Saturday, January 07, 2006

This Week in Enviro News
07 Jan 2006 Edition

Here's a collection of items I've been saving up this week, starting with a very interesting list of 8 "very alternative energy ideas" from LAWeekly, which seems to have a list theme in its current issue. Take a look at the full list, but here are a couple of the more intriguing items:
1. Watts in a Wave Five miles off the shore of Scotland sits a 450-foot-long metal snake called “Pelamis.” Its purpose: to capture the power of waves. You know, the waves, bro. Built by a Portuguese energy company, Pelamis is robust enough to bear 60-foot waves and can generate 450 kilowatts of electricity via a sea-to-shore cable. Installed worldwide, Pelamis could one day contribute to an ocean-based power grid that would supply 13 percent of our wattage.

6. Say VAWT? Terra Moya Aqua, Inc., of Cheyenne, Wyoming, claims to have developed a vertical-axis wind turbine (VAWT) that uses airfoils like airplane wings around the turbine’s curvy, vertically mounted blades. More efficient than your average big-propeller-on-a-tower turbine, Terra Moya’s VAWT appears to the avian population as a solid tower, so even the dumbest of birds navigates around it.

7. Bean and Tea The old Indian and Buffalo Model: Don’t let anything go to waste. Coca-Cola’s factory in central Japan features a $3.9 million “eKOsystem” that uses captured methane from waste coffee grounds and tea leaves to heat and power its factory.
At the beginning of the week, Treehugger noted this article from the Seattle Times on what kind of an impact that cash incentives have on driving habits. Here's the opening of the SeaTimes article:
When he was given a new economic incentive to drive less this summer, Gregg Williams, of Woodway, didn't change his commute a bit.

Offered that same incentive, Bill Tan, of Burien, transformed his life. "I basically stopped driving," he says.

Tan and Williams are guinea pigs in a groundbreaking study that aims to find out how people's driving behavior would change if they had to pay a toll on almost every mile they drive.

Would such a radical move make a dent in traffic? That depends on how many drivers would respond like Williams and how many would respond like Tan.

The 400 volunteers in the Puget Sound Regional Council's "Traffic Choices" study have been paying virtual tolls since July. Devices mounted on their dashboards track where they travel and transmit the information to a central computer. Charges are deducted from prepaid "endowment accounts."

Those accounts are just play money. But if there's anything left in them when the experiment ends in February, participants get to keep it — in real dollars.

That's the carrot. They can save money by not driving as much, by choosing less-congested highways, or by staying off the road at rush hour.
And Treehugger adds this comment, which I highly agree with:
What this tells us is not only that financial incentives can work beautifully, but also that some people are trapped in their vehicles. Even when offered money, they can't accept it because they have no alternatives to their cars. Studies like this should tell policy makers and the people who vote for them that it is not enough to tell people to drive less, they also need access to fast, efficient and inexpensive public transit that are not the last resort of the poor but the first choice of smart people who don't need to waste time in traffic jams and stress over road-rage.
On the flipside of incentives, there's the growing practice of disincentives in the form of tolls, and this week Stockholm, Sweden began a trial charging a toll to drivers entering into the city. Here's the story from ENN (Environmental News Network):
Drivers had to pay a fee to enter Stockholm on Tuesday as the city started a seven-month trial of a contentious program designed to reduce traffic and cut pollution in the Swedish capital.

Stockholm is the latest capital to experiment with congestion fees, which have already been introduced in London and Singapore. Oslo, Norway, has a flat fee for cars entering the city.

Depending on the time of day, Stockholm drivers have to pay between 10 kronor and 20 kronor, or about euro1-euro2, when they enter or exit the city's center. The toll is in effect from 6:30 a.m. to 6:29 p.m. every weekday. There is no fee on weekends, holidays or at night.

City officials hope the initiative will cut traffic on the busiest streets by up to 15 percent, but critics say the toll is too expensive and that low-income commuters living in the suburbs will be hardest hit.
[...]
The city has installed devices to read electronic tags on cars' windshields. Every time a car is registered, a signal will be sent to a central computer, which will send a bill to the owner.
[...]
London successfully introduced a congestion charge in 2003 charging motorists on weekdays to enter a crowded 20-square-kilometer (eight-square-mile) zone that includes the bustling financial district.
One wonders if there would be any constitutional falderal if this sort of law and enforcement (automatic reading of tags) were attempted in a city in the United States.

Back in Seattle, the city started enforcement of its recycling mandate this week after a 9-month trial period during which offenders would get warnings. Now it's the real deal:
Garbage collectors will not pick up household garbage cans that contain large amounts of recyclable paper and cardboard, as well as aluminum, tin, glass and plastic bottles and jars. They will leave a notice on the can, and the resident must remove recyclables from the container before the garbage will be collected the following week.

Apartments, townhouses and condominiums whose garbage containers are filled with more than 10 percent recyclable paper, cardboard, aluminum and tin cans -- as well as glass and plastic bottles and jars -- will be tagged with warning notices by Seattle Public Utilities inspectors. After a third notice, a $50 charge will be added to the garbage account.
Luckily, looks like things are going smoothly:
On Monday, garbage cans at only eight Seattle residences were left uncollected.

"We're thrilled with these results," said Brett Stav, a spokesman for Seattle Public Utilities. "It shows Seattle really does value its recycling and that citizens understand that recycling is important."
[...]
Stav said although the results are gratifying, they are not a big surprise. In the first nine months after the law went into effect, garbage haulers left 2,900 warning tags for single-family residential cans. That's a mere fraction of the nearly 6 million cans collected during that period, he said.

The city has also stepped up education for multifamily residences and businesses, Stav said. No data are yet available for those, but last year, about 10 percent of businesses were found to be not in compliance, Stav said.
Now, to end on a bit of a downer--now we need to start worrying about population growth in conjunction with global warming:
Environmental problems such as global warming can be tackled only if the international community addresses the problem of population growth, a leading scientist warned today.

Professor Chris Rapley, the director of the British Antarctic Survey, said the 76 million annual increase in the world's population threatens "the welfare and quality of life of future generations".

But he said population growth was the "Cinderella" issue of the environmental debate, because its implications are so controversial that nobody dares to raise it.

Scientific analysis suggests that the Earth can sustain around 2-3 billion people at a good standard of living over the long term, wrote Prof. Rapley in an article for the BBC News website.

But the current global population of 6.5 billion - expected to rise to 8 billion by the middle of the century - means mankind is imposing an ever greater "footprint" on the planet.
[...]
Prof. Rapley acknowledged that population control and reduction was "a bombshell of a topic", raising profound moral and ethical issues.

Consequently, the issue was rarely raised when politicians, scientists and campaigners discussed what needs to be done to protect the environment, he said.

But he warned: "Unless and until this changes, summits such as that in Montreal which address only part of the problem will be limited to at best very modest success, with the welfare and quality of life of future generations the ineluctable casualty."
And a possible indicator of peak oil... erm... peaking (via Green Car Congress, hat tip to Treehugger):
Preliminary figures from the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate for 2005 indicate that average daily production on the Norwegian Shelf dropped to around 2.5 million barrels per day in 2005, down 11% from 2.8 mbpd in 2004. Final figures will be available later in January.

The results mark a continued decline from the peak in 2000 of 3.14 million barrels per day (excluding condensate).

Norway is a major non-OPEC source of oil, and is a major exporter of oil and natural gas, especially to the European Union. The country has greatly benefited from its North Sea hydrocarbon wealth, and boasted a per-capita GDP of US$40,000 in 2004, one of the highest in the world.


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