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Tallinn and free public transport - one year on

Thu, 04/24/2014 - 03:17
Tallinn is the capital and largest city of Estonia, a small country located in northern Europe with a population of around 1.3 million people. The capital itself has around 400 000 inhabitants. But despite its size, the country and its capital is moving towards a cleaner and more progressive approach towards transportation.

In the summer of 2012 Estonia started to work on a public charging network for electric vehicles – with an easy subscription-based payment method for its users. After building fast-charging stations in every city and larger village, Estonia became the first country to offer a nation-wide charging network for electric vehicles last year. That very same year, in 2013, Tallinn introduced free public transportation to all of its residents and thus became the European “capital of free public transport”. Today, Tallinn still holds the crown as the largest city in the world to have free public transport.

The authorities in Tallinn believed that a free public transport scheme would boost economic development, encourage people to shift from cars to buses and trams and thus cut congestion and traffic emissions. Now one year on, what exactly are the results?

Free public transport stopped a downward trend

The public transportation system in Tallinn consists of buses, trams, trolley buses and commuter trains. Tallinn's system of about 480 public transport vehicles serves around 400 000 people, making it one of the largest systems in Europe.

Public transport share was at around 40 percent before the scheme was introduced. That was even then a relatively high level compared to other European cities. The ticket costs were also fairly cheap, and pensioners and youths already benefited from free public transport in the city. Despite all this the public transport share was on the decline and had shown a negative trend for two decades.

But since the introduction of the fare-free scheme there have been a 12.6 percent increase in travels. And less wealthy neighborhoods in Tallinn has seen an even bigger increase. So in spite of initial worries the scheme has clearly been successful in persuading more people to use public transportation.

Strong public support

One popular argument against free public transport schemes is that the quality of the service and the comfort for passengers would take a substantial hit. But according to passenger surveys people in Tallinn feel differently. For the people of Tallinn, public transportation travel has become better and more convenient since the introduction of the free-fare scheme. But the increased passenger satisfaction is also the result of investments made in new and modern buses as well as a new electrified rail line on a previously neglected link. Tallinn has also increased the service frequency and designated more priority lanes for buses in the city, which no doubt has further increased the satisfaction.

The free-fare scheme in Tallinn is the result of a referendum which was held in 2012. In the referendum 75.5 percent voted for the scheme, and 24.5 percent voted against. Back then several political parties were skeptical to the idea of free public transport. Many politicians believed that it would be too expensive or simply unfeasible to accomplish. But the idea of a free-fare scheme had a strong public support, and thanks to the result in the referendum the scheme was approved. Today no one wants to abolish the scheme – that’s how successful it has been. Allan Alaküla, head of Tallinn’s European Union Office in Brussels, says there has been a “political shift” for free public transport. There is now “no party promising to abolish the free ride for Tallinners,” he says.


The photo shows a tram in Tallinn, Estonia. Photo credit: Greta Tamošiunaite (cc).

Economic costs and benefits

The introduction of free public transportation was no hasty decision. The various costs and potential benefits had been carefully assessed and debated.

Before the free-fare scheme the city's annual public transportation budget was €53 million. But revenues from ticket sales amounted to only €17 million, of which €5 million came from people living outside Tallinn. The public transport system clearly didn’t pay for its own costs.

By introducing free transport in Tallinn, the city expected incur an additional cost of €12 million – which mainly represents the loss of revenue from ticket sales (tourists and people living outside Tallinn still have to pay for their tickets). City officials deemed this to be a reasonable price to pay, especially when considered against the potential environmental, economic and social benefits of such a scheme.

City officials believe that the free-fare scheme has resulted in an economic boost for the local businesses in Tallinn. “We really provide an incentive for stimulation of the local economy,” says Alaküla. “We observed already that people tend to spend more if their mobility is free. They go out more in the evenings and weekends.”

There has also been other, more major economic benefits. Between January and November 2013, officials reported that around 10 000 new residents had been registered in the city (the latest numbers show 15 000 new residents). This was a number which was significantly higher than previous time periods. It’s therefore presumed that the increase is mainly a result of the free-fare scheme. Each additional 1000 residents provides the city with €1 million in tax revenue. So the new tax revenues help cover a large part of the additional costs of the free-fare scheme. And with an estimated 30 000 unregistered residents in Tallinn there is a huge potential for even more tax revenues.

Environmental and social benefits

A fare-free public transport obviously helps improve accessibility and mobility for a city’s residents – especially for economically disadvantaged people. It’s harder, and still too early, to quantify the long-term environmental benefits of free public transport. But even here one can imagine some obvious positive results as people shift away from cars, leading to less pollution and congestion.

Traffic congestion was down 15 percent during the first quarter of 2013, compared to levels at the end of 2012. Overall, car use throughout Tallinn has been reduced by 9 percent. Alongside the free-fare scheme, parking-fees in the city was increased sharply to further discourage the use of cars.

It’s expected that the free-fare scheme will result in a reduction of CO2 emissions by 45 000 tons every year. Another benefit is a decrease in noise pollution when less cars are on the roads and electric public transport vehicles - trolley buses and trams – are introduced. Dedicated bus lanes also help to make the traffic move more smoothly around the city. It also has the added benefit of decreasing the average trip length by 10 percent, making people get to their destination much faster than before.

After one year, free public transport has been a success in Tallinn. The free-fare scheme has stopped a downward trend for the city’s public transportation system and encouraged more people to leave their cars at home. The experiment in Tallinn has been so successful that other Estonian municipalities are now also interested in introducing similar free-fare schemes for its own residents. The results in Tallinn are also encouraging because it might help speed up plans for similar free public transportation schemes in other major cities, in Europe and around the world. Tallinn acts as a successful, full-scale real-world example that free public transport is possible and that it can have substantial social, environmental and economic benefits for a city.
Categories: Ecological News

Canada expands outrageous grizzly trophy hunt

Wed, 04/23/2014 - 02:15
British Columbia's controversial annual spring grizzly bear hunt began on Apr. 1, with an estimated 1,800 hunting authorizations being issued - one of the highest numbers in recent years. Grizzlies, which are considered "threatened" by the U.S. Endangered Species Act, do not have the population numbers that black bears do, and activists including conservation groups, animal rights supporters, and First Nation tribe members have serious qualms about the hunting of these bears for pure sport.

This year's grizzly hunt lasts until the end of May, and is followed by an autumn hunt that takes place Oct. 1 through mid-November. On average, about 300 of these bears are killed by hunters per year, but that number might increase from an uptick in hunting authorizations. The Canadian province where the activity will take place is home to about a quarter of the remaining North American grizzly population.

Robert Johnson and Jason Moody, two brothers from the Heiltsuk First Nation, recalled commonly seeing a grizzly bear while working as field technicians in a coastal estuary, flanked by what was known as the Great Bear Rainforest. The young male bear, whom they nicknamed "Cheeky," would follow them around from a distance, often poking his head out at them and sticking out his tongue. The brothers were also there on the day that Cheeky was shot to death by a big-game trophy hunter. The bear's killer, Clayton Stoner, skinned Cheeky and took his hide. He chopped off Cheeky's head and paws.

Though the brothers arrived too late to stop the hunt, they did find Cheeky's mangled remains, which had been left there to rot. "I was devastated," said Moody. "I had hoped to save his life." He and his brother, he said, had developed quite a bond with the bear, who had a playful curiosity and friendliness. Johnson remarked that during their time there, "We started talking with Cheeky, telling him what we were doing there. We got to know him quite well, to the point we could go in our boat and get off and walk around in the area without having to worry about him."

Stoner kept the bear as a trophy, even balancing the animal's severed head on his knee and posing for a photo. Brothers Johnson and Moody, meanwhile, returned to their research camp near the estuary and wept for the loss of their friend.
This is merely a single example of what is increasingly being viewed across Canada as a moral atrocity, and British Columbia is now seriously debating the continuation of grizzly trophy hunts. Thirteen years ago in April, a moratorium on the hunt was enacted, but quickly overturned within months.

On Feb. 15, protesters gathered at the B.C. legislature buildings in the provincial capital of Victoria, demanding a permanent province wide ban on grizzly bear trophy hunting. And they posed their argument not merely in moral terms, but in economic terms as well, noting that over 11,000 tourists came to Canada to visit the bears in 2012, and contributed $9.54 million to the GDP. Trophy hunting, on the other hand, only generated $0.7 million that year.

Chelsea Turner, daughter of British Columbian wildlife filmmakers Jeff and Sue Turner, spoke at the demonstration, remarking, "I realized that when we go out on location to film this spring, it will be the same time the spring trophy hunt begins. It's just appalling to me. It breaks my heart to think that one day we're working with these bears and shooting them with our cameras, and the next day trophy hunters can show up and shoot them with their high-powered rifles. This is completely the wrong direction that we're moving in."

Biologist Paul Paquet of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation said grizzlies could be too few in numbers to risk a trophy hunt at this time. "The real numbers could be somewhere as low as 6,000 or as high as 18,000," he said. "We just don't know." But the real question he said, is, "is this ethical, to be hunting bears? That's really what's at issue. This is a trophy hunt, as opposed to a hunt for food."

And according to First Nation members, these big game hunters are not doing anything particularly brave, difficult, or admirable. The bears in the area are accustomed to seeing people, due to tourism, and thus do not fear guns - until it's too late. Doug Neasloss of the Kitasoo/Xai'xais Nation suggested it isn't so much a hunt as it is senseless slaughter. When asked whether a grizzly is hard to catch, Neasloss replied, "No. My grandmother could shoot a grizzly."

This article was first published in People's World by Blake Deppe.
Categories: Ecological News

IPCC: Climate efforts not sufficient, huge increase in green energy required to avert climate disaster

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 20:51
IPCC, the UN’s expert panel on climate change, released part three of their new global warming study yesterday. The new report says that the world’s current efforts to combat global warming are not sufficient if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change.

If we are to keep global warming below the 2 degrees Celsius cap recommended by scientists, emissions from CO2 and other greenhouse gases must drop by 40 to 70 percent by 2050 – and drop even further to near-zero by the end of the century. To accomplish this, the world needs to urgently switch to clean and renewable energy. Clean energy sources will need to triple and completely dominate world energy by 2050, the IPCC report concludes. But the direct opposite is currently happening. World emissions of various greenhouse gases are increasing. Between 2000 and 2010, average global emissions rose by 2.2 percent every year – reaching “unprecedented levels” of carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere. Increasing carbon emissions are largely due to an increasing demand for energy and a rising coal use in countries such as China.

“There is a clear message from science: To avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual,” said Ottmar Edenhofer, one of three co-chairs of the IPCC working group.
We need to end the current dominance of coal, oil and gas and replace them with cleaner and more renewable energy sources. But this is a daunting – and unprecedented – task when fossil fuels currently provide more than 80 percent of the world’s total energy production.

“We can only avoid catastrophic climate change if we reduce our dependency on fossil fuels – we're already on track for four degrees warming, which will be impossible for human society to adapt to,” said Friends of the Earth's executive director Andy Atkins in a response to the new IPCC report. “We have the technology to prevent dangerous climate change. What we lack is the political will of our leaders to strongly champion renewable power and energy efficiency.”

So-called CCS technologies, which capture and bury carbon emissions is one way to produce low-carbon energy. But the IPCC experts notes that this technology is not feasible as it “has not yet been applied at a large, commercial scale.” Gas could be important in the “short-term”, during the transition, but only if it replaces coal. One low-carbon energy option is nuclear power. But the IPCC report notes that nuclear “has been declining since 1993” and voices concern about potential safety risks, “nuclear weapon proliferation risks, waste management security as well as financial and regulatory risks.”

The big emphasis in the IPCC report is on renewable energy sources and technologies, such as solar and wind power, but also energy efficiency and conservation. The IPCC report acknowledges how much renewable energy technologies have advanced since 2007. Since the last major IPCC study, “many [renewable energy] technologies have demonstrated substantial performance improvements and cost reductions, and a growing number of [renewable energy] technologies have achieved a level of maturity to enable deployment at significant scale,” the report says. “Regarding electricity generation alone, [renewable energy] accounted for just over half of the new electricity generating capacity added globally in 2012, led by growth in wind, hydro and solar power.”

But renewable energy and various implementations against energy waste requires substantial long-term investments. And here’s the good news from the new IPCC report: a global roll-out of clean and renewable energy is remarkably cheap – but only if we act now.

The investment required to green our global energy system would only result in a 0.06% reduction of off expected annual economic growth rates of 1.3%-3%, the IPCC report concludes. Read that again. It would only cost us 0.06% of annual economic growth to save the climate and make sure there will be a livable planet for future generations as well. That’s nothing. But only if we act now. “We cannot afford to lose another decade,” warned German economist Ottmar Edenhofer, a co-chair of the IPCC committee. “If we lose another decade, it becomes extremely costly to achieve climate stabilization.”

Considering that the world spends over half a trillion dollars every year to subsidize fossil fuels – about six times more than the global investment into renewable energy – there is clearly room to divest and divert money from fossil fuels into renewable energy.

And a transition towards clean and renewable energy would also result in health benefits, as professor Nicholas Stern notes. “The transition to sustainable low-carbon economic development and growth is an opportunity not just to avoid potentially catastrophic climate risks, but also to reap other benefits from cleaner and more efficient technologies, such as reductions in local air pollution,” Stern said.

“There is only plan A: collective action to reduce emissions now,” EU commissioner Connie Hedegaard said. “The more you wait, the more it will cost. The more you wait, the more difficult it will become.” And US Secretary of State John Kerry agrees with that sentiment: “Unless we act dramatically and quickly, science tells us our climate and our way of life are literally in jeopardy. […] Waiting is truly unaffordable. The costs of inaction are catastrophic,” he said.

“We stand at a fork in road,” said Li Shuo, Greenpeace East Asia's climate and energy campaigner. “One way leads to more dependence on dwindling fossil fuels that are wrecking our climate and damaging our health; the other to a world powered by a booming clean energy sector that is already driving growth and creating jobs. The sooner we act, the cheaper it will be.”

The IPCC study, titled Mitigation of climate change, is the last report of three IPCC working groups. The previous reports have looked at the current state of climate science and the impacts of unchecked climate change. This report was produced by 1250 international experts and has been approved by 194 governments.
Categories: Ecological News

Climate change is the sickness of our civilization, and the prognosis is bleak

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 02:20
For a while, Dr. Guy McPherson, professor emeritus of natural resources and ecology & evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona, was relatively optimistic. There was a time when he believed that, if modern industrial society were to suddenly cease to operate, the planet could be saved. Not any more, he says. Planet Earth is now in hospice, nearing the end.

Waiting to hear him speak, the atmosphere in the East Auditorium at the University of Rhode Island is festive, almost jubilant. Everyone is smiling and gregariously introducing themselves to me. Though most of us aren't scientists, there is an unconscious letting down of our guard: we are among our own. No matter the origin of our disparate backgrounds, we all believe that climate change is real, and that human beings are the primary cause. There is electricity in the air and everyone is excited.

I make the rounds and meet Patricia Hval, the humble curator of the Babcock-Smith House Museum in Westerly, R.I. Though not a URI faculty member, she is responsible for McPherson's presence here tonight. She had originally invited him to speak in Westerly but couldn't find a venue, so she organized a URI event along with Dr. Peter Nightingale, whom I finally meet in the flesh after some email correspondence.
Peter is a slight, elderly Dutchman with quick vibrant movements and an infectious smile - like so many others tonight (including our speaker) he exudes charisma. He is a physicist, and though he doesn't agree with McPherson's specific prognosis, his views on climate change are uncompromising. In our telephone conversations, he voices frustration at the meager efforts of world governments to curb carbon emissions. He makes an apt analogy with Dick Cheney's "one percent doctrine": If there is even a 1 percent chance of a terrorist attack, then the United States must do everything in its power to stop it. Why then, Nightingale asks, is the same logic not applied to climate change, which has a statistically predictable trajectory and the potential to kill many more people than any other threat?

Nightingale opens up the lecture with a song on his ukulele. The anthem is called "Fight For Fossil Free!" and we all have lyric sheets. Soon I am singing along with everyone else in the packed auditorium. The energy of the crowd is palpable. McPherson steps up to the podium and makes his case. He'd an odd duck, splendidly dressed, and it's hard to take your eyes off him. He is dressed in well worn leather dress shoes, '90s Carhart pants and a slick blazer, and has perhaps the goofiest haircut I've ever seen in my life. There is something strangely dashing about him, a streak of Indiana Jones. He is positively arresting.

Guy McPherson believes that life on Earth will more or less be extinct by the year 2060, and the evidence he presents is compelling and well sourced. Of the creatures that may live, mankind is not among them. We'll run out of food and water. We'll be swept away by typhoons, and freeze in winter storms of unusual intensity. We'll dry in the sun, and our mummified remains will break apart in sandstorms, our disintegrated body matter swirling around like dervishes of dust. Now, Guy didn't actually use any of these morbid descriptions, but that is where my mind went after hearing the overwhelming amount of factual information that he presented. If he's a flake, as some have accused him of being, then he is the most learned and exhaustively conclusive flake I've ever met.

We've known for a very long time that climate change is real, and that it has been specifically caused by the burning of fossil fuels. The first scientific paper linking the two was released in 1847. That's right, I said 1847. Media blackouts, apparently, are nothing new.

McPherson believes that the effects of climate change are exponentially progressive and irreversible based on two factors: the lag of the effect of carbon emissions, which is about 40 years, and consequently the creation of self-reinforcing feedback loops. So what does that all mean? Well, it means that we are reaping the fruits of 1970s carbon emissions.

But surely emissions have decreased, right? No. Not even close. Worse, there is no sign that emissions are even slowing down, much less reversing.

2009, the onset of the the Second Great Depression Great Recession, set a new record for carbon released by humans into the atmosphere. This record has been consecutively broken every year since. This is where the self-reinforcing feedback loops come into play. There are many of them, but I'll start with one that I understand as a layman: the release of methane over cold regions.

Permafrost contains copious amounts of methane, which is now being released into the atmosphere as the permafrost melts. Though methane dissipates in the atmosphere at a faster pace than carbon, its heating effects are far greater. So as more methane is released, more permafrost melts, releasing more methane. .. get it? But the methane will just break up in the atmosphere and the crisis will be over, right? No. The warming will affect the whole planet, destroying natural heat sinks such as rainforests, leading to the release of even more methane.

McPherson shows us an authentic photo of Siberian children roasting marshmallows over a methane fissure in Siberia. It's a small crack in the Earth, and some industrious youngster has lit it on fire. But they no longer light the fissures on fire, because the cracks are now a kilometer wide. No major news agency reported it.

If the prognosis on Earth's condition is so grim, then why bother reporting it? McPherson uses the analogy of medical malpractice. If your doctor examines you and concludes that you have six months to live, McPherson asks, wouldn't you like to know the truth? Those in the scientific community and elsewhere who minimize the impending calamity and totality of climate change are committing malpractice by withholding this crucial and pertinent information from us. The Earth is in hospice, and the prognosis is grim.

I pray to God that he's wrong.

This article was first published in People's World by Jonathan W. Pressman.
Categories: Ecological News

World Wind Power Poised to Bounce Back after Slowing in 2013

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 20:02
At the end of 2013, the wind farms installed in more than 85 countries had a combined generating capacity of 318,000 megawatts, which would be enough to meet the residential electricity needs of the European Union’s 506 million people. New data from the Global Wind Energy Council show that wind developers built 35,000 megawatts of new generating capacity worldwide in 2013. This was down from 45,000 megawatts installed in 2012—marking only the second time in 25 years that installed capacity increased by less than it did the year before.

The principal reason for the decline in new capacity was a more than 90 percent drop in U.S. wind farm installations from a record 13,000 megawatts in 2012. Although the United States has the second-highest wind power capacity in the world—some 61,000 megawatts—a lack of long-term policy planning has led to several such boom-and-bust cycles.

Despite the dearth of new capacity, there were many bright spots for U.S. wind power in 2013. Wind accounted for at least 12 percent of the electricity generated in nine states, including Iowa (27 percent) and South Dakota (26 percent). Iowa will get another boost from a $1.9 billion deal announced in December 2013: Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy Company purchased Siemens turbines totaling more than 1,000 megawatts, all destined for Iowa wind projects. When complete in 2015, these wind farms will likely bring the wind share of electricity in Iowa to at least 33 percent.

Wind’s contribution to the grid is also growing in Texas, the U.S. wind capacity leader with 12,400 megawatts. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas reports that wind farms produced nearly 10 percent of the electricity delivered to its 24 million customers in 2013. And with the early-2014 completion of state-funded transmission projects linking windy West Texas and the Panhandle to population centers to the east, Texas can accommodate even more clean electricity on the grid. The state has 7,000 megawatts of new wind power capacity under construction, more than half of the 12,000 megawatts currently being built nationwide.

China has led the world in installed capacity since surpassing the United States in 2010. In contrast to the drop in U.S. installations in 2013, China’s wind construction accelerated—adding 16,000 megawatts to reach a total 91,000 megawatts. Wind further solidified its role as the number three electricity source in China (behind coal and hydropower), out-generating nuclear power by an impressive 22 percent. The National Energy Administration aims to make wind-generated electricity cost-competitive with coal by 2020. (See data.)

As in Texas and many other places around the world, some of China’s best wind resources are found far from major cities where electricity demand is high. High-voltage transmission lines now under construction will connect wind-rich provinces in the north and west with more populous ones in the central and eastern provinces. For example, one project linking remote Xinjiang province to the 4 million people in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, was completed in early 2014. Infrastructure projects such as this one will be critical in reaching the official Chinese goal of 200,000 megawatts of grid-connected wind capacity by 2020.

India, the country with the fifth-highest amount of installed capacity, added 1,700 megawatts in 2013 to cross the 20,000 megawatt threshold. Although this was 25 percent less new capacity than in 2012, India is poised to grow its wind power base dramatically in the coming years. In January 2014, the government announced a National Wind Energy Mission—in the spirit of the country’s National Solar Mission—to be launched mid-year. By beefing up the grid and using incentives to attract investment to wind hotspots, the program aims to hit 100,000 megawatts of wind within eight years.

Development is picking up elsewhere in Asia as well. In Pakistan, wind power capacity doubled to 100 megawatts in 2013 and will double again when two 50-megawatt projects go online in 2014. Thailand also doubled its wind capacity in 2013, reaching 220 megawatts. And the Philippines has seven projects due for completion in 2014 that will expand wind capacity there 13-fold to 450 megawatts.

Before China’s recent surge, Europe was the leading wind power region. Germany, which added 3,200 megawatts in 2013, ranks third worldwide in total capacity, with 34,000 megawatts. Four of its northern states regularly get half or more of their electricity from wind farms.

When it comes to wind’s contribution to national electricity needs, European countries top the leaderboard. Denmark gets one third of its electricity from wind, well on its way to a target of 50 percent by 2020. Portugal, Lithuania, Spain, and Ireland come in at around 20 percent each. In fact, wind came within a percentage point of beating nuclear power for the title of Spain’s number one electricity source in 2013. And Germany, Europe’s largest economy, obtained 8 percent of its electricity from wind farms.
While some of the larger European wind power markets, including Spain, Italy, and France, have slowed down, smaller players are speeding up. Poland and Romania each expanded their wind power capacity by 36 percent in 2013, to 3,400 and 2,600 megawatts, respectively. And in Turkey, even though the approval process for projects is slow, wind capacity grew by 28 percent to nearly 3,000 megawatts.

One region with enormous wind potential but little development so far is Latin America. Brazil, best known for getting 80 percent of its electricity from large hydropower, hosts the most wind power capacity in the region—now close to 3,500 megawatts after a 950-megawatt addition in 2013. At government auctions, wind companies have won more than half of all contracts to sell electricity since 2011, according to Bloomberg data. Some 10,000 megawatts of wind may be installed in Brazil between 2014 and 2019. Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay also added wind power in 2013.

In all of Africa, just one project added capacity in 2013. The final 90 megawatts of Ethiopia’s 120-megawatt Ashegoda Wind Farm went into operation, more than doubling the country’s wind capacity to 170 megawatts. South Africa has 2,100 megawatts of wind power in the pipeline, including 750 megawatts to be added in 2014 alone.

Offshore projects account for just over 2 percent of the wind capacity installed worldwide. Having hit a seventh straight annual installation record in 2013, however, offshore wind is growing fast. More than half of the 7,100 megawatts of offshore capacity belongs to the United Kingdom, which installed 730 megawatts in its waters in 2013. Denmark, Germany, and Belgium each added at least 190 megawatts to their totals, while China added 39 megawatts. Both Vietnam and Spain added offshore wind capacity for the first time, as did the United States, although the U.S. project was one very small demonstration turbine off the coast of Maine.

Offshore wind is still one of the more expensive electricity generating technologies, but onshore wind is often highly competitive with coal, natural gas, and nuclear power in areas with strong wind resources. And costs continue to fall as wind manufacturers steadily improve turbine efficiency, harnessing more wind per machine. In the United States, the average price of wind-generated electricity has dropped 40 percent since 2009.

After a slower year in 2013, world wind installations will bounce back in 2014, perhaps to a new record—the Global Wind Energy Council sees the potential for 47,000 megawatts. Roughly half of the total will be built in China and the United States (around three times more in the former than in the latter). This is good news for the wind business, for electricity consumers, and for people who value cleaner air and water. But increasingly dire scientific warnings about the consequences of climate change mean that the world will need to accelerate the shift to carbon-free, renewable sources of energy even more so in the years to come.

By J. Matthew Roney.
Categories: Ecological News

World's first airborne wind turbine will be tested in Alaska

Wed, 04/09/2014 - 17:05
A big helium-filled wind-turbine will soon float just south over the city of Fairbanks in Alaska, USA. The floating wind turbine, which is designed and built by Altaeros Energies, will hover at nearly 305 meters up in the sky and generate electricity for more than a dozen families living off the grid.

Airborne wind turbines is nothing new. We wrote about similar wind power technology as early as 2008 with the MARS prototype from Magenn. But this will be the first long-term demonstration of an airborne wind technology. The BAT-Buoyant Airborne Turbine will be in the sky for 18 months, with a total project cost of $1.3 million. Altaeros Energies hopes that BAT-Buoyant Airborne Turbine, and similar wind solutions, will play a role in tackling high energy costs in remote regions such as Alaska.

“We are pleased to work with the Alaska Energy Authority and TDX Power to deploy our flexible, low cost power solution for remote communities,” stated Ben Glass, Altaeros Chief Executive Officer. “The project will generate enough energy to power over a dozen homes.”

There are some obvious advantages with this type of wind turbines. They can be transported and setup in remote locations without the need for large cranes, towers or foundation works which are required for more traditional wind turbines. Despite its floating, kite like design, the airborne wind turbine is able to be used in harsh weather conditions. The wind turbine will also generate substantially less noise and requires very little maintenance. Besides electricity, it can also provide cell service, data coverage (i.e. Wi-Fi) and local weather data.

Because of its high altitude, the BAT-Buoyant Airborne Turbine will be able to catch air currents that are five to eight times stronger than winds closer to the ground. It’s estimated the floating wind turbine design will generate twice the electricity output of its ground-based counterparts. The floating wind turbine will feed energy into the grid through cables that are connected to the ground.

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Categories: Ecological News

UN orders Japan to end whale hunt

Sat, 04/05/2014 - 21:19
The UN's International Court of Justice has ordered Japan to halt its yearly whale hunt, a cruel practice that gives no consideration to the welfare of the animals. Japan is one of several countries that persisted in this practice after whaling was banned worldwide in 1986, in this case using "scientific research" as an excuse. But there is nothing scientific about whale killing, and the UN has called them out on it.

Currently, Japan's whaling program is killing about 1,000 whales a year under the guise of "scientific purposes." It was Australia that took the matter to the International Court this year, claiming the supposed research was little more than a ruse to circumvent the UN's whaling ban. The presiding judge, Peter Tomka, agreed that Japan's assertion that its whale hunt has a scientific basis is, by and large, false.

"The evidence does not establish that the program's design and implementation are reasonable in relation to achieving its stated objectives," Tomka remarked. He noted that it failed to justify the brutality of the killings, and that a moratorium on whaling would remain in place for Japan unless and until it could somehow produce a program with an actual basis in scientific research.

Japanese Foreign Ministry official Koji Tsuruoka said Japan will abide by the order. "While Japan is disappointed, it will abide by the judgment of the court as a state that places great importance on the international legal order," he said. However, he added that Japan "regrets and is deeply disappointed by the decision."

Among those who don't share that sentiment are animal rights activists and countries like Australia, who maintain that whale killing is immoral and unethical. Patrick Ramage, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare's whale program, said the court decision is reason to rejoice, and could have an effect on other countries that ignored the UN's moratorium, like Norway and Iceland - two countries that still engage in commercial whaling outright.

"The ruling certainly has implications ultimately for whaling by Iceland and Norway as well," said Ramage. "I think it will increase pressure on those two countries to re-examine their own whaling practices and the various reasons and pretexts given for that whaling activity."

Jeff Hansen, managing director of Sea Shepherd Australia, said, "The International Court has just acknowledged that what Japan is doing is illegal. Our hope is that Japan can be a nation that loves whales and sees the huge benefit from eco-tourism that Australia does, which was also a nation that used to hunt whales."

Greenpeace writer Tom Ganderton stated, "The news confirms what we've been saying all along: this lethal whaling program is not necessary, and is harmful to the health of our oceans. It's high time this industry was consigned to the history books. The Japanese government claims that whaling is a long-standing part of Japanese culture that the international community should not interfere with. But the Australian government was quick to challenge this idea, as Greenpeace has consistently done in the past. They pointed out that whaling only began there in the 1930s."

Moreover, said Ganderton, "The whale meat industry is dying in Japan. Statistics commissioned by Greenpeace Japan found that up to 80 percent of respondents disagreed with whaling. What's more, thousands of tons of whale meat today remain in frozen storage in Japan because demand is so low.

"We need an end to commercial whaling so we can turn the focus onto some of the big conservation challenges facing the world's remaining whale populations, like climate change and destructive fishing. We won't stop until this dying industry is ended for good."

This article was first published in People's World by Blake Deppe.
Categories: Ecological News

IPCC: Global warming impact will be severe and irreversible

Sat, 04/05/2014 - 18:00
The effects of global warming will be “severe, pervasive and irreversible” and will leave no one untouched. That is the conclusion of the newly released IPCC report, which scientists and officials say is the most comprehensive study to date on the impacts of climate change. This report is “the most solid evidence you can get in any scientific discipline,” said Michel Jarraud, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization. Earlier we could, to a certain extent, say that people damaged the Earth’s climate out of “ignorance”. But “now, ignorance is no longer a good excuse,” he said.

“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri said at a news conference in Yokohama, Japan, where the report was presented.

While the world’s natural systems are currently bearing the brunt of climate change, the impact on us humans is expected to grow significantly in the near future, the IPCC report warns. Rising global temperatures will result in more floods and cause changes to crop yields and water availability – effectively threatening our homes, health, food and safety. Or in the words of the report itself: “increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts.” We will be able to adapt to some of these changes, but only within certain limits.

In response to the IPCC report, Ed Davey, the UK Energy and Climate Secretary said that “the recent flooding in the UK is a testament to the devastation that climate change could bring to our daily lives.”

“The science has clearly spoken,” Davey said. “Left unchecked, climate change will impact on many aspects of our society, with far reaching consequences to human health, global food security and economic development.”

The IPCC report, which is based on 12,000 peer-reviewed scientific studies, details both short-term and long-term impacts of global warming. These include threats to natural systems that in turn will have severe effects for humans.

A 2C rise in temperatures would mean a “very high” risk to unique natural systems such as Arctic sea ice and coral reefs. Oceans will become more acidic, which will threaten coral and the species that depend on them. Fish species, that are a critical source of food for many people, will move to new territories because of warmer waters. It is expected that in some parts of the tropics and in Antarctica, potential fish catches could decline by more than 50 percent. Plants, animals and other species on land will also begin to move towards higher grounds, towards the poles as the climate gets warmer and their current habitats changes.

As mentioned earlier, the natural systems will feel the worst impacts first. Humans will be increasingly affected as the century goes on, the IPCC report claims. Highlighted in the report for being a significant concern is food security. Crop yields for rice, wheat and maize are all expected to be taking severe hits leading up to 2050, with projections showing potential losses of over 25 percent in yields. And after 2050, the risk of even more severe impacts on yields increases. At the same time, a rising population estimated at around 9 billion people will increase the demand for food.

“Going into the future, the risks only increase, and these are about people, the impacts on crops, on the availability of water and particularly, the extreme events on people's lives and livelihoods,” said Professor, and co-author of the IPCC report, Neil Adger from the University of Exeter in England.

The IPCC report also raises concerns over human migration due to climate change, as well as increasing risks of conflicts that will pose a threat to national and global security. As climate change worsens, so will society’s current problems. Poverty, violence, sickness, and refugees will all get worse according to the report. Climate change will also slow down the modernization of our society and effectively hampering economic growth, among other things. But although the impacts of climate change will be felt everywhere and hit everyone, the severity won’t affect people equally. Poor people, and developing countries, will feel the impact first and hardest. Climate change is expected to further increase the gaps between rich and poor.

But the rich won’t be able to escape from the realities of global warming. “The rich are going to have to think about climate change,” said Dr Saleemul Huq, a lead author on one of the chapters in the IPCC report. “We're seeing that in the UK, with the floods we had a few months ago, and the storms we had in the US and the drought in California. These are multibillion dollar events that the rich are going to have to pay for.”

Despite all the doom and gloom, the report makes it clear that we still have time to act to limit and adapt to some of the climate changes. In their next report, which will be published on April the 13th, IPCC will discuss what we can do to stop this negative progress. “Climate change is really important but we have a lot of the tools for dealing effectively with it - we just need to be smart about it,” said the IPCC report's chair, Dr Chris Field.
Categories: Ecological News

Air pollution kills 7 million a year

Wed, 03/26/2014 - 18:10
In new estimates released this week, the United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO) reports that in 2012 around 7 million people died – one in eight of total global deaths – as a result of air pollution exposure. This finding more than doubles previous estimates and confirms that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk. Reducing air pollution could save millions of lives.

In particular, the new data reveal a stronger link between both indoor and outdoor air pollution exposure and cardiovascular diseases, such as strokes and ischaemic heart disease, as well as between air pollution and cancer. This is in addition to air pollution’s role in the development of respiratory diseases, including acute respiratory infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.

The new estimates are not only based on more knowledge about the diseases caused by air pollution, but also upon better assessment of human exposure to air pollutants through the use of improved measurements and technology. This has enabled scientists to make a more detailed analysis of health risks from a wider demographic spread that now includes rural as well as urban areas.

Regionally, low- and middle-income countries in the WHO South-East Asia and Western Pacific Regions had the largest air pollution-related burden in 2012, with a total of 3.3 million deaths linked to indoor air pollution and 2.6 million deaths related to outdoor air pollution.

Dr Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant Director-General Family, Women and Children’s Health, said:

“Cleaning up the air we breathe prevents noncommunicable diseases as well as reduces disease risks among women and vulnerable groups, including children and the elderly. Poor women and children pay a heavy price from indoor air pollution since they spend more time at home breathing in smoke and soot from leaky coal and wood cook stoves.”

Included in the assessment is a breakdown of deaths attributed to specific diseases, underlining that the vast majority of air pollution deaths are due to cardiovascular diseases as follows:

Outdoor air pollution-caused deaths – breakdown by disease:
  • 40% – ischaemic heart disease;
  • 40% – stroke;
  • 11% – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD);
  • 6% – lung cancer; and
  • 3% – acute lower respiratory infections in children.
Indoor air pollution-caused deaths – breakdown by disease:
  • 34% – stroke;
  • 26% – ischaemic heart disease;
  • 22% – COPD;
  • 12% – acute lower respiratory infections in children;
  • 6% – lung cancer.
The new estimates are based on the latest WHO mortality data from 2012 as well as evidence of health risks from air pollution exposures. Estimates of people’s exposure to outdoor air pollution in different parts of the world were formulated through a new global data mapping. This incorporated satellite data, ground-level monitoring measurements and data on pollution emissions from key sources, as well as modelling of how pollution drifts in the air.

Risks factors greater than expected

Dr Maria Neira, Director of WHO’s Department for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, says:

“The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes. Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution; the evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe.”
After analysing the risk factors and taking into account revisions in methodology, WHO estimates indoor air pollution was linked to 4.3 million deaths in 2012 in households cooking over coal, wood and biomass stoves. The new estimate is explained by better information about pollution exposures among the estimated 2.9 billion people living in homes using wood, coal or dung as their primary cooking fuel, as well as evidence about air pollution’s role in the development of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and cancers.

In the case of outdoor air pollution, WHO estimates there were 3.7 million deaths in 2012 from urban and rural sources worldwide.

Many people are exposed to both indoor and outdoor air pollution. Due to this overlap, mortality attributed to the two sources cannot simply be added together, hence the total estimate of around 7 million deaths in 2012.
Categories: Ecological News

UN report: 2013's extreme weather is consistent with climate change

Wed, 03/26/2014 - 17:45
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released their annual State of the Climate report this past Sunday, to coincide with the World Meteorological Day. The report confirms that recent extreme weather events, such as droughts, floods, heat waves and tropical cyclones around the world, are linked to human-caused climate change.

"There is no standstill in global warming," said WMO Secretary-General, Mr. Michel Jarraud in a statement. "Many of the extreme events of 2013 were consistent with what we would expect as a result of human-induced climate change. We saw heavier precipitation, more intense heat, and more damage from storm surges and coastal flooding as a result of sea level rise - as Typhoon Haiyan so tragically demonstrated in the Philippines."

The WMO report shows that 2001-2010 was the warmest decade on record, and that the last three decades had been warmer than the previous one. In 2013, Australia had its hottest year on record while Argentina had its second hottest. 2013 tied with 2007 as the sixth-warmest on record. The continuing long-term trend of warming and these heat records could not have been possible without "human-induced influence on climate", i.e. global warming, the report concludes:

"Comparing climate model simulations with and without human factors shows that the record hot Australian summer of 2012/13 was about five times as likely as a result of human-induced influence on climate and that the record hot calendar year of 2013 would have been virtually impossible without human contributions of heat-trapping gases, illustrating that some extreme events are becoming much more likely due to climate change."

The report also shows that during 2013 greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere reached record highs, global oceans reached new record high sea levels, and Antarctic sea ice extent reached a record daily minimum.

"2013 with its mixture of record warmth and extreme weather shows a now familiar mixture of natural variability and greenhouse gas induced climate change," said Prof Sir Brian Hoskins, director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London. "These annual statements document a striking long term trend, and one thing is clear: that our continuing greenhouse gas emissions are a crucial driving force in the changing climate."

Other key climate events of 2013, according to the WMO report:
  • Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), one of the strongest storms to ever make landfall, devastated parts of the central Philippines.
  • Surface air temperatures over land in the Southern Hemisphere were very warm, with widespread heat waves; Australia saw record warmth for the year, and Argentina its second warmest year and New Zealand its third warmest.
  • Frigid polar air plummeted into parts of Europe and the southeast United States.
  • Angola, Botswana and Namibia were gripped by severe drought.
  • Heavy monsoon rains led to severe floods on the India-Nepal border.
  • Heavy rains and floods impacted northeast China and the eastern Russian Federation.
  • Heavy rains and floods affected Sudan and Somalia.
  • Major drought affected southern China.
  • Northeastern Brazil experienced its worst drought in the past 50 years.
  • The widest tornado ever observed struck El Reno, Oklahoma in the United States.
  • Extreme precipitation led to severe floods in Europe’s Alpine region and in Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, and Switzerland.
  • Israel, Jordan, and Syria were struck by unprecedented snowfall.
Categories: Ecological News

Kiruna's experiment with free public transportation is deemed a success

Thu, 03/20/2014 - 18:16
Kiruna is a small town with less than 20 000 inhabitants located in the most northern parts of Sweden. It's a typical mining community, with iron ore extraction being the key industry of the area. In fact, Kiruna has been an important seat for iron ore extraction and mining industry in Sweden since the early 20th century. So it's not the typical city you would expect to introduce free public transportation for all its inhabitants. But the city of Kiruna did just that in 2011, and the results have been amazing.

"The result is incredible," said Niklas Sirén, Vice Chairman of the municipal executive board in Kiruna. "We did not dare set a figure as a goal. There is a very strong car culture, it is sparsely populated here and we figured Kiruna residents are deeply rooted in their driving. We were pleasantly surprised. More people are choosing to leave their cars more often."

Niklas Sirén and his local Left Party was behind the suggestion to introduce free public transportation in 2011 on a trial basis. Back then, in 2010, only 120 000 trips were made. But since free public transit was introduced, travel has tripled in Kiruna and the experiment has now become permanent. Last year more than 387 000 trips were made in Kiruna.

"This has broken a downward spiral for public transport," Sirén said to ETC. "Previously, there would mostly be only empty buses. Now comes the expectation of more rides and lines. The next step is to expand public transport."

But it's not completely free. To be able to use the service, Kiruna residents need to pay 100 SEK, around $14, for a buss card each year. The free public transport does not apply to tourists and other temporary visitors whom instead need to buy tickets to be able to travel. But the card is also available for asylum seekers, and students that lives outside the municipal. For Kiruna, the free public transportation costs around 3.3 million SEK per year.
Categories: Ecological News

Hundreds arrested at White House in XL pipeline protest

Wed, 03/19/2014 - 03:07
In a dramatic sign of growing opposition to construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, 398 students were arrested March 2 after they chained themselves to the White House fence.
A network of students called XL Dissent organized the protest, part of a groundswell of calls upon President Obama to block approval of the pipeline, which will carry millions of gallons of crude oil from the tar sands region in Alberta, Canada, to refineries in the United States.

"Obama was the first president I voted for, and I want real climate action and a rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline," Nick Stracco, a senior at Tulane University and one of the organizers of the protest, told the Huffington Post. "The people that voted him into office have made it absolutely clear what we want, and that's to reject Keystone XL."

Over 1,000 students from some 80 campuses and 42 states gathered at Georgetown University and marched on the White House. The students, many dressed in mock hazmat suits, first stopped at the home of Secretary of State John Kerry, where they unfurled a giant black tarp to symbolize an oil spill.

The State Department has issued a finding claiming that building the Keystone XL pipeline won't have a significant environmental impact. The State Department study was necessary because the pipeline crosses international borders and is required for federal approval. Kerry must sign off on the study.

Once at the White House, students again unfurled a giant tarp and lay down on it to symbolize an oil spill. Students then tied themselves to the fence with plastic handcuffs and were arrested.

"The youth really understand the traditional methods of creating change are not sufficient, so we needed to escalate," Aly Johnson-Kurts told Politico. Johnson was one of those arrested.

"They say we are too young to make a difference, but we are proving them wrong, right here, right now," Earthguardians Youth Director Xiuhtezcatl Martinez told the cheering crowd.

This was said to be the largest student civil disobedience action at the White House in a generation. Over 1,200 people of all ages were arrested in a similar protest organized by the environmental group 350.org at the White House in August 2011.

"An entire movement has thrown itself into in this Keystone fight, from local frontline groups to big national green organizations," 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben wrote in an email to Huffington Post. "But this weekend shows the power and bravery of some of the most crucial elements: young people, and activists who understand the centrality of environmental justice."

The Keystone XL pipeline is a project of TransCanada. Once constructed it will transport 830,000 barrels of tar sands crude oil, described as the "dirtiest oil," to its refining destination in the Gulf Coast.

The pipeline would double the amount of tar sands crude oil entering the U.S.

Environmentalists are warning that burning this dirty oil will increase greenhouse gas emissions exponentially at a time when they must be reduced to stem the climate crisis.

They also warn of vast ecological decimation due to extraction from the tar sands and massive oil spills over delicate aquifers and waterways.

In one of the largest spills in U.S. history, one million gallons of oil gushed into Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010 and it still hasn't been fully cleaned up.

Activists from the Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands also participated. Three activists were arrested last year trying to block construction of the pipeline by Enbridge Inc., which will also carry tar sands crude oil through the state. They face two to three years in jail if convicted.

Battles have also erupted in Detroit and Chicago over petcoke dumping. Petcoke is a byproduct of the refining process, which many believe is contributing to increases in cancer rates and other health issues.

Also participating in the demonstration were activists from the Indigenous community including Jasmine Thomas from Saik'uz First Nation in British Columbia.

Over 50 First Nation communities that will be impacted along the route of the pipeline are offering some of the fiercest resistance to construction.

"Even President Obama has admitted the jobs created are temporary and very few," American University student Deirdre Shelly said in an interview on Democracy Now!

"There's no reason why those jobs have to be in dirty and expensive oil. America is ready for a clean, green economy and we can begin by saying no to this dirty pipeline," said Shelly.

In another protest, nine students were arrested when they sat in at the State Department building in San Francisco on March 3. XL Dissent organizers vowed the protests and acts of civil disobedience would continue.

Website 350.org has signed up over 70,000 people to commit civil disobedience against the pipeline. Many more actions are expected over the next few months.



This article was first published in People's World by John Bachtell.
Categories: Ecological News

California could experience megadrought, scientists warn

Wed, 03/19/2014 - 02:56
Since last year, California has been plagued by drought, with Los Angeles in particular having its driest year on record in 2013. Angelenos only saw reprieve in early March, when heavy rainfall finally arrived there. Now, scientists are warning that an even more dire situation is on the way for the Golden State: a megadrought that could last for decades, affecting everything from wildlife to agriculture.

And although the storm system that brought precipitation to LA is going to help combat the drought in the short-term, weather officials don't believe it will have a lasting effect. The drought, of course, is a product of climate change, and it stands to reason that the two will worsen simultaneously.

Lisa Sloan, professor of Earth sciences at UC Santa Cruz, and author of a report on the issue, explained that the California drought is largely owed to the global warming-induced melting of Arctic ice. Jacob Sewall, a graduate student who co-published the report, remarked, "Where the sea ice is reduced, heat transfer from the ocean warms the atmosphere, resulting in a rising column of relatively warm air." Sloan added, "And this will only get worse, with Arctic sea ice diminishing quickly. In fact, I think the actual situation in the next few decades could be even more dire than our study suggested."

Climate change blogger and founding editor of Climate Progress Joseph Romm said that droughts in the western U.S. on the whole will increase in intensity and frequency as weather patterns change. He explained, "Precipitation patterns are expected to shift, expanding the dry subtropics. What precipitation there is will come in extreme deluges, resulting in runoff rather than drought alleviation. Warming causes greater evaporation and, once the ground is dry, the sun's energy goes into baking the soil, leading to a further increase in air temperature."

Lynn Ingram, a paleoclimatologist from the University of California Berkeley, said that megadroughts - those lasting for more than 100 years - have occurred in the past and could return. "If we go back several thousand years," she said, "we've seen that droughts can last over a decade - and in some cases, over a century. We can expect that this will happen again. California should be prepared for an eventual dry period" of that magnitude.

Should this happen, it would create an increasingly desperate set of circumstances for Californians, who live in one of the largest agricultural regions in the world. The effects such a drought would have on crops would be disastrous. As a result, the cost of fruits and vegetables alone would soar, thus making it an economic issue as well.

Celeste Cantu, general manager for the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority, said California should start preparing for this now. "There will be cataclysmic impacts. We would need to import water" to some 4.5 million southern Californians, especially ranchers and farmers.

According to paleoclimatologist Edward Cook, "the current drought" in the southwestern U.S. overall "could be classified as a megadrought - 13 years running." He pointed out that two prior megadroughts have occurred in the Sierra Nevada of California, each last between 100 and 200 years. If the worst-case scenario comes to fruition, the state's current dry period could last just as long. "There's no indication it'll be getting any better in the near term," he concluded.

This article was first published in People's World by Blake Deppe.
Categories: Ecological News

Greenpeace activists break into French nuclear plant

Wed, 03/19/2014 - 02:35
A dozen of Greenpeace activists sneaked into France's oldest nuclear power plant earlier this morning in an effort to highlight security weaknesses at nuclear facilities in Europe. All in all, about 60 Greenpeace activists from 14 different countries participated in today's protest at the Fessenheim nuclear plant - the oldest in France.

The protest started early at dawn this Tuesday when several activists sneaked inside the premises of the nuclear power plant to hang anti-nuclear banners from a building next to one of the plant's reactors. A couple of activists even managed to climb on top of the reactor number 1's roof where they unfurled banners with the message "Stop Risking Europe". The rest of the activists stayed outside the plant, blocking its entrance with barrels and demanding the shutdown of the plant.

"The Fessenheim plant is a symbol," Greenpeace activist Cyrille Cormier said. "Its planned closure must be the beginning of a series of plant closures in Europe to limit the accidental and financial risks linked to ageing (plants) and to start the energy transition."

The Fessenheim nuclear plant, which is France's oldest and considered vulnerable to seismic activity and flooding, is located in north-eastern Europe, only 1,5 km from Germany in the third most densely populated region in Metropolitan France and in the centre of the so-called European Backbone. The nuclear plant is situated on the banks of the Rhine, one of Europe's largest rivers that runs through three different countries. So if an accident were to happen at the nuclear plant, it wouldn't just be France who would be affected.

France's President François Hollande has said that he wants to reduce France’s reliance on nuclear power from 75% to 50% by 2025. Hollande has earlier promised to shut Fessenheim down by 2016. But despite this, there are currently discussions in France about extending the lifetime of several nuclear plants beyond their 40 years.

"We’re demanding Mr Hollande keep his promise by limiting maximum reactor lifetimes to 40 years by law and ensuring more nuclear plants are shut down," Greenpeace said in a statement. "With climate change upon us it should really go without saying that Europe needs a real energy transition based on renewable energy. This needs to happen fast."

A spokesman from EDF, the plant's operator, said in a statement that further precautionary measures has been taken. "There has been no impact on the security of the plant, which continues to function normally," the EDF spokesman said. Following today's protest, Ecology Minister Philippe Martin said he would "ask operators to reinforce the physical protection of the most sensitive zones in their nuclear facilities."
Categories: Ecological News

Reflective vests gives a false sense of safety for cyclists, study shows

Sun, 03/16/2014 - 02:26
Results from a study done by a research group at the Skövde University in Sweden might surprise cyclists. Their research project, named Urbanist 2, have looked at how well reflexes helps motorists’ spot cyclists in the dark. Their conclusion is that it is dangerous to rely on the bright, and among cyclists, popular reflective vests.

“What we have seen in our research is such that the reflective vest provides a false sense of security at night, when it in no way helps the motorist to interpret the rider's movement information,” said Paul Hemeren, PhD in Cognitive Science at the University of Skövde.

Instead, their findings show, it’s more important where on your body those reflexes are located. The best placements are on the head, arms, feet, and other body parts that are moving when you’re cycling.

“If you place a reflective stripe on the back of the helmet, which continues in a vertical line down the back, you create a line that breaks when the rider turns his or hers head,” Hemeren said. “This shows [for the motorist] that it’s a high probability that the cyclist will turn. And if reflexes are also placed on other body joints you will reach an even better result.”

If the reflexes are placed like this, it reinforces a riders unconscious patterns of movement and in turn makes it easier for the motorist to make an accurate assessment of the cyclist’s intentions – in up to 97 percent of the cases. Without it, the study finds that the motorists could only make a correct assessment in little over 70 percent of the cases.

Obviously one shouldn't draw too many conclusions from only one study, but apparently, those reflective safety vests used by many cyclists might not do much to protect the wearer – at least if the wearer is on a bike.
Categories: Ecological News

Reinvent our transportation systems for reduced emissions and more jobs

Sat, 03/15/2014 - 22:11
Cutting greenhouse gas emissions will throw millions of people out of work! That claim has made many working people reluctant to support action to slow climate change. But is it true?

Our Jobs, Our Planet, a report written in 2011 by Jonathan Neale for the European Transport Workers Federation, argues the opposite, that changing the ways that goods and people are moved can reduce emissions from the transport sector by 80% while creating over 12 million new jobs – 7 million in transportation and 5 million in renewable energy.

The author of Stop Global Warming, Change the World writes that such a program will be a big win for workers and for the planet: “there are more than 40 million people out of work in Europe now. The planet needs help. They need work. If we succeed, we can solve both problems at once.”

Neale’s argument focuses on four kinds of changes:
  • Reduce. We change our lives so we use less energy. For example, cities with dense populations, nearby jobs and local shops create less emissions than suburbs and hypermarkets.
  • Shift. We use a different kind of transport. For example, getting passengers out of cars and into buses cuts carbon dioxide emissions in half.
  • Improve. We make transport more efficient. For example, better designed trucks moving at slower speeds will cut carbon dioxide emissions in half.
  • Electrify. We stop making electricity by burning coal and gas. Instead we use renewables like wind and solar power. This can cut carbon dioxide emissions to almost nothing.
The majority of Neale’s 103-page study is a well-documented explanation of how those four principles can be implemented in Europe today, dramatically reducing fossil fuel use while creating millions of new permanent jobs.

He also addresses a problem that many such analyses ignore —that under capitalism, jobs created in one area often means jobs eliminated elsewhere. Much more employment in public transport can mean much less in auto manufacturing, for example. That’s why, Neale argues, the transition requires an integrated plan based on public ownership of the industries involved, with a “bedrock guarantee … that anyone who loses a high carbon job is guaranteed proper, lengthy retraining and a new job at the same wages or better.”

He urges the labour movement to adopt a two-pronged program for reducing emissions and expanding employment.

“If unions stick to policies that support growth in all sectors, we will not be able to deliver that growth. Climate change is coming. If we do not take radical action, we will face radical circumstances. When climate catastrophe arrives, governments will cut aviation, trucking and much else swiftly and savagely. Then there will be no protection for the workers affected.

“So unions will need to do two things at once. We need to campaign for serious cuts to emissions. But we need to insist at the same time that those cuts can only come if workers are properly protected. We need to be control of the process, not have it done to us. This is not just a matter for workers in aviation and road freight. It will only happen if workers in other sectors, and other unions, insist that all workers are protected.”

Our Jobs, Our Planet: Transport Workers and Climate Change is an important report in its own right, showing what could be done in Europe today with proper planning. It’s also an important example for labour and environmental activists everywhere: this is the kind of analysis and program we need to build an effective labor-green alliance to save the world.

I’ve posted the full report here. (pdf)
Categories: Ecological News

Climate politics must be as radical as the climate crisis

Sat, 03/15/2014 - 21:24
It’s wrong to think that we can campaign to stop climate change in the same way we might campaign to end a war. All the evidence says we are well past that stage now. That is, even if by some impossible, magical course of events all carbon pollution on Earth was stopped tomorrow, we’d still be in really, really deep trouble.

So many greenhouse gases have been pumped into the Earth’s atmosphere that we have rushed far past the safe upper limit — the famous 350 parts per million of CO2, the number that climate action group 350.org took for its name.

Today’s level of 400ppm has been enough to trigger the“death spiral” in Arctic sea ice. More than three-quarters of the ice cap’s volume has melted away in the past 30 years.

Along with wrecking the Arctic region’s fragile ecosystem, scientists predict the loss of the ice cap will trigger other events that throw global warming into overdrive. The two biggest of these are the melting of the huge Greenland ice sheet and the release of immense stores of methane gas frozen inside ice-like crystals on the seafloor.

There is alarming evidence that both disastrous events may already be underway.

Dangerous warming already here

Last year, Greenland’s ice cap was found to be melting at a rate that smashed previous records. Studies cited in the UN’s IPCC report on climate science said Greenland’s ice melt was six times bigger in the decade to 2011 compared to the decade before.

The scientist-authored blog Arctic News also reported that recorded methane emissions from the Arctic are “going through the roof”. Two weeks ago, researchers announced that 17 million tonnes of methane were venting into the atmosphere from the ocean floor off the coast of East Siberia each year — double the amount previously estimated. Methane gas causes up to 100 times more warming than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

Even without the methane pulse, the Earth will keep warming. Researchers from Princeton University released a study on November 24 that said “the carbon dioxide already in Earth’s atmosphere could continue to warm our planet for hundreds of years” even if emissions suddenly stopped.

On top of this, world-leading marine scientists warned in October that a climate change-induced ocean mass extinction event may be underway. This is largely due to the warming of the oceans, combined with the acidification caused by carbon dioxide dissolving into the water. The ocean has not been this acidic at any time in the past 300 million years.

All these impacts are underway now, when the Earth has warmed by just 0.8C since industrialisation. Unless emissions fall rapidly, the warming pathway is for a 4C rise — maybe as soon as 2060. That is, business-as-usual puts us on track for global warming five times worse that it is already.

Fossil fuel binge

Despite all these findings, the world’s big polluting firms (and the banks that finance them) are engaging in a fossil fuel binge. Last year alone, companies spent $674 billion to find and develop new oil, gas and coal deposits.

The International Energy Agency predicts global investment in extracting and processing new fossil fuel reserves will add up to a staggering $22.87 trillion between 2012 and 2035. And because conventional fossil fuel sources are running out, an increasing part of this investment will be in even more polluting unconventional sources: gas and oil fracking, tar sands oil, shale oil, extra heavy crude oil, deepwater offshore oil and energy deposits from the newly accessible Arctic seabed.

US energy analyst Michael Klare put it bluntly in a recent Tomdispatch.com article:

“Most of us believe (or want to believe) that the second carbon era, the Age of Oil, will soon be superseded by the Age of Renewables … There is only one fly in the ointment: it is not, in fact, the path we are presently headed down.

“The energy industry is not investing in any significant way in renewables. Instead, it is pouring its historic profits into new fossil-fuel projects … The result is indisputable: humanity is not entering a period that will be dominated by renewables. Instead, it is pioneering the third great carbon era, the Age of Unconventional Oil and Gas.”

In a recent paper, US climate scientist James Hansen summed up the fearful outcome if the big corporate polluters get their way: “It is not an exaggeration to suggest, based on best available scientific evidence, that burning all fossil fuels could result in the planet being not only ice-free but human-free.”

Three types of denial

We are already living in a world of dangerous, irreversible climate change. We need to cut emissions sharply to stop things getting even worse, but we also need to prepare to adapt to the changes that are coming. Radical social change — economic and political systems based on equal access, human solidarity and sustainable production — will be the most important adaptation measure of all.
If we are going to survive in a warmer world, then we must also do so without illusions. The threat of climate change would be a lot less daunting if the mainstream discourse about it were not so dominated by reckless denial, shamefaced excuses and sinister silences.

From the standpoint of humanity having a safe future on this planet, this race to wreck and poison the Earth for profit is insane, even suicidal. Yet for the powerful companies that stand to profit, and from the standpoint of the capitalist system as a whole, it’s an entirely predictable response. The methodical destruction of the life-giving properties of our planet is the visible product of “the invisible hand.”

The World People’s Conference on Climate Change, held in Bolivia in 2010, drew together more than 20,000 climate campaigners — mostly from the global South. The conference adopted a “People’s Agreement” that concluded capitalism’s “model of limitless and destructive development,” its “regime of production and consumption [that] seeks profit without limits,” is ultimately to blame for the climate crisis.

The People’s Agreement also noted that “the corporations and governments of the so-called developed countries, in complicity with a segment of the scientific community, have led us to discuss climate change as a problem limited to the rise in temperature without questioning the cause, which is the capitalist system.”

As we strive to build mass movements to respond to the climate emergency, we will have to confront the corporate polluter-backed denial of the climate science. But we will also have to confront those who accept the science but deny the economic and social roots of the crisis.

US Marxist John Bellamy Foster says there are at least three kinds of ecological denial. The first kind is the outright, absolute denial of any problem, the “automatic response of corporations generally” when their profits are under threat. It’s the denial made infamous by tobacco companies. It’s the denial of those who blindly insist climate change is not happening, or that humans have no role in it.

The second kind of denial is “a retreat from the first.” It admits the problem, but refuses to admit that the present social system is a fundamental issue. This kind of denial gives rise to environmental solutions that confuse the symptoms with the cause. Typically, those who isolate population size, consumption habits or technological change as the most important climate issues are stuck at this second stage of ecological denial.

Foster says the third kind of denial is “a last ditch-defense” and “the most dangerous [denial] of all.” It’s the denial that admits our environmental problems are a failure of capitalism as it exists, but insists we must try to make capitalism green and sustainable.

“The argument here varies,” says Foster, “but usually begins with the old trope that capitalism is the most efficient economic system possible … and that the answer to ecological problems is to make it more efficient still by internalising costs on the environment previously externalized by the system.”

It’s the denial that says we can deal with climate change while keeping the social relations of domination, inequality and exploitation that got us into it. It’s the denial that says the best way to protect nature is to turn more of it into marketable commodities. It’s the denial that says capitalism is the potential saviour, when it is the present destroyer.

Ecological revolution

Rejecting these three types of denial leads to embracing a strategy of far-reaching ecological revolution. In the words of the People’s Agreement:

“It is imperative that we forge a new system that restores harmony with nature and among human beings. And in order for there to be balance with nature, there must first be equity among human beings.”

This is not the same as just waiting for the revolution to come. The campaigns to keep fossil fuels in the ground and build new, sustainable infrastructure are crucial. The point is that if the climate action movement allows its goals to be shaped by what is permissible in a capitalist economy then it has already failed.

If it refuses to compromise on the things that need to be done then it will ultimately have to confront, and remake, the whole system.

This is an immensely difficult and arduous course. We cannot deny the peril we face. But neither should we deny the revolutionary changes needed for humankind to survive and thrive in the future. To respond to the climate emergency, our politics must be as radical as our reality.
Categories: Ecological News

Dolphin slaughter in Japan stirs up global wave of outrage

Sun, 03/02/2014 - 00:04
At least 250 dolphins have been tortured, many of them brutally killed, in Japan's Taiji Cove in the past seven days. Some of these mammals will be collected and shipped off to aquariums, but a large number will be harvested for their meat. Dolphin hunting is also known as drive hunting, and involves driving the animals together with boats and trapping them. It is increasingly seen as a cruel, inhumane, and entirely unnecessary practice. Now, animal rights groups and other activists worldwide are fighting back.

Several hundred bottlenose dolphins, porpoises, and pilot whales are hunted and slaughtered in Taiji Cove annually. Among those slain so far this year were infant dolphins (whom the fishermen view as too small to be worth much in meat), and a rare albino dolphin.

On Jan. 24, activists held a rally in downtown Tokyo, decrying this abuse and calling on officials to stop the sale of marine animals to aquariums and as meat. They declared that the practice is tarnishing Japan's reputation, especially as Tokyo prepares to host the 2020 summer Olympic Games.

"The government had argued that the practice of dolphin hunting is part of Japanese tradition and food culture," said Noriko Ikeda, a member of Action for Marine Mammals who organized the demonstration. "But the reality is that most Japanese people do not know about dolphin hunting, and it is extremely rare to find Japanese people who wish to eat dolphins. The real problem is that this hunt is driven by a demand for live dolphins from aquariums wishing to put on dolphin shows."

Satoshi Komiyama, who is the leader of Action for Marine Mammals, noted that their group is relatively new, having arisen from a grassroots movement, and is indicative of a new uprising against these cruel practices. He remarked, "There have always been discussions about the pros and cons of dolphin issues in Japan. But arguments and discussions do not save dolphins. Now, we think action is important. Many foreign groups come to Japan and are active in protecting dolphins. However, since they are not permanent residents of Japan, there are various limitations and difficulties in regard to their activities here." If enough people protest, he remarked, "we have the potential to start a larger movement [based] right here in Japan."

Animal rights and rescue organization In Defense of Animals added that not only is dolphin hunting a cruel sport, it is also unhealthy for people. "How the Japanese government can knowingly allow the human consumption of dolphin meat is beyond reason," stated the group. "It contains dangerous levels of mercury and other industrial pollutants."

According to Carl Safina, Stony Brook University professor and founder of conservation group Blue Ocean Institute, it's notable that Japan's own slaughter guidelines for livestock are superior to that of the U.S.'s torturous factory farming, in that Japan requires animals to be killed in the quickest, most painless way possible, or else lose consciousness before being killed. Efforts must also be made to minimize anxiety and depression in the livestock.

None of these guidelines, however, apply to whale and dolphin killing, and since 2010, a new, more vicious killing method has been employed, one which involves piercing the animals' spinal cords with metal rods. Essentially, this results in a more prolonged, painful death for these highly intelligent mammals. The reason for doing so is because it apparently shortens the "harvest time" and makes the job easier for the fishermen.

The uproar over the slaughter has extended beyond that of mere animal rights and environmental groups: It drew a firm rebuke from U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy, who on Jan. 17 tweeted, "I am deeply concerned by the inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing. The U.S. government opposes drive hunt fisheries."

And according to a report by Whales.org, "The treatment of dolphins in [these] hunts sharply contradicts current animal welfare standards employed in most modern and technologically advanced societies. The systematic mistreatment of dolphins, allowed and sanctioned by a highly developed country such as Japan, is in striking contrast to the European Union, the United States, and even existing Japanese livestock legislation."

This article was first published in People's World by Blake Deppe.
Categories: Ecological News

The European Greens select their top candidates for the 2014 European Elections in first ever EU-wide online election

Sat, 03/01/2014 - 21:22

Ska Keller, from Germany, and José Bové, from France, have been selected to lead the European Green Party in their upcoming European campaign. After closing the polls yesterday, the election result was presented at a press conference earlier this morning.

"I’m looking forward to an enthusiastic election campaign, for the whole of the European Union," Ska Keller said during today's press conference. "It will be our task as top candidates to bring a European dimension to the national Green campaigns."

"In our campaign, we Greens will be clear about what our Green alternatives are for Europe: a fair and Green way out of the crisis, putting youth unemployment on the top of the agenda, protecting the rights of refugees and migrants, fair trade not free trade, more ambitious climate targets, and more democracy," Keller said.

The European Green Party, which is a transnational political party consisting of 40 green parties from throughout the European Union, asked people whom shared their "values" to choose their party's two green leading candidates for the upcoming European Elections, which are held between 22 and 25 May later this year.

This was the first ever Europe-wide online election for a parliamentary group in the European parliament. But the election had quite a low voter turnout with only 22,676 people participating. It's therefore doubtful that the result is representative for the members of the green parties in Europe.


Categories: Ecological News

Choose the two green leading candidates for European Elections

Mon, 01/27/2014 - 05:31
The European Green Party, which is a transnational political party consisting of 40 green parties from throughout the European Union, are asking you to choose the two green leading candidates for the upcoming European Elections which are held between 22 and 25 May this year.

This is the first ever Europe-wide online election for a parliamentary group in the European parliament. José Bové, Monica Frassoni, Rebecca Harms and Ska Keller are the four contenders in the Green Primary and have participated in live-chats and debates in several European cities, such as Berlin, Prague and London. All four of them are green politicians from across the EU who want to represent the Greens on a European level in the European elections 2014. Before they become contenders of the Green Primary, they were nominated by their national Green party and their candidacy had to be supported by at least four Green parties from across the EU.

In an effort to counteract declining trust in the EU, the European Greens wants to give people a stronger voice in European decision-making. And they see the Green Primary as a way to reinvigorate European democracy.

“This is an important step in European democracy,” EGP Co-Chair Reinhard Bütikofer MEP said. “Amidst the declining trust in EU institutions, we need new ideas. The Greens are the first to invite citizens to select our two leading candidates in an open Europe-wide online primary. Our innovative e-democracy project promotes the idea of giving Europe back to the people.”

Voting ends tomorrow (Janurary 28) at 18:00 CET. So if you are an EU citizen, over the age of 16, and you share “the values, goals and work of the European Green Party” you can help choose the two leading candidates for the European Green Party. To vote, just go to www.greenprimary.eu and register. You will need an email address and a mobile phone. You can also vote with your smartphone or tablet. The contender with the highest number of votes will be elected. The second winner will be the person with the next highest number of votes who is from another national list to ensure that the two leading candidates represent different parts of Europe.



Meet the four candidates:

Rebecca Harms



My political work began in 1975 in the German anti-nuclear movement. As Co-Chair of the Greens/EFA Group in the EU Parliament, I have always fought hard for our ideals and aims. The continuing dispute over energy transition and climate protection tells me that we Greens, being a relatively small party, need not just passion, but a lot of patience for our big ideas. This also applies to Europe. We want and we need to take new steps on the path towards political union. We need passion and patience to regain the trust of the people for this idea. In our European campaign, I want to speak out against shortsighted policies and campaign for sustainability, solidarity and a good quality of life.

Learn more about Rebecca Harms.


Ska Keller



I grew up in the Eastern Bloc, but have lived Europe for as long as I can remember. Anti-racism and internationalism became guiding principles as I worked on cross-border solidarity in my home on the Polish border. Young Greens and Green Parties of Europe spoke to this in a way that never quietened, but still calls me today. For our shared environment, for a united Europe of peace and freedom, capable of facing social, economic and international challenges, for the things that hold us together. A Europe of solidarity of generations and regions; for all people, against austerity. With your support, I will campaign in all parts of Europe to convince people that now is the time to vote green.

Learn more about Ska Keller.


José Bové



Member of the European Parliament since 2009, I am first of all, a farmer of the world. On the Larzac, where I milked sheep for years, I struggled to save my land against the army. From Seattle to Porto Alegre, with NGOs, I claimed that our world is not for sale! Since 1970, when my opposition to nuclear power started, my life has been guided by ecology. I fought GMO with civil disobedience and ended up in jail, but in the end, we secured their banning. Years of mobilisation forced the French government to ban fracking. With the Greens, I am ready to be one of the 2 leading candidates for 2014 for an ecological Europe, the only subversive dream which empowers citizens and protect our planet.

Learn more about José Bové.


Monica Frassoni



To restore our self-confidence and have a positive influence on world affairs, we have to transform the next EP Elections into a real competition. We must do it noisily by stirring controversies and debates with the other parties, by mobilising our members and finding new support. We have to convince citizens that they have a say in EU affairs and that, unless they speak up, EU will split again. If they don't, we will not solve the crisis and our collective irrelevance will be inevitable. My decision to run in this Primary stems from an ambition to participate in a team with the other contenders to make our proposals visible and credible across the EU, well ahead of the EU elections.

Learn more about Monica Frassoni.
Categories: Ecological News