fire, both Coast Guard and Good Samritans.
Report: Two dead, two missing, four airlifted after platform explosion in Gulf of Mexico | (via wwltv.com New Orleans)

KHOU-TV says that two people are dead and two people are missing after an explosion at a platform in the Gulf of Mexico.

In addition, four people have been airlifted to West Jefferson Hospital, two of them who are said to be in critical condition.

The platform is believed to belong to Black Elk Energy out of Houston. It produces both oil and natural gas.

“We cannot confirm or deny anything at this time, but we are assembling an incident command team right now,” said Black Elk Energy asset manager Kirk Trascher

He said several boats are responding to the fire, both Coast Guard and Good Samritans.

Report: Two dead, two missing, four airlifted after platform explosion in Gulf of Mexico | (via wwltv.com New Orleans)

KHOU-TV says that two people are dead and two people are missing after an explosion at a platform in the Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. Coast Guard confirms there is an offshore platform burning in the Gulf of Mexico in the area of West Delta Block 32.

President Obama has already achieved the first point of Mitt Romney’s Five Point Plan, Energy independence: US Petroleum production has grown to where oil exports have exceeded imports for the first time since the Truman Administration

President Obama has already achieved the first point of Mitt Romney’s Five Point Plan, Energy independence: US Petroleum production has grown to where oil exports have exceeded imports for the first time since the Truman Administration

According to GBG’s findings, the least expensive energy sources worldwide are currently wind and solar power. One kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity produced by wind power stations on the coast or in the countryside costs an average of 0.07 euro (about $0.09).

New solar energy plants in central and southern Europe produce electricity for an average of 0.14 euro per kWh. In Germany, the cost is about 0.18 euro when using rooftop solar panels, while in southern European solar parks it costs about 0.10 euro per kWh.

Wind and solar power costs the least of current energy sources

The report points out that electricity produced from new coal plants costs twice as much as wind, and about the same as solar power. GBG says by 2020, the combination of rising energy costs and innovation in the energy sector will make wind and solar power the most economical way to generate power.

ecowatchorg:

Coal Exports Booming at U.S. Taxpayers’ Expense