Environment Forum

Making REDD work for illegal loggers

Hendri, 27, an illegal logger cuts down a tree in a peat swamp forest in Indonesia's Central Kalimantan province on Borneo island. Illegal logging remains a project for forest conservation projects because timber represents quick income for villagers needing work or to feed families. Credit: Yusuf Ahmad

Hendri, 27, an illegal logger cuts down a tree in a peat swamp forest in Indonesia's Central Kalimantan province on Borneo island. Illegal logging remains a problem for forest conservation projects because timber represents quick income for villagers needing work or to feed families. Credit: Yusuf Ahmad

It took just 30 seconds to fell the tree. Hendri, 27, a skinny Indonesian from Central Kalimantan on Borneo island, skilfully wielded the chainsaw more than half his height. The result is a thunderous crash and a tree that is quickly cut into planks on the forest floor near by.

And the reward for this effort? About 125,000 rupiah, or roughly $12 per tree measuring 30 cm or more in diameter. Hendri and the three other members of this local gang of illegal loggers make about $45 a day (not including expenses and bribes) cutting down between 4 and 5 trees and slicing them into planks with a chainsaw, using no protective gear. They work for about 10 days at a stretch.

Their work is tough and highlights the challenge of finding alternative livelihoods in communities surrounding projects that aim to save large areas of forest in the fight against climate change.

Another member of the gang, Maulana, 40, explained he didn’t like the work but he had six children to feed. If given a choice, he said he’d switch to growing rubber or managing a small area of palm oil if given the seedlings and land. Just a hectare of palm oil would be enough to meet his needs. That was preferable than the dangerous work cutting down trees in the steaming, flooded peat swamp forest, he said.

Cleantech Open winners take prize for water tech

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The Cleantech Open announced the winners of its annual startup competition on Tuesday, and as usual the victors offer some insight into what the investors, entrepreneurs and tech executives who serve as judges think may be the next big thing. This year the word was water.

The $250,000 national grand prize went to Puralytics, a Beaverton, Ore., company that makes photochemical water purification systems that use natural and artificial light to destroy contaminants.

The process taps what Puralytics calls “previously unobtainable” ultraviolet wavelengths to break down the molecular bonds of such pollutants as mercury, arsenic and chromium and render them harmless. The process can also eliminate pathogens from a water supply, the company says.

How the recession reshaped U.S. electricity production

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Electricity generation in the United States fell 4.1 percent in 2009, the biggest drop in 60 years, according to a new report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The survey offers a snapshot of the impact the recession had on energy markets and shifts in the power supply as coal costs rose and natural gas prices plummeted. Industrial demand for electricity, for instance, dropped by 9.1 percent in 2009 to the lowest level in 22 years.

Expectations that Congress would pass legislation to impose a cap on greenhouse gas emissions may have also encouraged a move away from carbon-intensive electricity production, the report stated.

Environmentalists, defense advocates call for “oil security fee”

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A coalition of environmentalists, national security advocates and budget hawks on Tuesday called for an “oil security fee” and deployment of new transportation technology  to lessen dependence on imported oil and to promote “mobility choice.”

“Oil’s virtual monopoly over transportation fuel coupled with limited economical and convenient alternatives for moving people and goods have made oil a strategic commodity and the lifeblood of the domestic and global economies,” stated a report released by the coalition, called Mobility Choice. “Choice involves both having a range of fuels to power the passenger fleet and having alternative options to driving to accomplish our daily rounds.”

The group called for an “oil security fee” on gasoline and diesel to reflect the true cost of securing oil supplies as well as policies to promote more efficient mass transportation, telecommuting and mixed use residential development.

China ramps up solar manufacturing

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China’s increasing domination of a rapidly expanding solar module industry is revealed in a report that shows that Chinese companies are expected to account for nearly 72 percent of new photovoltaic manufacturing capacity this year.

For instance, China’s LDK Solar will add the most new capacity in 2010 with 1,420 megawatts coming online, according to iSuppli, an El Segundo, Calif., technology research firm.

Norway’s REC took second place with 1,090 megawatts of manufacturing capacity expected to be added by year’s end.

Utility makes big bets on solar technology

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As solar panel prices have plummeted over the past year, photovoltaic power plants have become a more attractive option for utilities under pressure to meet renewable energy targets.

Case in point: Late last week utility Southern California Edison announced it had signed contracts for 239.5 megawatts of electricity to be generated by 20 small-scale photovoltaic farms.

“Photovoltaics are definitely more cost competitive than they were just a couple of years ago,” said Mike Marelli, director of contracts for renewable and alternative power at Southern California Edison. “We’re seeing just a wild response to our solicitations for projects.”

Greenbuild 2010 round-up: less water, more light

Here’s a round-up of some of the participants at  Greenbuild 2010, which is filling eight football fields’ worth of  exhibition space in Chicago:

– The folks at Zero Flush—a company in Kissimmee, Florida that builds no-water, non-flushing urinals—started with this premise: water is precious; urinal maintenance is a nightmare.

Zero Flush—whose founders left competitors Falcon and Waterless—builds wall-fixed urinals  that it says save approximately 40,000 gallons of water per year and are  odor-free and easily maintained .

Powell blooms in retirement at green building expo

powell“Colin Powell is … an interesting choice for a convention on green building,”  said George Baños, a project manager attending the industry’s largest annual gathering.

Baños was one of thousands of people who assembled in a hangar-sized auditorium at McCormick Place near downtown Chicago this morning to hear the former Secretary of State’s opening address to Greenbuild 2010, a showcase for the latest innovations in green building.

Powell acknowledged he wasn’t an obvious choice.

“All of you should be saying to yourself,” Powell said in opening,  ”‘Excuse me, isn’t this guy an infantry officer, the former Secretary of State? What does he know about green building?’”

from Reuters Investigates:

Oil under ice

Still there

Still there

BP's Macondo Gulf spill would be nothing compared to the effect of a drilling accident in the Arctic, Jessica Bachman reports from "the foulest place in all of Russia."  Scientists and Russian officials are just starting to wake up to the fact that "if something happens on the Arctic Barents Sea in November it would be, 'OK, we'll come back for you in March,'" Jessica says.

But quite what Russia would do about that is not at all clear. The Russian government gets more than 50 percent of its revenues from oil and gas and Prime Minister Putin's stated aim is to keep producing more than 10 billion barrels a day through 2020. Environmentalists aren't the only ones who are worried.

Passage of little-known initiative may disrupt California climate plan

While California’s election results offered plenty for state environmentalists to cheer, the passage of a so-called “stealth” ballot initiative could undermine its proposed carbon market.

Last Tuesday, voters rejected Proposition 23, which sought to halt California’s landmark environmental law, AB 32, which mandates the state reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. They also elected climate hawk and AB 32 champion Jerry Brown governor.

But with little fanfare, voters also approved Proposition 26 by a margin of 52.8% to 47.2%. Proposition 26, officially called the “Stop the Hidden Taxes Initiative,” requires two-thirds of legislators to approve fee increases, as opposed to just a simple majority – a difficult political hurdle given the makeup of the state legislature.

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