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If There’s Going to Be a Wall, Let It Be This Collaboration Between American and Mexican Designers

Mother Jones

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This story was originally published by Fusion and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

When President Trump appealed to the public to submit proposals for his “big, beautiful” border wall, you can be pretty sure that the plan presented by the Mexican American Design and Engineering Collective (MADE) was not what he had in mind.

In response to the president’s mad quest to build a wall along the US-Mexico border, the group of 14 designers, engineers, builders, and architects from the US and Mexico proposed something entirely different—a high-tech “ecotopia” called Otra Nation.

“Otra Nation will be the world’s first shared co-nation open to citizens of both countries and co-maintained by Mexico and the United States of America,” the group says in their proposal. “Besides sharing the same geographical conditions, the continuous exchange of information, knowledge, artistic expression and migration between sides will produce fertile ground to bring forth a hybrid sense of identity.”

Reflecting their ideology, the group is an even mix of US and Mexican professionals, and while they prefer to keep their identities anonymous, MADE spokesman, Memo Cruz, says that members of the group have worked with the last four US presidents and the last two Mexican ones. “We came together as people who wanted to come up with a solution to a broken system,” Memo said. “And sometimes to break a broken system is to make a new one.”

Far from the wall Trump envisions, the MADE collective wants to build a high-speed, electric hyperloop connecting different parts of Otra Nation. According to the group’s proposal, the new co-nation would be six miles wide and span the 1,200 miles from San Diego/Tijuana to the Gulf Coast. The land would be “drill free,” and used for a “regenerative agricultural system that will become a bread basket for the two countries.” To top it off, the whole thing would be powered completely by solar and other renewable energy sources, creating thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in trade.

Courtesy of Otra Nation

Among the 200-plus proposals submitted to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) by the April 4th deadline, Otra Nation was definitely one of the more idealistic.

At the other end spectrum were walls made of wire mesh impossible to climb or cut, or constructed with one-way plexiglass panels so that US citizens could look into Mexico, but not the other way around.

Other designs were so whimsical that they could only be interpreted as a mockery of Trump’s ambitions—a wall made of organ pipes or a line of trees with hammocks strung between them.

From comical to xenophobic, the range of ideas submitted to DHS highlighted just how divided the US is when it comes to issues of immigration and border security. But while many of these proposals included green technology like solar panels or windmills, none acknowledged the true environmental consequences of building a wall along the border.

The border wall’s environmental footprint

That may be in part because we don’t really know. The last and only environmental review of US border security policy was conducted by the Immigration and Naturalization Service—the precursor to the DHS—in 2001. Effective for five years, the review has never been updated, and since then the size of the US Border patrol has more than doubled and hundreds of miles of fences and walls have been built.

This is the basis of a legal challenge by Arizona Congressmen Raul M. Grijalva and the Center for Biological Diversity put forth in early April. Citing the the Environmental Policy Act, the lawsuit calls upon federal agencies to conduct an environmental analysis of the proposed wall before any construction takes place.

“American environmental laws are some of the oldest and strongest in the world, and they should apply to the borderlands just as they do everywhere else,” said Rep. Grijalva in a statement. “These laws exist to protect the health and well-being of our people, our wildlife, and the places they live. Trump’s wall—and his fanatical approach to our southern border—will do little more than perpetuate human suffering while irrevocably damaging our public lands and the wildlife that depend on them.”

Even without a review, it’s clear to environmentalists that Trump’s wall would be a disaster. “It would be the end of jaguars and ocelots in North America,” Randy Serraglio, a conservation advocate for the Center of Biological Diversity, said, naming only two out of the hundreds of animals whose migratory patterns and natural habitats would be jarringly broken by a 30-foot tall wall.

And, while information on the environmental impact of the US Border wall is scarce, a recent European study on the security fencing dividing countries in Eastern Europe and Asia confirms Serraglio’s fears. The study conducted by Norwegian scientists showed that the 15,000 to 19,000 miles of fence, much of which was erected in response to Europe’s growing refugee crisis, poses a “major threat” to wildlife.

Much more than just a security fence, Trumps wall will cross at least four wildlife refuges, potentially impacting 111 endangered species like jaguars, ocelots, black bears and Mexican grey wolves. Beyond imperiling sensitive animal populations, conservationists also argue that of the wall would cause flooding, erosion, and irreparable damage to countless acres of public lands like Big Bend National Park and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

“We’ve invested millions of dollars in establishing and protecting these areas over the years,” Serraglio said. “It makes absolutely no sense to throw that all away because Donald Trump wants to wall off the border.”

We only need to look at 654 miles of barriers that have already been erected along the border under the Clinton and Bush administrations to see just how bad things can get, said Serraglio. He points to instances like the destruction of the Tijuana Estuary system by erosion, and the 2008 flash flood in Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument that occurred because the border barrier inhibited the natural flow of rain water. The same storm led to two deaths and $8 million dollars of damage on the other side of the barrier in Nogales, Mexico.

There’s got to be a better way

Of all the designs submitted for Trumps wall, Otra Nation may be the only one advocating for a dismantling of the existing fence line. “We actually think that we can remove the physical borders that have already been put up,” said Cruz.

According to the MADE spokesman, Otra Nation would provide better border security than any physical wall could by using a high-tech system of biometric surveillance and universal smart ID cards. “The ID system that we are proposing is the toughest ID system in the world,” Cruz said. “It is far more stringent than anything the US government has right now.”

The idea may have some Orwellian undertones, but for environmentalists Otra Nation’s wall-less border is a welcome alternative to Trump’s vision. Still, many conservationists stress that it’s not just the wall, but the roads, the vehicles, the buildings, the noise, the high-powered lights, and other security installations, all of which will take its toll on the land and its inhabitants.

For now though, Trump’s wall seems about as far from reality as Otra Nation’s vision of a new age “ecotopia.” The administration has yet to figure out who will pay for the project that the DHS now estimates will cost nearly $22 billion dollars, nor has Trump answered how he intends to build the wall when 1,255 miles, or 64% of the border, runs right down the middle of the Rio Grande. Barring the unlikely scenario that Mexico will elect to host the wall on their side of the river, the US will have to effectively cede a large section of the Rio Grande to Mexico, a move which would undoubtedly affect ranchers, landowners, energy companies, and the local communities that rely on the Rio Grande for water.

Despite these inconsistencies, the president seems hellbent on fulfilling his campaign promise to build a “great” wall to keep immigrants out of the United States. His budget already sets aside $1.4 billion for the initial development of the project, and the bid process is moving forward with the DHS expected to announce a shortlist of 20 proposals by the summer. Those chosen will then build 30 ft. prototypes of their design in the Otay Mesa Community outside of San Diego.

“I know we’ve got a million to one chance of getting selected,” said Cruz. Still, he hopes that MADE’s Otra Nation proposal will at least generate conversation between members of the US and Mexican governments about alternative ways of looking at the border that don’t involve a wall. “Even if we’re not selected, to get the two governments to sit down and look at what we’ve done with these solutions, that will be a huge win for us.

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If There’s Going to Be a Wall, Let It Be This Collaboration Between American and Mexican Designers

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A coal company just abandoned plans to ruin a river and a bunch of people’s lives in Alaska.

Catherine Flowers has been an environmental justice fighter for as long as she can remember. “I grew up an Alabama country girl,” she says, “so I was part of the environmental movement before I even knew what it was. The natural world was my world.”

In 2001, raw sewage leaked into the yards of poor residents in Lowndes County, Alabama, because they had no access to municipal sewer systems. Local government added insult to injury by threatening 37 families with eviction or arrest because they couldn’t afford septic systems. Flowers, who is from Lowndes County, fought back: She negotiated with state government, including then-Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, to end unfair enforcement policies, and she enlisted the Environmental Protection Agency’s help to fund septic systems. The effort earned her the nickname “The Erin Brockovich of Sewage.”

Flowers was continuing the long tradition of residents fighting for justice in Lowndes County, an epicenter for the civil rights movement. “My own parents had a rich legacy of fighting for civil rights, which to this day informs my work,” she says. “Even today, people share stories about my parents’ acts of kindness or help, and I feel it’s my duty to carry on their work.”

Years later, untreated and leaking sewage remains a persistent problem in much of Alabama. Flowers advocates for sanitation and environmental rights through the organization she founded, the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise Community Development Corporation (ACRE, for short). She’s working with the EPA and other federal agencies to design affordable septic systems that will one day eliminate the developing-world conditions that Flowers calls Alabama’s “dirty secret.”

Former Vice President Al Gore counts himself as a big fan of Flowers’ work, calling her “a firm advocate for the poor, who recognizes that the climate crisis disproportionately affects the least wealthy and powerful among us.” Flowers says a soon-to-be-published study, based on evidence she helped collect, suggests that tropical parasites are emerging in Alabama due to poverty, poor sanitation, and climate change. “Our residents can have a bigger voice,” she said, “if the media began reporting how climate change is affecting people living in poor rural communities in 2017.” Assignment editors, pay attention.


Meet all the fixers on this year’s Grist 50.

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A coal company just abandoned plans to ruin a river and a bunch of people’s lives in Alaska.

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Why Donald Trump Will Fail to Make Good on One of His Biggest Campaign Promises

Mother Jones

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President Trump loves to boast that he’s going to bring back coal—he said as much again on Monday when he signed his Clean Power Plan executive order. But the economics just don’t work in his favor. King Coal has tumbled from its traditional throne as renewable energy prices have plunged and cheap, cleaner natural gas has flooded the markets. From 2000 to 2016, meanwhile, wind-power generation has increased 37-fold (to more than 2,100 trillion Btus). Solar, which accounts for a smaller part of the pie (335 trillion Btus) grew even faster: by a factor of 67! And that doesn’t even account for the growth in rooftop solar.

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In 2016, the American solar industry provided more jobs than its coal industry did, according to a recent report from the Department of Energy. And despite Trump’s coal talk, the Solar Foundation projects another 10 percent increase in solar employment this year.

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So will Trump keep his promise to put the miners back to work? Can he? Even Robert E. Murray, the chief executive of one of the nation’s largest coal mining companies doubts it. “I really don’t know how far the coal industry can be brought back,” he conceded recently. Indeed, here are just a week’s worth of news highlights demonstrating why coal might have a tough time overcoming the nation’s momentum toward cleaner energy.

March 22: Abita Springs became the first city in Louisiana—one of the nation’s most energy intensive states—to pledge to using only renewable power sources by 2030. This “is a practical decision we’re making for our environment, our economy and for what our constituents want,” Mayor Greg Lemons noted back in January. (Abita Springs is part of St. Tammany Parish, 75 percent of whose voters backed Trump during the election.) Madison, Wisconsin announced its own 100 percent commitment the same day, bringing the total of cities making this pledge to 25. Prominent state policymakers, including the Republican governors of Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan, have also vowed to boost the percentage of renewables in their energy portfolios.

March 23: The share of electricity coming from renewable sources hit an all-time peak in California in late-morning, when renewables successfully met 57 percent of total demand—solar and wind accounted for 49 percent. The state is also ahead in meeting its 2030 goal of having renewables serve half of all energy consumption. A bill introduced by Democratic state Sen. Kevin de Leon last month would reset that deadline to 2025. Under De Leon’s bill, California would also follow Hawaii‘s lead and establish a target of 100 percent renewables by 2045. You want jobs? The Golden State’s solar industry employed more than 100,000 people last year, a 32 percent increase from 2015—and the rapid employment growth is projected to continue.

March 27: To the surprise of environmentalists, EPA boss Scott Pruitt signed off on a renewal of the Clean Air Act’s Regional Haze Program, which requires coal-fired plants near national parks and wilderness areas to install stringent pollution controls. The costs of complying with the ruling likely doomed one Arizona power plant, says Earthjustice attorney Michael Hiatt. By 2025, the plant must either transition to natural gas or be shut down entirely. “This is a powerful illustration of, try as the Trump administration might to keep burning coal, a lot of times it just doesn’t make any economic sense,” Hiatt says. “Because of this rule, the days for burning coal are numbered.” Since 2010, according to the Sierra Club, 175 US coal plants have ceased operation, and 73 are scheduled to retire by 2030.

March 28: Brewing giant Anheuser-Busch joined the ranks of nearly 100 other big businesses by committing to source all of its purchased electricity from renewables by 2025. “Climate change has profound implications for our company and for the communities where we live and work,” CEO Carlos Brito said in a statement. “Cutting back on fossil fuels is good for the environment and good for business.” Other companies committing to RE100—a global business initiative to increase the use of renewables—include Google, H&M, Walmart, and Goldman Sachs. Microsoft says it got to 100 percent renewable energy in 2014.

March 29: As Trump makes moves to sabotage the Paris accord, China is stepping in to take the lead as both the largest emitter of carbon and the largest investor in solar and wind power. “As a responsible developing country, China’s plan, determination and policy to tackle climate change is resolute,” foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said after Trump signed his order to roll back Obama-era climate rules. China isn’t the only country making strides: The UK set a new record for solar-electricity generation this past week, beating out coal-fired generation by six-fold. Australia, which relies on coal for two-thirds of its energy, is preparing for a major solar push as better technology drives down costs—seven large-scale projects were completed last year and more than a dozen are now under construction. Costa Rica is on track to be carbon-neutral by 2021. Last year, it met more than 98 percent of its energy demands with renewables. It seems the elusive Quetzal knows something that Donald Trump does not.

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Why Donald Trump Will Fail to Make Good on One of His Biggest Campaign Promises

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That long-promised executive order rolling back Obama’s environmental regulations is on its way.

If you’re a typical American, you probably throw away too many clothes. But the companies behind those clothes have their own disposal problem, too. When a coat has a busted zipper or a truckload of dresses doesn’t sell, customers and retailers return the items — and those returns often end up in a landfill, contributing to the 14 million tons of textiles Americans toss out each year.

If Nicole Bassett has her way, that’s going to change. Bassett cofounded the Renewal Workshop, a tiny company with a giant goal: create a circular economy for the apparel industry (in other words, find a way to reuse perfectly good stuff).

A native of British Columbia who has worked on sustainability initiatives at companies like Patagonia and prAna, Bassett has secured a factory, five partner brands, and a hardy staff of eight. Her startup cleans and fixes clothes that have been returned to partners, then sells the like-new items on the Renewal Workshop website. Some companies have similar programs for their own products, but the Renewal Workshop is “trying to find a solution that works for the whole industry,” says Bassett.

With her outfit growing quickly, she wears every hat — with one exception. “You do not want me fixing a product,” she says with a laugh. “As soon as it involves a sewing machine, I run away.”


Meet all the fixers on this year’s Grist 50.

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That long-promised executive order rolling back Obama’s environmental regulations is on its way.

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Here are some of the most unnerving things we’ve read so far in those Pruitt emails.

The protesters gathered in Boston’s Copley Square with some impressively nerdy signs, including “Scientists are wicked smaht” and “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate.”

The rally coincided with the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, held a few blocks away, but was not sponsored by the scientific organization. In fact, scientists have often been wary of participating in political demonstrations, citing the need for science to be objective and nonpartisan.

“We’re not protesting a party,” one scientist told the Boston Globe. “As scientists, we want to support truth.”

Truth, however, has increasingly become a political issue, with an administration that has denied climate change, attacked the value of the EPA, and put forward a non-evidence-based travel ban that would adversely affect many scientists and researchers in the United States. As one sign at the rally put it, “Alternative facts are the square root of negative one.” That is, imaginary.

Sunday’s rally was a warm-up act for the March for Science, which is expected to bring many thousands of scientists to Washington, D.C., on April 22, Earth Day.

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Here are some of the most unnerving things we’ve read so far in those Pruitt emails.

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