Sunday, September 4, 2011

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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Warming Cycles Will Trigger Civil Wars, New Study Suggests

Posted: 04 Sep 2011 08:28 PM PDT

Are we getting more cranky and fractious as the planet heats up? It certainly seems so. The US is only warmer by just a few degrees on average over the last 30 years, and yet the culture seems to have become a lot angrier than thirty years ago.  But that’s just one person’s subjective sense of what’s happening.

To see if there is a connection between rising temperatures and rising bellicosity, an interdisciplinary team of researchers at Columbia University’s Earth Institute counted  tropical conflicts and compared the timing to the El Niño warming cycles.

Coauthor Mark Cane, a climate scientist at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, was among the earliest to predict the rhythm of El Niño/El Niña cycles, in the 1980s. That discovery is now used by organizations around the world to plan agriculture and relief services.

The higher temperatures during El Niño years double the risk of civil wars across 90 affected tropical countries, the authors found. Their paper appears in the current issue of the leading scientific journal Nature.

In recent years, scientific evidence has accumulated that past societies suffered and fell due in connection with extreme droughts that damaged agriculture and shook governments. This is the first study to make the case for such destabilization in the present day, using statistics to link global weather observations and well-documented outbreaks of violence.

“The most important thing is that this looks at modern times, and it’s done on a global scale,” said Solomon M. Hsiang, the study’s lead author, a graduate of the Earth Institute’s Ph.D. in sustainable development. “We can speculate that a long-ago Egyptian dynasty was overthrown during a drought. That’s a specific time and place, that may be very different from today, so people might say, ‘OK, we’re immune to that now.’ This study shows a systematic pattern of global climate affecting conflict, and shows it right now.”

The scientists tracked the El Niño years from 1950 to 2004 and correlated them with onsets of civil conflicts that killed more than 25 people in a given year. The data included 175 countries and 234 conflicts, over half of which each caused more than 1,000 battle-related deaths where the chance of civil war breaking out was about 3 percent; during El Niño, the chance doubled, to 6 percent. Countries not affected by the cycle remained at 2 percent no matter what.

Some examples of festering conflicts they counted that began and flared up during El Niños include Southern Sudan where intense warfare broke out in 1963, and flared up again in 1973 and 1983. El Salvador, the Philippines and Uganda also broke out in conflicts in 1972-73; and Peru’s guerrilla Shining Path movement also began during the 1982-83 El Niño.  Angola, Haiti and Myanmar flared into civil war in the 1991 El Niño; and Congo, Eritrea, Indonesia and Rwanda in 1997.

Climate scientists do expect the natural weather cycles of El Niño-El Niña will become more extreme with a warming climate, but the researchers do not directly address the issue of long-term climate change.

“No one should take this to say that climate is our fate” said Cane. “Rather, this is compelling evidence that it has a measurable influence on how much people fight overall. It is not the only factor–you have to consider politics, economics, all kinds of other things.”

Poorer countries seem to be more vulnerable to the effect. Rich Australia, for instance, has never seen a civil war despite its El -driven extreme drought and flood cycles.

“But if you have social inequality, people are poor, and there are underlying tensions, it seems possible that climate can deliver the knockout punch,” Hsiang added.

Sounds like America could be in for rough times.

Susan Kraemer@Twitter


Low Cost Solar Power Gets $145 Million Boost from SunShot Initiative

Posted: 04 Sep 2011 11:30 AM PDT

Department of Energy awards $145 million in new SunShot solar energy technology fundingThe Department of Energy is soldiering on with a new $145 million round of SunShot Initiative funding for high efficiency, low cost solar energy technologies, despite the recent bankruptcy of one of its biggest past awardees, Solyndra. The money will go to sixty-nine projects in twenty-four states.  The investment of $145 million is a drop in the bucket compared to what the global competition is doing in terms of public financing for solar development, but it’s still quite an achievement considering that the majority party in Congress has been busily cutting clean energy funds out of DOE’s budget.

$145 Million for New Solar Energy Technology

The SunShot Initiative is designed to bring the cost of solar energy down to parity with fossil fuels – or cheaper – within a few years. The program takes a broad approach to costs, so along with supporting new high-efficiency photovoltaic technology it is also funding projects that lower the cost of manufacturing and installing solar panels. To this end, the new round of funding includes projects that support the adoption of streamlined administrative processes including building codes and zoning laws, as well  as projects that shorten the amount of time it normally takes to get new technologies out of the prototype stage and into production.

Cheap Solar Power, Here and Now

Partly because SunShot is focused on near-term gains, a big chunk of the funding is going into an effort to bring down the cost of “balance of system” hardware. Balance of system hardware refers to everything but the solar cells — inverters that convert DC power generated from the solar cells into usable AC power, racks to hold the solar cells, and other equipment that can add up to 40 percent of the cost of a solar installation. Success in this area will have a significant impact on the cost of installed solar energy, even if new advances in low cost solar cell efficiency are several more years away.

High Efficiency Solar Cells, from Lab to Production

Another big chunk of funding will go to overcome cost and efficiency barriers that are keeping promising prototypes for new solar cell technology locked away in the laboratory (new technology that performs well in the lab prototype phase tends to lose a lot of efficiency when translated into a production model). Four other categories of awards are going to smart grid development, next-generation photovoltaic technology, the aforementioned administrative streamlining, and the “SunShot Incubator” to leverage private investment. Ironically, the Incubator is an expanded version of a program that began under the Bush administration. DOE credits it with generating $1.3 billion in private investment from only $60 million in public funding for solar projects.

Department of Energy Gets the Last Laugh on Clean Energy

DOE’s funding is under a cloud but the Department of Defense has stepped into the breach with a slew of solar power projects and other clean energy projects for military facilities as well as energy, waste and water conservation projects. The list is endless, from rainwater harvesting  to solar-enabled smart microgrids, landfill gas, and geothermal. Regardless of what the majority party in Congress does to block public investment in domestic energy research, it looks like DOE’s clean energy efforts are already starting to pay off.

Image: Department of Energy seal via DonkeyHotey on

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De-Salting Northern Japan

Posted: 04 Sep 2011 10:12 AM PDT

Not long ago, we saw the development of salt-tolerant crops in areas that couldn't be irrigated or were damaged by a flood of salt-water. And then came the massive wave swamping northern Japan last March — it would seem like good timing, but it's difficult to grow even salt-tolerant strains of anything in the wake of that mess.

Six months later, a concerted effort is under way to repair the damage done and reclaim the soil. Part of this effort is a business agreement between NEC Corporation (electronics), NTT DoCoMo (cell phones and communications), and My Farm of Shimogyou Ward, Kyoto (guess what they do).

My Farm's salt removal technology has been around for a while, but they've made a concerted effort to improve results since spring. Methods include blending the salt-damaged soil with other varieties of dirt, and introducing salt-eating microbes into the area. The new techniques are available starting this month to farmers and owners of agricultural land affected by the Tohoku quake (not quite free of charge).

NEC and NTT DoCoMo are both installing sensors on the properties supported by My Farm. Sensors provided by NEC measure underground temperature and water and salt concentration. The information is then sent to a server where it is recorded, stored, and analyzed in order to measure the effectiveness of agricultural restoration methods. NTT DoCoMo has enlisted its widespread cell phone network (the widest coverage in the country) to gather atmospheric data: rainfall, wind speed and direction, temperature, and humidity. This information is provided to farms free of charge.

The sheer scope of the land affected by both the earthquake and the subsequent tsunami is such that it cannot be cultivated again without drastic measures being undertaken. My Farm, NEC, and NTT DoCoMo are banding together in an effort to help their country. Of course, the good PR doesn't hurt either.

Source: Eco Japan.

More Oil From Macondo?

Posted: 04 Sep 2011 09:55 AM PDT

Oil Spill From BP's Deepwater Horizon Macondo Field Disaster

Oil Spill From BP's Deepwater Horizon Macondo Field Disaster

The Macondo Prospect, where British Petroleum’s ill fated offshore drill rig exploded and sank last year killing eleven men is a reservoir of oil in the Mississippi Canyon area of the northern Gulf of Mexico about 40 miles off the Louisiana coast.

The rig was actually owned by Transocean, built by South Korean giant Hyundai and under lease to BP at the time of its catastrophic demise. In the high stakes world of oil poker, details of ownership and registry are kept deliberately muddied and overly complex, the better to avoid taxes, laws and other liability and responsibilities.

The prospect which BP bid on in 2008 was estimated to contain 50 million barrels of oil which sounds like quite a lot. Sold at current prices that amount of oil would bring bring in gross revenue of 5 billion dollars and that’s just the cost of the crude. Major oil companies also own the pipelines, refineries and the gas pumps where we go to fill our tanks and pick up a six pack so in addition to the profits at the well they make great chunks of money all the way downstream to our front door and beyond.

50 million barrels of oil is about what we use in this country every 60 hours. That’s right, we use about twenty million barrels every day. The eleven dead, the despoliation of 500 miles of the Gulf’s coast, the crippling of the fishing and tourist industries, the physical destruction of people and wildlife, the damage to their lives and their future well being was all about keeping us cruising the roads and cursing at bubble packaging for a long weekend.

A year ago the NOAA, the Coast Guard, the administration and, of course, BP was telling us that the oil was 70% gone and they were working very hard to make things right. I don’t have to crawl very far out on the limb to say that they were lying then and they continue to lie today.

In the world of business, they’ve grown so accustomed to lying that the truth is no longer necessary.

The oil, BP’s crude gate crasher, appears to be back. In addition to the continual beaching of tarballs from the missing oil at the roiled bottom of the Gulf, expected with the onset of another season of warming waters, tropical storms, and hurricane activity it appears that something is leaking large in the vicinity of the Deepwater Horizon well.

According to an article in Al Jazeera “The return of the BP disaster? “on Thursday, reporting on animal rescue organization Wings of Care and in another piece this morning “Oil Still Gushing From BP Well In Gulf,” September, the most active month of hurricane season is likely to begin uncovering the ugly truth.

It is entirely possible that the coalition of irresponsible and incompetent corporations who gave us the tragic deaths of eleven men and the worst oil spill in our history are no more capable of safely capping a well than they are of safely drilling one, transporting its products, or refining them. They are after all, to be found spilling, gushing, leaking, spraying and otherwise carelessly spewing crude oil all over the Earth.

The reports come at us every month, from the Gulf, Alaska, the North Sea, small towns in Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania and from the Yellowstone River. There is no place on earth that these greaseheads will not despoil and are not actively and zealously engaged in destroying. Make a note that these are only the events that get reported or otherwise discovered.

Following the reports linked above, BP is already making noises about “natural oil seeps,” the expression being a large part of the literature that comprises their canned media response.

It’s likely that 60-70 percent of the oil from last year’s spill, rather than conveniently disappearing is laying on the bottom of the Northern Gulf mixed with toxic Corexit. Just laying in wait for a direct hit by something on the scale of last month’s Irene, to spread its filthy fingers all over the southern coast.

As for the current leaks being from natural seeps, I don’t know, but I don’t buy it. There are 4000 active oil and gas platforms in the Gulf and 27,000 that have been plugged and abandoned by actors like BP.

In addition to BP’s giant screw up in the Macondo prospect, the Deepwater Horizon disaster, that’s a lot of unnatural holes.

Photo: Courtesy of the MODIS Rapid Response Team[see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons

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