Archive for March, 2010

Earth Hour Every Hour Every Day

Posted by admin on March 24, 2010
Posted under Express 101

Earth Hour Every Hour Every Day

In the midst of a three-hour power cut (with no advance warning) last Sunday evening, I decided that Earth Hour really was a good idea. But instead of millions of us agreeing to turn off our lights for an hour this Saturday night, why couldn’t we arrange for an officially-sanctioned, pre-announced black out which would make everyone do without electricity for a time? Save money, save energy and save the environment.

Ideas like this are dependent on generating behavioural change and that’s the message from US commentator Marc Gunther. There’s news of the UK Government’s 2 billion pound green investment bank and where the US stands on Climate Change now that President Obama has his historic Health Bill passed. The Australian Conservation Foundation puts population growth on the agenda, while the Climate Group reports we cut our energy emissions over summer. 

Michael Ashley tackles the chairman of the other ABC and Better Place hopes by 2020 20% of our vehicles will be emission free. The “Plastiki” is bound for Sydney and a Dutch artist puts a climate change sculpture on ice. The Workplace Research Centre has Climate Change @ Work conferences in Sydney and Brisbane, as well as the Singapore National Sustainability Conference, while CORE is launching Composting Awareness Week 2010. Australian Paper extends its range of carbon neutral paper beyond ENVI and Australia’s Chief Scientist Penny Sackett is Lucky Last with an admission of a communications failure. Haven’t we heard that before?

                                                  Ken Hickson

Profile: Professor Michael Ashley

Posted by admin on March 24, 2010
Posted under Express 101

Profile: Professor Michael Ashley

Science, by its very nature, is never 100% settled, says physicist and astronomer Professor Michael Ashley in an open letter to the chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and while no scientist would criticise someone for making this obvious point, there are times when the basic facts in a scientific field become so well tested that, for all foreseeable purposes, they are settled. Examples are the physical laws of gravity, the basic theory of evolution, and also the fundamental physics of greenhouse gases that lead to significant climate change in response to unmitigated emissions.

In Sydney Morning Herald (19 March 2010):

An open letter to Mr Maurice Newman, Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Scientists are fairly measured in their public statements.  Years of training instils a care with words, and avoidance of value judgements. Well, sod that, I’m angry.

What has me fuming is your speech last week to ABC staff in which you accuse your senior journalists of “group-think” in favouring the scientific consensus on climate change. You refer to “a growing number of distinguished scientists [that are] challenging the conventional wisdom with alternative theories and peer reviewed research” and you claim that these poor folk are being suppressed in the mainstream media.

Who are these distinguished scientists? I don’t know of a single credible climate scientist who doubts human-induced climate change.

The “skeptical scientists” who are quoted in the media almost invariably have few to no publications in the field and are often in the twilight of their careers. Their “theories” are illogical, incoherent, and inconsistent. Yet far from being suppressed by the media, they are given extraordinary access and are regularly asked to comment.  Worse, they are usually portrayed as experts – regardless of their lack of expertise in climate research.

You can easily prove me wrong, all you have to do is name just one scientist who has published a viable alternative theory in a credible science journal, that hasn’t since been debunked. I bet you can’t do it.

You quote your own political reporter Chris Uhlmann as saying:
“Climate science we are endlessly told is ‘settled’ … But to make the, perfectly reasonable, point that science is never settled risks being branded a ‘sceptic’ or worse a ‘denier’”.

Sorry again, but this is a classic straw man argument. Science, by its very nature, is never 100% settled, and no scientist would criticise someone for making this obvious point.  That said, there are times when the basic facts in a scientific field become so well tested that, for all foreseeable purposes, they are settled. Examples are the physical laws of gravity, the basic theory of evolution, and also the fundamental physics of greenhouse gases that lead to significant climate change in response to unmitigated emissions.

Rather than criticising your ABC for “group-think”, you should be praising them for being one of the few media organisations in the English-speaking world that has largely avoided being suckered in by the pseudo-science being pushed by the climate change skeptics.

The only black spot is when the ABC is forced to provide “balance” to the “debate” by giving publicity to people who aren’t skeptical in the good sense of “healthy skepticism”, but who are basically deniers of incontrovertible scientific evidence.

To provide true balance, the ABC should instead be giving airtime to where there is truly informed disagreement: the many expert climate scientists who think that the IPCC has seriously underestimated the likely future rate of climate change.

You see, Mr Newman, that’s actually the real “debate” going on in climate science right now. The rest is all huff-and-puff and grubby politics and – unlike the journalists and program-makers you criticise for “group-think” – it is you who have been fooled.

Michael Ashley studied physics and astronomy at the Australian National University and the California Institute of Technology. He is currently a Professor in the School of Physics at the University of New South Wales, where his main research interest is in making astronomical observations from the Antarctic plateau. His research has led him on four occasions to the US Amundsen-Scott Station at the South Pole, and, with his colleagues at UNSW he has developed robotic instrumentation that can operate unattended throughout the Antarctic winter. He has studied the physics of climate, but insists that “if you want the best scientific advice on climate change, don’t ask me, ask the experts who publish regularly in the top journals”.


A New Horizon For a Sustainable Future

Posted by admin on March 24, 2010
Posted under Express 101

A New Horizon For a Sustainable Future

How will communities be hardened to prepare for greater bushfire and flood risk? How will farmers respond to shifting rainfall patterns and changing growing seasons? Will household, business and government insurance change to take into account predicted impacts?  All climate change adaptation considerations we need to acknowledge now, according to CEO of Green Cross Australia Mara Bun.

By Mara Bun CEO of Green Cross Australia

The choices we make as we adapt to a changing climate have the potential to significantly mitigate the risk of future warming. According to CSIRO, “Australia is likely to become warmer, with less rainfall and more droughts in the south, uncertain rainfall changes in the north, more heatwaves, less snow, more fires, more heavy rainfall events and more intense cyclones.”

According to UCAR (a US non-profit consortium of research universities, on behalf of the National Science Foundation and the university community, including Australia’s ANU), an estimated 0.5° C increase in average temperatures is built into the climate system already due to accumulated greenhouse emissions. NCAR backs CSIRO’s impact predictions:

Higher temperatures: Warming of about 0.2° Celsius is projected for the next two decades. If emissions continue to grow various computer models predict that Earth’s average temperature will rise between 1.8° and 4.0° Celsius (3.2° and 7.2° F) over the 21st century.

•           More rain: global average precipitation will most likely increase by about 3-5% with a minimum increase of at least 1% and a maximum increase of about 8%. 

•           Rising seas: By the year 2100, models predict sea level will rise between about 20 and 50 cm (8 to 20 inches) above late 20th Century levels.

•           Severe weather intensity: Some climate scientists believe that hurricanes, typhoons, and other tropical cyclones will change as a result of global warming. Warm ocean surface waters are expected intensify of storms, and some scientists believe there will be a higher proportion of the most powerful and destructive storms (other scientists remain unconvinced on this one)

•           Plants and animals: Climate change will alter many aspects of biological systems and the global carbon cycle. Temperature changes will alter the natural ranges of many types of plants and animals, both wild and domesticated. There will also be changes to the lengths of growing seasons, geographical ranges of plants, and frost dates.

As Australians respond to each of these impact areas, choices will be made that either refuel the greenhouse cycle with CO2 intensive approaches, or begin to cut future warming impacts by reducing our carbon footprint as we adjust to new climate realities.

Adaptation efforts are small, you might argue, compared to more decisive efforts to change our energy mix.

But consider the magnitude of adaptation choices we will confront over coming decades.

How will we respond when our roads and train infrastructure buckle under predicted growth in very hot days?

How will we cope with more extreme heat days? How will our coastal infrastructure respond to severe weather risks? What about the growing storm surge risk especially as king tides sweep onto higher sea levels?

How will communities be hardened to prepare for greater bushfire and flood risk? How will farmers respond to shifting rainfall patterns and changing growing seasons? Will household, business and government insurance change to take into account predicted impacts?

How will design, planning and building standards change in line with future climate risk profiles?

How about the choices we have to make, including these:

  • Each time a heat wave hits an Australian community, choices will be made about how to adapt – switch the aircon to high regardless of greenhouse consequences, or invest in renewable energy sources and more energy efficient appliances, or swelter through with open windows.
  • Each time a flood or fire hits a community they will build back – using energy intensive materials and appliances or low emissions approaches.
  • Each time we build a sea wall to protect a beach community, we get to choose whether to use conventional cement or novel materials, possibly produced in more efficient manufacturing plants.
  • Farmers forced to respond to shifting rainfall and new growing seasons can maintain traditional practices or shift to carbon farming.


Banking on a Low Carbon Economy in UK and Australia

Posted by admin on March 24, 2010
Posted under Express 101

Banking on a Low Carbon Economy in UK and Australia

As the UK Labour government was about to unveil in London a 2 billion pound (A$3 billion) “green” investment bank in the budget to help Britain’s transformation to a low carbon economy, at the 6th AustralAsian Cleantech Forum in Melbourne David Hunt of Sustain Asia Australia and Carinya led a panel discussion on investment where the outlook was seen as decidedly buoyant for the sustainability sector.

David Hunt reports from AustralAsian Cleantech Forum:

The subject of the panel discussion was all about bridging the investment gap that is inhibiting the growth prospects of Cleantech companies and creating opportunities for investors in private equity to gain more exposure to the Cleantech market.

It was obvious from the excellent presentations given, as well as the questions from the floor, along with the intelligent answers, that this is a great growth business that is heading in the right direction.

After the perils of the Global Financial Crisis which effectively dried up funding for this and most other sectors, Cleantech investment is starting to happen here in Australia as it is elsewhere. And the market is decidedly buoyant.

The panel discussion covered the spectrum:

• Contrasting global trends in private equity investment with what we are seeing in the Cleantech sector

• A timeframe for the emergence of more pure play Cleantech private equity investors

• Macro economic factors supporting strong returns – how is this translating in the present?

• How to get good ROI on your investment and strategies for Cleantech companies to access capital in the expansion stage

• Identifying emerging high growth businesses

• Investment trends and gaps in the investment cycle

• Accessing LP’s and finding an equity model that suits your expansion strategy

As moderator of the session, I had a great panel of presenters:

Jo Hume, Investment Analyst, CVC Sustainable Investments; Chuck McDermott, General Partner, Rockport Capital Partners;  Tom Martin, Senior VP, Pacific Corporate Group Asset Management, USA and Donald Hellyer, Head of Fund Manager Relations, National Australia Bank

Overall, the Cleantech forum and exhibition organisers have done well to not only bring together serious players in the investment game, but also a host of businesses that are ready, willing and able to capitalise on opportunities in the sustainability sector, hopefully made possible by the ready availability of good advice, incentives and funding.

Reuters Report (22 March 2010):

The UK Labour government will unveil a 2 billion pound ($3 billion) “green” investment bank in Wednesday’s budget to help Britain’s transformation to a low carbon economy, a government source said on Sunday.

Finance minister Alistair Darling has said there will be no pre-election giveaways in the budget, with polling day expected on May 6, but he wants more investment to encourage future sources of economic growth after an 18-month recession.

The green bank, designed to help finance projects such as railways, offshore wind power generation and eco-friendly waste management, will be half-funded from government asset sales with the remaining one billion pounds coming from the private sector.

“The high risk profile of these investments, which are in new and unproven technologies means an initial government investment is needed to draw in investors,” the source said.

“By providing an initial investment of government capital it will reduce the risk profile for investors and increase the incentive for the private sector to enter the market at the scale and pace needed.”

It is estimated that Britain needs well over 150 billion pounds to modernize its energy mix. It also has to meet climate change targets — cutting greenhouse gas emissions by a third and sourcing 15 percent of its energy from renewables by 2020.

The government could sell the rail franchise from London to the tunnel linking Britain to mainland Europe, the student loan book, a toll road crossing near London or betting company, the Tote, to finance the investment bank, the source said.


Policymakers have grown increasingly concerned that companies are still struggling to secure finance for investing in innovative areas even though the worst of the credit crunch is over and the banking system has stabilized.

Getting credit flowing freely again is regarded as crucial to engineering a sustainable recovery. Bank of England figures last week showed lending to firms shrunk at its fastest annual pace in at least a decade in January.

With government borrowing for 2009/10 expected to come in as much as 10 billion pounds below December’s 178 billion pound forecast, the budget on Wednesday could contain further small, targeted measures aimed at new industries.

However, with the budget deficit heading for a record 12 percent of gross domestic product this year, Darling is expected to bank most of the undershoot.

“A little bit of government help can unlock a lot of private sector investment, and that is going to be the focus this week,” Darling told BBC television on Sunday.


Time for Dr Obama to Take Nation’s Temperature on Climate Change?

Posted by admin on March 24, 2010
Posted under Express 101

Time for Dr Obama to Take Nation’s Temperature on Climate Change?

How does the triumphant health reform vote affect Obama’s future efforts? Was this the high-water mark or will it lead to success on other fronts, like energy and climate change? Some Democratic strategists hope so, while others, according to the International Oil Daily, say it may dampen the chances of achieving similarly broad legislation on energy and the environment by prompting Republicans to withhold their cooperation.

Report from Chicago Breaking News (22 March 2010): 

For more than a year, the White House had one overriding rule: As long as health care was alive, no other substantial issue was to be pushed harder — nothing that might distract from what President Barack Obama saw as Exhibit A for “Change you can believe in.”

That strategy plunged the White House into one of the most grueling legislative battles in modern memory. The fight was so tough and went on so long that more than once along the way, a senior presidential aide recalled last week, he had to stop, close his eyes and remind himself, “breathe, breathe.”

But late Sunday night, Obama got his historic victory. Now he could stand before a skeptical public and say he had broken a Washington stalemate dating over half a century. He and the Democratic Party’s leaders on Capitol Hill had demonstrated they could hammer out agreements on some of the nation’s most complex and politically explosive issues.

And they did it without the filibuster-proof Senate majority they’d long counted on.

That left just one question: Was this the high-water mark for Obama? Was it a victory that left his army too exhausted to fight again? Or was it a triumph that opened the way to success on other fronts — energy, climate change, immigration, tightening regulation of the financial system?

At least some Democratic strategists see a new opportunity, now that the congressional haggling is over.

“The American people got too close a look at how Congress actually legislates and that’s an ugly thing,” said Jim Jordan, a Democratic campaign strategist. “Once the legislative process is done, the debate turns to what’s in the bill and what’s in the bill is, by and large, extremely popular with the public.”

Yet Obama suffered a 20 percentage point drop in the polls as the health care legislation played out against a background of massive unemployment, a collapsed housing market and the aftermath of a recession the likes of which many of today’s voters had never seen.

Nor is the economy likely to be fully restored by the fall elections, making it the first priority of the White House and congressional Democrats in coming months.

Almost certainly, that means putting off energy, climate change, immigration and other issues for at least a little longer.

If passage of the health care overhaul won’t necessarily reset the Obama presidency, the alternative was almost certain catastrophe — a point the president made in his final rounds of coaxing Democratic lawmakers to support the bill.

Repeatedly during the weeks after Republican Scott Brown won the late Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat and stripped the Democrats of their 60-vote super majority, Obama was urged to back off and try for a scaled-back version of health care.

But Obama, while toying with the idea at least once, decided not to pull back.

“This is high-stakes poker in which the White House has doubled down on its strategy after the Massachusetts election,” Mark Penn, a strategist for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, said of the decision.

Had Obama gambled and lost, he would have suffered more than a humiliating defeat. He would have raised questions about both his judgment and executive skill. He had stocked the White House with former congressional aides just for this purpose — to pass major legislation that had eluded past Democratic presidents.

In purely historical terms, he seems to stand vindicated.

“This has been 100 years in the making,” said Harold Ickes, who was part of the unsuccessful effort to pass a health care overhaul under former President Bill Clinton. “History is replete with false starts on this. It’s an enormous achievement to get it done.”

But as Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., said Sunday, the old obstacles to other legislative goals won’t disappear now.

“Everything else is a very heavy lift,” Sherman said.

Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, a moderate Republican and senior member of the energy committee, said the deadlock over energy policy and related issues will persist.

“I think it will be very difficult even to do a budget,” he said.

Republicans have a vested interest in portraying health care as a Pyrrhic victory. From the beginning, GOP strategists saw the health care debate as a chance to cripple Obama’s presidency. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., cast the stakes in military terms, predicting that a defeat on health care would be Obama’s Waterloo.

“He articulated what many others were thinking,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. “They thought that if they could defeat the president on this they could defeat him on anything.”

Republicans still believe that’s true.

“Their choice was to pass bad legislation or prove they’re incapable of governing,” said David Winston, a Republican pollster who works closely with the party’s congressional leadership.

Sunday night, Obama and congressional Democrats proved they could win a tough battle. Now, the challenge is to survive the victory.


Bill Murray, Washington in International Oil Daily (23 March 2010):

The passage of comprehensive health care legislation in the US House of Representatives Sunday may dampen the chances of achieving similarly broad legislation on energy and the environment by prompting Republicans to withhold their cooperation.

President Obama was expected to sign the 10-year, $938 billion health bill on Tuesday. The legislation will extend coverage to 32 million uninsured people and ban insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions.

The Senate passed its version of the health bill in late December and the House passed its measure after an agreement was reached that some elements of the legislation will be returned to the Senate for a “reconciliation” vote. 

However, the health bill — which was preceded by a long and divisive national debate — was passed by the House without a single Republican vote. And now Senate Republicans have threatened to unite to block further legislative action until mid-term elections are held in November.

“If they do this, (reconciliation on health care) it’s going to poison the well for anything else they would like to achieve, this year, or thereafter,” South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told ABC News earlier this month.

Graham’s comments are important, because he has been part of a “tripartisan” effort to write compromise legislation that would cap carbon emissions by coal-burning utilities and potentially expand offshore oil and gas drilling. In any event, publication of a bill is not expected until mid-April.

A provisional summary of the compromise being put together by Graham, Sen. John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) and Sen. Joe Lierman (I-Connecticut) shows discussion of a price floor for carbon of $10 a ton and a ceiling at $30 a ton.

Any published bill would have to go through six to eight weeks of economic modeling by the Congressional Budget Office and the Environmental Protection Agency, making late-May the earliest that a bill could be debated either in committee or on the Senate floor.

“Temporary Republican opposition could delay negotiations and might diminish odds that any climate or energy-only bill passes at all,” political analyst Kevin Book of Clearview Energy Partners said in a  note to clients published Monday.

This would leave only the passage of “legislation to preempt or delay EPA regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources the most probable outcome, particularly if Republicans do not relent until late into the second quarter of 2010,” Book wrote.

However, refusal by the Republicans to play ball may not be viewed as a negative by several Senate Democrats from energy-producing states who are up for re-election in November.

Analysts say it is possible that many Senators do not want to make themselves even more vulnerable by passing comprehensive energy legislation, in addition to the highly controversial health care plan.

The climate change measures being considered in the Senate are quite different from the cap-and-trade bill that passed the House of Representatives in June 2009. The House bill created a carbon market that would have covered 85% of all emissions in the US and would have increased energy prices for the average household by more than $100 a year.


Too Much of a Good Thing is Bad for People & the Planet

Posted by admin on March 24, 2010
Posted under Express 101

Too Much of a Good Thing is Bad for People & the Planet

The science of behavioural economics, along with new work being done around happiness studies and  climate change communications, offer fresh insights into how to get people to change. The food we eat, the cars we drive, the size of the houses we build and buy – all the choices we make – have global environmental consequences. Marc Gunther gets us thinking about over-consumption.

by Marc Gunther on March 14 2010, 12:06

“Consumption is a tricky issue for us, but we need to start talking about it.”

So says Peter Lehner,  executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. This is welcome news. Like the other big environmental NGOs, NRDC has shied away from telling people what to eat (less red meat and dairy), what kinds of cars to drive (smaller ones), whether to fly (not too much)  or how many homes to own (one).

That may be about to change.

I spoke to Lehner last week after a three-day symposium on Climate, Mind and Behavior, sponsored by NRDC and the Garrison Institute, a nonprofit whose program on “transformational ecology” is led by Jonathan F.P. Rose, a New York real estate developer who also sits on NRDC’s board.  The event was designed explore ways to change behavior on a scale big enough to have a major impact on global GHG emissions.

The stellar group of participants included enviromentalists (Paul Hawken, Van Jones and Gus Speth), investors and business people (Mark Fulton and Bruce Kahn of Deutsche Bank, Jesse Fink of MissionPoint Capital Partners, Jack Jacometti of Shell) and academics (Dr. Benjamin Barber, John Gowdy of RPI, Jon Krosnick of Stanford and Anthony Leiserowitz of Yale).

The headline out of the event: Simple and inexpensive changes could reduce global warming emissions by one billion tons.

Put another way, the NRDC says changes in behavior could generate as many reductions as one of  the “climate stabilization wedges” made famous (at least among climate geeks) by Princeton professors Stephen Pacala and Robert Socolow in this 2004 article in Science.

As Lehner puts it: “If all Americans acted together, by taking fairly modest steps, many of which are cost-saving or cost-neutral and will give them better lives, we could eliminate emissions, equivalent to those of the entire nation of Germany.”

“People often ask, if I change my behavior, what difference will it make?” Lehner goes on. “This analysis showed that it makes a lot of difference. That’s exciting.”

He hastens to add that individual actions cannot be a substitute for the policy changes needed to curb emissions and promote clean energy. Instead, he hopes, personal and individual actions will lead to activism.

“If you start biking to work,” he says, “you may become more active in your community, to make sure there are bike lanes. Policy is no longer abstract. It’s very real.”

Here are some of the recommendations from NRDC and the Garrison Institute. They may sound familiar, but bear with me–there’s a potential for new thinking here:

Fly once less per year: The average one-way commercial flight from London to Los Angeles produces more greenhouse gas emissions per passenger than the average British commuter produces yearly by car, train, and subway combined…While it would be unreasonable to expect those who fly only one or two times per year to give up their flight (that flight could well be their vacation), frequent flyers, and especially business travelers, could take advantage of alternative options like telecommuting to cut down on air travel.

Consume less red meat and dairy: All meats are not created equal: while the average pound of beef consumed in the United States is responsible for 20 pounds of emissions, a pound of chicken is responsible for less than two. Today’s average American consumes a prodigious quantity of red meat: the equivalent of one McDonald’s Angus Bacon and Cheese Burger per day. Replacing two days’ servings of red meat with poultry will reduce emissions by more than 70 MMtCO2e in 2020. Dairy cattle similarly produce vast quantities of greenhouse gas emissions. Dropping dairy two days per week in favor of plantbased foods is not only healthy—animal fats are closely correlated to obesity, diabetes and many forms of cancer—but will save more than 35 MMtCO2e in 2020.

Consume paper and plastics more responsibly: Buying recycled paper, stemming the flow of unwanted catalogs by two-thirds, and reducing printer paper consumption by one-third (easily achieved by printing doublesided) will save more than 50 MMtCO2e in 2020. Dropping bottled water consumption by 50 percent in that same timeframe will save another 8 MMtCO2e.

I’ve deliberately selected the recommendations that affect consumption. Others are less controversial and more familiar: Replace incandescent bulbs with CFLs, reduce motor vehicle idling, fix leaks and heat loss in your house, unplug appliances and turn the thermostat down a bit in winter and up a bit in summer (cardigan not required).

So what’s new here? Two things, I think.

The first is that the science of behavioral economics, along with new work being done around happiness studies and  climate change communications, offer fresh insights into how to get people to change. I’ve written about these developments before (see What’s for lunch? Behaviorial economics meets climate change and How to talk about climate change) and they are exciting.

One of the fundamental insights of behavioral economics is that people are not merely the rational, self-interested beings of Economics 101, but also emotional creatures, capable of altruism and influenced by the behavior of others. Much of our political discourse, including the debate about climate-change policies, focuses around the question of “what’s in it for me?” (This is why we hear so much about “green jobs.”) Some behaviorial economists argue that environmentalists would do well to  appeal to our better natures.

Here are a couple of brief excerpts from a draft paper by RPI’s John Gowdy, who spoke at the event:

In contrast to the policy recommendations of most economists, relying on monetary incentives to tackle collective choice problems like global warming can actually have perverse effects. As many environmental philosophers have argued (Norton 2005; O’Neal 1993) giving people a shared responsibility and appealing directly to a sense of the common good is a much more effective way of gaining acceptance for environmental policies….

Successfully dealing with global climate may require cooperation on an unprecedented scale among people with radically different values and radically different needs. Formulating policies that tap into our social and genetic heritage of cooperation offers the best hope for success.

The other thing that’s new here is the potential for a conversation about consumption. For the most part, businesses won’t lead that conversation and until recently, environmental groups haven’t either. As Lehner put it: “We’ve talked about it passively on our website….What we are now exploring is talking about it a little more actively.”

This won’t be easy. It’s hard to talk about overconsumption without sounding like you are hectoring people. “It’s tricky because it’s personal,” Lehner says. “It’s hard to talk about somebody else’s life.”

But as we used to say in the 60s, the personal is political. It’s not simply a personal choice to drive an SUV when you don’t need one; it’s an anti-social act, as is idling your car when it’s part outside the dry cleaners or Starbucks. The food we eat, the cars we drive, the size of the houses we build and buy and other choices we make have global environmental consequences–particularly because Americans are, on a per capita basis, among the biggest polluters on the planet. So let’s get the conversation going.


Reva Arrival Drives India’s Alternative Fuel Revolution

Posted by admin on March 24, 2010
Posted under Express 101

Reva Arrival Drives India’s Alternative Fuel Revolution

It may come as a surprise but the world leader in pure electric cars is India’s Reva launched in Delhi (and unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show). There are already 700 Reva’s running around Bangalore and 1000 in London. There are some big opportunities and big risks for India’s tiny electric car, says CNN’s Eco Solutions report, but automobile industry commentator Murad Baig gives us his insight in Reva and India’s alternative fuel revolution.


From Murad Baig in Delhi:

It may come as a surprise but the world’s leader in pure electric cars is India’s Reva that was just launched in Delhi. There are already 700 Reva’s running in Bangalore and 1,000 in London. To encourage this `Zero Pollution’ little car the British Government has cut taxes and London charges no Congestion Tax. It also provides free parking with free electricity provided at several car parks. It is not only being used as a second car but is a great hit with many high profile lawyers, doctors, architects and corporate executives who find parking and travel in congested city areas difficult. Paris and several other European cities are expected to follow soon.

The Delhi government also offered lower local taxes but the little car still carries customs duty or taxes on imported and local components and excise duty. But though it still costs Rs. 3 Lakhs the buyers will have to spend very little on electricity and almost nothing on repairs and maintenance.

The Reva can comfortably seat two large adults and two kids in the small back seat and go at a speed of up to 80 kmph with a range of 80 kms per charge making the energy costs 10% of the smallest petrol car. It is very easy to drive with just a brake and accelerator to manage. It also has seats that can be heated or cooled and the deluxe model has an air-conditioner. 


Indian motorists got a recent shock when the Government raised the prices of petrol by Rs. 5 and diesel by Rs. 3 but with the price of crude oil now above US$ 130 a barrel there may be even worse news in the near future. The automotive world industry is seriously worried because they too know that the unending increases in the prices of fossil fuels will adversely impact their future sales. Unlike the oil companies their business is of making and selling vehicles so they are very serious about promoting any fuel that can propel their car sales.

Until quite recently, the low cost of petroleum products had caused people to believe that fuel alternatives, like hybrid, hydrogen, fuel cells and agro-based fuels, were uneconomic. But this is no longer the case.

A few pioneers, like India’s cute little Reva, have developed electric cars but these have a limited range of about 80 km between battery charges. There is also an Electrotherm electric scooter. (As these are zero-pollution vehicles, the central and state governments need to be encourage them with a total tax holiday until they become popular.)


Mahindra & Mahindra had displayed a hybrid Scorpio prototype at the Auto Expo and now Honda has launched their Civic Hybrid in India. It will have the comforts of a luxury saloon and will perform equally well. It will need only half the fuel of the normal car and so will generate half the pollution. However, as it will be fully imported, taxes will unfortunately make it cost twice as much as the normal Civic. The Toyota’s Prius model, which is selling quite well in several world markets, has a similar technology.

The new car’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) advanced three stage variable valve timing-intelligent 1340 cc petrol engine has not been set for maximum performance so it only generates a modest 94 hp as compared to 130 hp of the normal Civic’s 1800 cc engine. The engine is, however, complimented by a 20 hp electric motor that has nearly the same torque as the petrol engine to provide excellent acceleration. When accelerating, the engine and the motor work together to provide responsive power but when the foot is lifted off the accelerator, the engine quietly shuts down and the electric motor takes over for cruising or idling. On de-acceleration, the motor turns into a generator to recharge the big nickel-metal hydride battery pack and to provide engine braking. The result is that, despite weighing 80 kg more than the standard model, it gives excellent performance with half the fuel consumption and it therefore reduces CO2 emissions by half. CO2, HC (soot) and NOX emissions that normally double during acceleration are also cut when the electric motor cuts in to assist. The battery is recharged whenever the engine is running or the car is decelerating. Then the three-way catalytic converter reduces pollution to 1/10 of the highest emission norms.


Several car companies, such as GM and BMW, also have prototypes running on Hydrogen that can be fed into a mildly modified conventional petrol engine. When the Hydrogen and Oxygen burn, the exhaust is only steam for supremely clean exhaust emissions. But the Hydrogen is made from electricity that usually comes from a polluting power station. But overall, it is much less polluting and the pollution in a city is usually lower than the area near the power plant. But no one will buy a Hydrogen car unless there are several hundred pumps dispensing Hydrogen. It is reported that China is contemplating setting up 10,000 hydrogen pumps to help clean up the pollution in their cities.  

Fuel Cells

Many auto makers feel that fuel cell is the most promising long-term technology which uses a reformer to extract Hydrogen from Methanol, CNG or other fuels in its fuel tank. The fuel cell then separates the electrons and protons to generate electricity that drives an efficient electric motor. The problem is that the power output is still rather small, while the cost of the technology is high. But this may change with better technologies and volume production.

CNG and AutoLPG

CNG and AutoLPG are successful auto fuels with low pollution levels that can be adapted for any petrol engine. Certified kits for both fuels are available at costs of about Rs 15,000 to 25,000. CNG is however, a pure gas and can only be transported by high-pressure pipelines, so its impact has only been in areas around Delhi and Mumbai. AutoLPG (not kitchen LPG – which is both illegal and dangerous) is far easier to transport and is used by about 12 million cars in 14 countries. It is stored at low pressure and as liquid can be easily delivered by road tankers to any city. So AutoLPG will be the quickest way to reduce atmospheric pollution in most Indian cities while also offering a lower cost fuel. But investments in special dispensing pumps, similar to CNG dispensers, are necessary for this fuel to become successful and India’s oil companies have yet to take it very seriously. 

Bio Fuels

In the area of bio fuels, Brazil was one of the first to introduce a mix of 25 per cent Ethanol, derived from sugarcane, with petrol to make Gasohol, which was popularised with a slightly lower retail price, over thirty years ago. Formula 1 cars use 100 per cent Ethanol (as it does not catch fire). But a 10 per cent mix can be used in any petrol-powered car without any modification to the engines or fuel systems. However, Ethanol has slightly lower power and fuel efficiency.

Now a 5 per cent mix is being belatedly used in India. Ethanol can be made from maize or sugarcane so many worry that promoting ethanol could food availability. But in India Ethanol mainly obtained from the molasses used for making alcohol after the sugar has already been extracted.

Jatropha Oil

For trucks, buses and diesel cars, pure Jatropha oil, with a small amount of additives (tiny quantities of valve detergents) can be used instead of diesel without any modifications to the engines or fuel systems. Jetropha oil compares well with diesel. The Cetane number is about 15 per cent better than diesel, resulting in a smoother and quieter performance. But the power output is about 3 per cent less. On the emission front, Bio-diesel contains no Sulphur so there are no SOX while NOX is very low. 

Jetropha oil, by itself, is a useless plant that came to India from Mexico along with imported wheat in the sixties. It cannot be used for food, fibre or fuel, and it is only used as a hedge crop. But because it can grow on barren, saline and eroded wasteland, and thrives with little water or care, it competes with no other food crop. The bush produces berries with seeds that can produce a good quantity of inedible oil. According to estimates, two tonnes of seeds can be obtained from one hectare of average land, yielding about 500 litres of oil per year worth about Rs. 25,000 at the price of normal diesel. The cost of producing this bio diesel, including the refining, costs roughly Rs. 30 per litre, which is a bit higher than the cost of diesel without the burdens of taxation. But as this bio diesel could help reduce India’s huge import burden, and help India’s poor farmers, many are interested in developing it.

Recent price increase in petrol and diesel does not fully meet the high costs of crude oil, so further price hikes can be expected in the months to come. All the available technologies are now quite well known so the time has come for the Government and the auto industry to take them up on a war footing to make them popular. This means that the central and state government must work on a `war footing’ to provide incentives for promoting desirable technologies and making alternate fuels available while the auto manufacturers must be encouraged to bring their latest technologies to India.

Much of this report by Murad Baig, an acknowledged expert on the automotive industry in India,  appeared Swagat, the Air India flight magazine

There was also a report on CNN’s Eco Solution programme, where reporter Mallika Kapur pointed out that there are some big opportunities and big risks for India’s tiny electric car, the Reva. With reports every Monday and a monthly show, Eco Solutions takes viewers around the world to meet people with solutions to preserve the planet who are putting them into practice.

Source: and

A Better Place: Taking A Leaf Out of the Electric Vehicle Log Book

Posted by admin on March 24, 2010
Posted under Express 101

A Better Place: Taking A Leaf Out of  the Electric Vehicle Log Book

Up to 20% of Australia’s cars could be emissions free by 2020, according to a key player in the global electric vehicle industry, Better Place Australia’s chief executive Evan Thornley, while Nissan will start building its Leaf electric car at its British plant from early 2013, saving more than 2,000 jobs at its factory in Sunderland.

Speaking on ABC1′s Inside Business program (21 March 2010), Better Place Australia’s chief executive Evan Thornley said the change would be driven by motorists in the outer suburbs with larger cars and annual fuel bills of up to $6,000.

By Stephen Letts

Up to 20 per cent of Australia’s cars could be emissions free by 2020, according to a key player in the global electric vehicle industry.

Speaking on ABC1′s Inside Business program, Better Place Australia’s chief executive Evan Thornley said the change would be driven by motorists in the outer suburbs with larger cars and annual fuel bills of up to $6,000.

Mr Thornley says with 51 new plug-in models planned to be on the world market by 2012, there would a tipping point in the industry in the next few years.

He says the growth in sales will become very steep, with the complete conversion to electric vehicles possible within 20 to 30 years.

“We know how the movie ends. Battery prices are going down, petrol prices are going up – that tells you what’s going to happen. It’s just a question of how long that takes,” Mr Thornley said.

“We think it will take between 20 and 25 years for the entire Australian fleet to transition from petrol to electric because it takes a while for things to transition.

“But we think you’ll kick in to the sort of sharp end of that s-curve around the middle to the early second half of this decade.”

Mr Thornley says the transition will provide an enormous opportunity for local car-makers given their experience in building large cars.

“It’s what customers want in this country; it’s what we know how to build; it’s where the money is,” he said.

“There’s more margin in large cars than small cars and I think there’s still a global leadership position open in the large car market.”

Mr Thornley has also confirmed that Victorian motoring club RACV has just invested $2 million in Better Place Australia to speed up the building of infrastructure to support plug-in cars.

Australia will be the third market open in Better Place’s global rollout, after Israel and Denmark.

The first charging stations are due to open in Canberra late next year.


AFP reports (18 March 2010):

Nissan Motor will start building its Leaf electric car at its British plant from early 2013, the Japanese car maker said, saving more than 2,000 jobs.

The factory in Sunderland, northeast England, which will also manufacture the vehicle’s lithium-ion batteries, will be the third earmarked to produce the zero-emission cars after plants in Oppama, Japan and the US state of Tennessee.

The investment of more than 420 million British pounds ($A695.48 million) will help maintain about 2,250 jobs at Nissan and across its British supply chain, the company said in a statement.

Initial output will be about 50,000 vehicles a year from early 2013.

The Leaf is due to go on sale worldwide this year with production beginning in Japan, while the US factory will start in 2012.

“The three production sites will support the sales launch of the model, which begins in late 2010 in Japan, the United States and selected European markets, ahead of global mass marketing from 2012,” the company said.

Nissan said construction of its battery plant at Sunderland will begin next month.

With a capacity of 60,000 units a year, it will start making batteries in 2012 for both Nissan and its alliance partner Renault.

The investment will be supported by a 20.7 million pound grant from the British government and a proposed finance package from the European Investment Bank of up to 220 million euros ($A327.38 million), it said.

“The world is at the dawn of a new era in automotive transport,” said Andy Palmer, senior vice president at Nissan Motor.

“Nissan Leaf, which will go on sale later this year, is a five-seater hatchback that offers the same space, practicality and performance of a similar car in its class – minus the tailpipe emissions.”

Zero-emission cars are gaining traction as concern has grown over the pollution caused by conventional petrol cars.

Mitsubishi Motors last year rolled out the i-MiEV, and Fuji Heavy the Subaru Plug-in Stella, both in Japan.

Toyota, which has focused on hybrids, has promised to launch its own version by 2012 and started leasing a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle since late last year, one year earlier than initially planned


Climate Change @ Work & Cool Customers Learn to Handle Summer Heat

Posted by admin on March 24, 2010
Posted under Express 101

Climate Change @ Work & Cool Customers Learn to Handle Summer Heat

Electricity consumption over the Australian summer was lower than the same period last year, creating a drop in greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector, says the Climate Group, while the Workplace Research Centre has plans for Climate Change @ Work conferences in Sydney and Brisbane, as well as a National Sustainability Conference in Singapore.

Peter Ker in The Age (22 March 2010):

ELECTRICITY consumption over summer was lower than the same period last year, creating a drop in greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector.

As Melbourne prepares to join other cities in Earth Hour festivities this Saturday, the latest report on emissions in Australia’s eastern states was labelled as “encouraging” by environmentalists.

Measuring consumption and emissions trends across Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia, the survey found electricity consumption was almost 1 per cent lower than the previous summer.

That translated to a 1.6 per cent reduction in emissions from the energy sector over the period, or about 1.2 million tonnes of greenhouse gases.

The cuts were largely caused by trends in NSW, with Victoria recording an extremely slight reduction in emissions from the sector of 0.05 per cent.

Results of the study, conducted by the Climate Group, mirror the recent survey of the full 2009 year, where emissions and electricity consumption were lower than 2008.

Those results were thought to be linked to the slowing of the economy during 2009, but Climate Group spokesman Rupert Posner said no such reasons could be applied to the latest summer results, which are strongly influenced by the amount of electricity used for household cooling.

“I would imagine that a big part of [the reduction] is people being more energy conscious,” he said.

Earth Hour will again encourage people to turn off lights this Saturday at 8.30pm to raise awareness of climate change.

From humble beginnings in Sydney in 2007, Earth Hour has grown to become an international event, with famous locations like Times Square and the Eiffel Tower joining in last year. Millions of people in more than 80 nations are expected to participate this year.


The Workplace Research Centre, University of Sydney is organizing the 3rd Climate Change @ Work Conference to take place on the 26th of May 2010 at the Hilton Sydney.

This significant conference promotes achieving sustainability in the workplace through sustainable leadership and management practice. The conference brings together key thought leaders and decision makers to discuss issues such as how sustainability practices will affect skill demands and jobs as well as operational issues such as achieving carbon reduction in the workplace.

One of the major themes of the conference will be the discussion of “Green Jobs” and the challenges faced in “Greening” our workforce. In an era marked by deep global recession on one hand and the specter of climate change on the other, the pursuit of so-called green jobs could become a key economic driver in sectors like energy, transportation, buildings, and infrastructure.  

However in addition to greening production technologies, skill-building will be critical both for new employment and for transforming existing jobs, highlights Michael Renner, Senior Researcher at the Worldwatch Institute in Washington and the International keynote speaker for the conference.

The green skills challenge will be interwoven in many of the presentations throughout the day however another key management issue presented at the conference will be how to promote, communicate and engage your employees in sustainable development and carbon reduction in the workplace.

The conference will present ideas for Environmental Practitioners and Senior Management with case studies from industry, unions, group training organizations and other employers, all leaders in the Environmental Sustainability movement.

Hon Greg Combet AM MP, Minister Assisting the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency is expected to open the one day conference, which also features an address Carbon reduction in the Workplace by Robert Hill, Chair of the Federal Government’s new Australian Carbon Trust. He is the former Australian ambassador to the United Nations and held the environment and defence portfolios in the Howard Government.

The Climate Change @ Work conference will also be held again in brisbane, after the success of last year’s event. It is scheduled for 4 August and once again will be held in conjunction  with Griffith University and Asia Pacific Centre for Sustainable Enterprise.

The Workplace Research Centre is also making its presence felt for the first time overseas, this time in association with the National University of Singapore, to stage the National Sustainabilty Conference on 20/21 May this year.

National Sustainability Conference

Environmental Up-Skilling & the Green Collar Economy, 20th & 21st May 2010, Singapore

The Office of Environmental Sustainability (OES), National University of Singapore and the Workplace Research Centre (WRC), University of Sydney are jointly organising The National Sustainability Conference 2010, entitled “Environmental Up-Skilling & the Green Collar Economy”.

This conference builds on the Climate Change @ Work series of conferences which take place in Australia and promote achieving sustainability in the workplace through sustainable leadership and management practice.


Steel Sculptures On Ice & a Plastic Boat on the Pacific Ocean

Posted by admin on March 24, 2010
Posted under Express 101

Steel Sculptures On Ice & a Plastic Boat on the Pacific Ocean

Saturday 20 March 2010, the Plastiki, a boat made of 12000 plastic bottles and the brainchild of banking heir David de Rothschild, set sail from San Francisco Sydney to highlight the world’s garbage problem, while a Dutch artist Ap Verheggen has installed steel sculptures on icebergs off the coast of Greenland, which are expected to drift southwards on top of the ice and ultimately end up in the ocean as the ice melts. 

SAUSALITO, California.–At 9:30 a.m. PDT Saturday 20 March 2010, precisely on time, the Plastiki, a “boat made of 12,000 plastic bottles” and the brainchild of banking heir David de Rothschild, set sail from a berth here in this town just north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Plastiki is not just the world’s first boat made buoyant by discarded soda bottles. It’s also a statement about the world’s garbage problem, and the fact that most plastic bottles are thrown away rather than recycled.

The intent is to sail the boat 11,000 nautical miles from Sausalito to Sydney, Australia. It is carrying about 1,000 liters of water, meaning the crew will have to stop from time to time to resupply. But they have fishing rods onboard, so at least some of their food, in theory, will come from the sea.

Among the inspirations for the project, in addition to bring attention to the way humans are treating our environment, is the Kon-Tiki expedition, Thor Heyerdahl’s 1947 trip across the Pacific in a boat that was a reproduction of an Inca raft.

In keeping with tradition, the Plastiki will pay even more homage to Heyerdahl. Among the six crew members is Olav Heyerdahl, Thor’s grandson.

Here, the Plastiki is seen as it has just sailed underneath the Golden Gate Bridge and heads for the Pacific. Its journey has just begun.

Sausalito (Global Adventures): A group of adventurers and environmentalists set sail to cross the Pacific Ocean on a boat built out of 12,500 two-liter plastic bottles. During the three month trip from San Francisco to Sydney, the group hopes to draw attention to the health of the oceans. The 11,000-nautical mile journey will bring them close to Hawaii, the Bikini Atoll, and the Tarawa Islands. Its course will follow the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where swimming plastic covers an area twice the size of the US state of Texas.

The hull of the boat, called Plastiki, is made entirely out of recycled plastic bottles filled with carbon dioxide. Almost everything on the boat from the hull to the sails is made from recycled materials. Power is generated by solar panels, wind and sea turbines. The 60-foot long catamaran has an on-board exercise bike to provide extra power for electronics, including a laptop.

The ship is the brainchild of David de Rothschild, an environmental storyteller who crossed Antarctica and the Greenland Icecap. The British adventurer is head of Adventures Ecology, a venture trying to raise awareness about climate change.

David de Rothschild and a crew of 6 started planning to sail across the Pacific after being inspired Thor Heyerdahl’s epic expedition, the Kon-Tiki. Their goal is to show that plastic waste can be transformed into a valuable resource and reused again. “We’re needlessly losing millions of seabirds and hundreds of thousands of marine mammals from ingesting plastic every year,” de Rothschild told ABC News. “I decided to take this ‘out of sight, out of mind’ problem and build a boat out of the very items that we were seeing ending up in our natural environment.”

The Plastiki was built on the San Francisco waterfront in 2009 and has finished several trial voyages on the Bay. “And we are off. The expedition begins,” said its creator Rothschild on Twitter, as the boat set sail from the town of Sausalito, California.

Source: and

(NECN/APTV) – A Dutch artist has installed steel sculptures on icebergs off the coast of Greenland, which are expected to drift southwards on top of the ice and ultimately end up in the ocean as the ice melts.  

Sculptor Ap Verheggen, who is supported by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), hopes to raise awareness about climate change through the project, dubbed “coolEmotion,” after the non-profit foundation which is financing it.   

The two sculptures, which Verheggen said were inspired by local art and culture, depict an Inuit directing a dog sled team, equipped with a traditional long whip.  

Verheggen believes that global warming has affected Inuit culture, and that melting icebergs threaten its survival.  “Normally the ice plains are filled with people, dog sledding, going to hunt , going to fish. Not this year. It never occurred before that the sea wasn’t frozen in the heart of the winter,” the sculptor said, speaking from the island of Uummannaq in western Greenland.  

“It is not only a climate impact, but also a cultural impact. Climate change equals culture change,” he added.  

Uummannaq is famous for its dog sledding and every year people ride their sledges across the ice.  

But the foundation says that global warming has caused the winters to become shorter and prevented seawater from freezing and so traditional sledging across the ice cannot take place.

Locals from Uummannaq have been involved in the art project by painting flags which were attached to the sculptures.  

“It’s a sort of symbol, an icon, for hope for the future,” Verheggen said.  

To raise awareness for their cause globally, the sculptures will be fitted with monitors enabling a worldwide audience to follow their journey atop the iceberg through CoolEmotion’s web site.  

CoolEmotion said it expects to place up to eight other sculptures in the Arctic over the course of five years, all of which will be traceable online.  

Once the icebergs melt, the sculptures will symbolically sink with them.  

CoolEmotion says it intends to salvage them from the ocean where possible.  

Otherwise the sculptures are made of biodegradable materials, which will have a “negligible” impact on their environment.