Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Flint Goes Back to Nature

US cities may have to be bulldozed in order to survive
Tom Leonard, Telegraph.co.uk, June 12, 2009

The US government is looking at expanding a pioneering scheme in Flint, one of the poorest US cities, which involves razing entire districts and returning the land to nature.

Local politicians believe the city must contract by as much as 40%, concentrating the dwindling population and local services into a more viable area.

The radical experiment is the brainchild of Dan Kildee, treasurer of Genesee County, which includes Flint. Mr Kildee has now been approached by the US government and a group of charities who want him to apply what he has learned to the rest of the country.

Mr Kildee said he will concentrate on 50 cities, identified in a recent study by the Brookings Institution as potentially needing to shrink substantially to cope with their declining fortunes, including Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Memphis.

Karina Pallagst, director of the Shrinking Cities in a Global Perspective program at UC Berkeley, said there was "both a cultural and political taboo" about admitting decline in America. "Places like Flint have hit rock bottom. They're at the point where it's better to start knocking a lot of buildings down," she said.

Flint, 60 miles north of Detroit, was the original home of General Motors. The car giant once employed 79,000 local people but that figure has shrunk to around 8,000. Unemployment is now approaching 20% and the total population has almost halved to 110,000.

The local authority has restored the city's attractive but formerly deserted center but has pulled down 1,100 abandoned homes in outlying areas. Mr Kildee estimated another 3,000 needed to be demolished, although the city boundaries will remain the same. Already, some streets peter out into woods or meadows, no trace remaining of the homes that once stood there. The city is buying up houses in more affluent areas to offer people in neighborhoods it wants to demolish. Nobody will be forced to move, said Mr Kildee.

"Much of the land will be given back to nature. People will enjoy living near a forest or meadow," he said.

Read the complete story here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financetopics/financialcrisis/5516536/US-cities-may-have-to-be-bulldozed-in-order-to-survive.html

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Cost of the Cloud

Data Center Overload
Tom Vanderbilt, NY Times Magazine, June 8, 2009

Data centers worldwide now consume more energy annually than Sweden. And the amount of energy required is growing, says Jonathan Koomey, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. From 2000 to 2005, the aggregate electricity use by data centers doubled. The cloud, he calculates, consumes 1 to 2 percent of the world’s electricity.

Much of this is due simply to growth in the number of servers and the Internet itself. A Google search is not without environmental consequence — 0.2 grams of CO2 per search, the company claims — but based on EPA assumptions, an average car trip to the library consumes some 4,500 times the energy of a Google search while a page of newsprint uses some 350 times more energy.

Data centers, however, are loaded with inefficiencies, including loss of power as it is distributed through the system. It has historically taken nearly as much wattage to cool the servers as it does to run them. Because of the complexity of the network architecture — in which the role of any one server might not be clear or may have simply been forgotten — turning off a server may create more problems (e.g., service outages) than simply leaving it on.

As servers become more powerful, more kilowatts are needed to run and cool them; square footage in data centers is eaten up not by servers but by power. As data centers grow to unprecedented scales — Google recently reported that one of its data centers holds more than 45,000 servers (only a handful of companies have that many total servers) — attention has shifted to making servers less energy intensive. One approach is to improve the flow of air in the data center, through computational fluid-dynamics modeling. "Each of these servers could take input air at about 80 degrees," John Sontag, director of the technology transfer office at Hewlett-Packard, told me as we walked through the company’s research lab in Palo Alto. "The reason why you run it at 57 is you’re not actually sure you can deliver cold air" everywhere it is needed. Chandrakant Patel, director of the Sustainable IT Ecosystem Lab at HP, argues there has been "gross overprovisioning" of cooling in data centers. "Why should all the air-conditioners run full time in the data center?"” he asks. "They should be turned down based on the need."

Read the complete article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/14/magazine/14search-t.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

Saturday, June 27, 2009

House Passes Climate Bill

Turning the corner toward a green energy future?
Greg Hitt and Stephen Power, Wall Street Journal, June 27, 2009

Landmark legislation to curb US greenhouse gas emissions was approved by the House of Representatives by a 219 to 212 vote late Friday, June 26th.

The 1,200 page bill -- formally known as the "American Clean Energy and Security Act" -- would mandate that 15% of the nation's electricity come from renewable sources such as wind and solar power by 2020, potentially expanding the market and profit potential for companies in those sectors. Towards that goal, it seeks to boost nascent industries such as wind-generated electricity and solar power.

It isn't clear how much of the House bill will survive in the Senate, where moderate Democrats and Republicans could form a majority that backs less ambitious action. The US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers lobbied against passage. Groups that represent airlines, oil producers, and mining companies expressed disappointment, saying the bill, if enacted, would lead to onerous new costs to consumers. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated the bill would have a modest impact on family budgets. The CBO projected an annual economy-wide cost in 2020 of $22 billion, or about $175 per household.

Concessions to ease the impact on businesses and their customers included giving the business community more than 60% of pollution permits in the early years of the program. Supporters say the bill will have a modest impact on electricity ratepayers, and in many cases will save them money. That is because the legislation directs state regulators to make sure electricity-producing utilities that receive free pollution permits pass along the savings. The measure could result in higher gasoline and diesel prices. But New Energy Finance, an energy consultant, said it expects gasoline prices to rise about 17 cents a gallon, a relatively small amount compared with recent fluctuations in pump prices.

Read the complete story here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124602039232560485.html

Thursday, June 18, 2009

AFCEE Sustainable Remediation Tool Now Available

To aid environmental professionals in incorporating sustainability concepts into their remediation decision-making process, the Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment (AFCEE) developed, tested, and released the Sustainable Remediation Tool (SRT).

The SRT is designed to evaluate and compare remediation technologies on the basis of sustainability metrics, to aid environmental professionals in planning for the future implementation of remediation technologies at a particular site, and to help achieve Remedial Process Optimization (RPO) goals and comply with Executive Order 13423.

Initial technologies that may be evaluated using the SRT include excavation, soil vapor extraction, pump and treat, and enhanced in-situ biodegradation. AFCEE intends to add additional technology modules to the tool in the future.

National Science Foundation RFP for Green Engineering

The National Science Foundation requests proposals for the Environmental Sustainability Program. This program supports research with the goal of promoting sustainable engineered systems that support human well-being and natural systems. General areas of research include Industrial Ecology, Green Engineering, Ecological Engineering, and Earth Systems Engineering.

Green Engineering research is encouraged to advance the sustainability of chemical processes, manufacturing processes, green building, and infrastructure. Many programs in the Engineering Directorate support research in environmentally benign manufacturing or chemical processes. The Environmental Sustainability program supports research that would affect more than one chemical or manufacturing process or that takes a systems or holistic approach to green engineering for infrastructure or green building. Of particular interest is the next generation of water and wastewater treatment that will dramatically decrease material and energy use, consider new paradigms for delivery of services, and promote longer life for engineered systems. Improvements in distribution and collection systems that will advance smart growth strategies and ameliorate effects of growth are research areas that are supported by Environmental Sustainability. Innovations in prevention and management of storm water, wastewater technology, indoor air quality, recycling and reuse of drinking water, and other green engineering techniques to support sustainable construction projects may also be fruitful areas for research.

Average individual awards will be $100,000. Responses are due September 15, 2009.

Information on proposal submission available here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


The Northgate Social Justice Task Force is pleased to announce our participation in the City of Oakland’s Adopt-A-Spot program.

Northgate’s Adopted Spot will be the traffic medians located near the confluence of Broadway and Telegraph in downtown Oakland.

Like daffodil planting, Adopt-a-Spot is an initiative of Keep Oakland Beautiful, an affiliate of Keep America Beautiful, which endeavors to engage citizens in taking personal responsibility for improving their community environments.

Clean Energy to the (Economic) Rescue

UC Berkeley economics professor David Roland-Holst's economic assessment, conducted on behalf of Next 10, predicts that a new California energy agenda--emphasizing efficiency, renewables, and infrastructure--can be a potent catalyst for economic growth, create a new clean energy market, and spur innovation in renewables.

Energy Pathways for the California Economy evaluates the state’s energy demand and supply horizons, as well as the economic impact of accelerating deployment of renewable energy resources and energy efficiency trends in California.
  • From electricity to transportation, projecting status quo demand and supply horizons portends ever greater reliance on out-of-state fuel sources, and therefore greater exposure to fuel price volatility.
  • The faster and farther California can improve household and enterprise energy efficiency, while accelerating deployment of renewable energy resources, the faster the state economy will grow and create jobs. The most ambitious scenario (50% renewable energy, 1.5% annual efficiency increases) produces the largest number of additional jobs and income -- generating half a million new FTE jobs with over $100 billion in cumulative payrolls over 40 years.
  • Renewable energy generation is more job-intensive than the traditional carbon fuel supply chain, captures more benefits within the state economy, and reduces our vulnerability to uncertain global energy markets.
Click here to read or download the complete report.

Garbage Police? Or Good Policy?

San Francisco approves toughest recycling law in the US
John Coté, SF Chronicle, June 10, 2009

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 9-2 Tuesday to approve the most comprehensive mandatory composting and recycling law in the country. It's an aggressive push to cut greenhouse gas emissions and have the city sending nothing to landfills or incinerators by 2020. The ordinance is expected to take effect this fall.

The legislation calls for every residence and business in the city to have three separate color-coded bins for waste: blue for recycling, green for compost, and black for trash. Failing to properly sort your refuse could result in a fine after several warnings, but fines will likely only be levied in the most egregious cases.

Cities from Pittsburgh to San Diego have mandatory recycling. None, however, require all food waste to be composted. Seattle passed a law in 2003 requiring people to have a compost bin, but unlike San Francisco, it did not mandate that all food waste go in there.

About 36% of what San Francisco sends to landfill is compostable, and another 31% is recyclable, a comprehensive study found. By the city's count, it currently diverts 72% of its waste; the best in the nation. If recyclables and compostables going into landfills were diverted, the city's recycling rate would jump to 90%.

Read the complete story here: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/06/10/MN09183NV8.DTL

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

If Societies Become Sustainable, Ecosystems May Recover

Rapid Recovery of Damaged Ecosystems
Holly P. Jones, Oswald J. Schmitz, Yale University

Nearly 75 percent of ecosystems that have been degraded by humans or damaged by natural disasters such as hurricanes fully or partially recover within decades, a new analysis has found.

Reviewing 240 studies of disturbed ecosystems from 1910 to 2008, researchers at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies found that most ecosystems recovered from as little as five years to as much as 56 years (an average of 42 years). The researchers found that ecosystems degraded by humans took longer to recover than ecosystems that suffered natural disturbances.

While 72 percent of ecosystems did fully or partially recover, the remainder showed no recovery or were beyond recovery, according to the study.

Read the summary in Yale Environment 360, and the complete article in the journal, PLoS ONE.

Stakeholder Engagement

Six Tips for Effective Dialogue
By Deborah Fleischer, featured on Triple Pundit

Stakeholder engagement is a process of reaching out to a range of constituents who are interested in or impacted by your business or project, including employees, investors, suppliers, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), consumers, neighbors, governmental agencies, and thought-leaders.

Alex McIntosh, Director of Corporate Citizenship at Nestle Waters, considers the lack of a stakeholder engagement strategy “is like launching a new product without doing any market research...Stakeholder engagement is an important, essential element in good citizenship and good business strategy. You need to know what issues are most important to the people that are most relevant to your business.”

This is true of environmental project and program management as well.

The six tips for effective dialogue are:
1. Be strategic about whom to talk to (ideal stakeholders have decision-making power, influence, and a willingness to engage)
2. Connect to the larger world (sometimes those you don’t see eye-to-eye with can be great allies when there are large issues that you can’t fix alone)
3. Focus on solutions (design the process to lead to action and solutions)
4. Build an internal culture (educate your internal team and build expectations internally on how stakeholder engagement can help)
5. Don’t make commitments you cannot keep (be sure to look at the big picture and consider realistic timeframes before making commitments)
6. Look both upstream and downstream (include a broad range of voices in your outreach)

Read the complete article here: http://www.triplepundit.com/pages/stakeholder-engagement-six-tips-for-effe.php