Environment Forum

Reuters East Antarctic Bureau shuts up shop … fast!

Pauline AskinIn January 1912, Sir Douglas Mawson finally made his way back to Cape Denison, missing his ship, the Aurora, by about three hours.

Some of his colleagues had waited at the hut hoping he would arrive back safely. When he appeared, they sent a radio message to the ship asking them to turn around, as they could see it lying offshore in Commonwealth Bay.

However, the winds were too strong to risk coming back, so they were stranded at Cape Denison for another 12 months of hardship.

I don’t remember what the book “Home of the Blizzard” says about it, but I came close the other day to understanding how they must have felt, as a few days ago I feared that our team, the Mawson’s Huts Foundation Expedition would face the same fate.

We received a radio call to say our ship L’Astrolabe would collect us within hours. In record time we pulled down our tents, packed our bags, emptied the toilets, disposed of food, tidied our base, the Sorensen Hut, and brought our baggage to an open space to prepare for a helicopter landing to airlift us out to the ship.

Apple plugs iPod into the sun


Apple apparently has applied for a patent that would allow its megapopular iPods to run on solar power.

The patent drawings suggest the entire surface of the iPod would be covered in solar paneling, save the display screen and click wheel, Geeksmack.net and GreenBeat report.

And before you point out how annoying it would be to have to pull out your iPod for some sunbathing, it doesn’t need direct rays — the technology enables it to function even when covered by your hand. (The jury is still out on if it works when it’s buried in the inside pocket of your windbreaker or backpack, but whatever.)

Bring on the green energy investment


By Professor Danny Harvey

- Danny Harvey is a geography professor and energy policy expert at the University of Toronto. He is author of A Handbook on Low-Energy Buildings and District Energy Systems: Fundamentals, Techniques and Examples, and  the forthcoming Energy and the New Reality, Volume 2: C-free Energy, now available in preprint form here.

The world is facing the prospect of massive climatic change during the coming decades, and we’re already seeing the beginnings of this all around us and much faster than predicted – dramatic melting of sea ice, thawing of permafrost, increased loss of ice from Greenland, and drier conditions in many parts of the world.

Climate scientists are nearly unanimous in saying that dramatic and strong action is needed to replace fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy as rapidly as possible.

Will Germany kill its energy golden goose?

Will Germany kill the goose laying the golden eggs?
GERMANY/Germany is understandably proud of its renewable energy sector — wind and solar power supply more than 15 percent of the country’s electricity. Its Renewable Energy Act (EEG) has fuelled its rapid growth over the past decade and been copied by more than 40 countries around the world.
But is the party over?
A new centre-right government announced plans to slash the EEG’s guaranteed feed-in tariffs (FIT) that utilities are required to pay the myriad of producers of solar energy, many of whom feed the modest amounts of solar power from their roofs into the local grid. The EEG already foresees a FIT decline of about 10 percent per year — a built-in incentive to keep overall costs falling.
Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen wants an additional 15 percent cut in April on top of the 10 percent from Jan. GERMANY/1, 2010 and ahead of the next 10-percent cut on Jan. 1, 2011. In the past decade, the previous two environment ministers from the Greens party and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) worked closely with the solar industry before making changes.
Roettgen made it clear those days of compromise were over. He said he spoke to solar firms last week before proposing the cuts, but rejected their offer to a one-off mid-2010 cut of 5 percent. “This is not a compromise,” he told journalists in Berlin on Wednesday. “It’s a bullseye.”  He said the cuts would save consumers about 1 billion euros a year over the next decade. Consumer groups and some industry groups had wanted deeper cuts, Roettgen noted.
Solar companies in Germany, which have until now worked closely with the government on reducing the tariffs the utilities pay to producers of green electricity, criticised the cuts which amount to about 35 percent within 13 months. They fear they will cripple the sector and kill jobs. Roettgen said he wants solar power, which now generates about 1 percent of Germany’s electricity, to be providing 4 to 5 percent by 2020 even though the support is being slashed by one-third in the course of 13 months. He portrayed the cuts as if he were doing the industry a favour.
Several leading German companies — such as SolarWorld, Q-Cells and Solon — said there were dark days ahead for the solar industry. They pointed out that prices, and support, were already falling steadily and would reach grid parity by the middle of the decade. Why, they asked, ruin a good thing? Frank Asbeck, CEO of Germany’s biggest solar company by revenue SolarWorld, called the plans unacceptable. As my colleague Christoph Steitz reported here, the cuts would cause problems for solar companies around the world.
Carsten Koernig, managing director of the BSW solar industry lobby, said “a radical cut like that will rob German companies of the foundation for business”.
Claudia Kemfert, an energy policy expert at the independent DIW economic research institute, said: “This level of 15 percent is quite problematic. It means a 25 percent cut within a few months and I consider that to be too much. It’s going to hit the small and medium sized companies very hard. It’s going to bring a lot of uncertainty into the market.”
The German Renewable Energy Association also used strong language, saying: “The radical cuts endanger the expansion of renewable energy.”

Is it a done deal? It’s hard to say at this point. There could be a lot of resistance from key conservative-ruled states such as Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg. They have important solar power industries and in the past succeeded in watering down attempts to cut the FIT.

from Global News Journal:

Driving carmakers to distraction over emissions

car emissionsEurope's nominee to be climate chief surprised car manufacturers last week by saying she thought EU policymakers might have been too soft on them when carbon-capping rules were set in 2008.

Connie Hedegaard's forceful intervention during hearings for the European Commission raised the possibility of a renewed push by Europe to legislate car emissions if the Dane is approved by the European Parliament for the post next month.

The exisiting rules were hard-fought-over in 2008, with big European auto nations such as France, Italy and Germany arguing that a slow transition to tougher targets was necessary to protect jobs in a sector that is not only one of the EU's biggest employers but already feeling the heat from the economic crisis.

Survival and the luck of the Irish

Australian Antarctic explorer Sir Douglas Mawson called Cape Denison ‘the home of the blizzard’ during his term here because of the incessant Katabatic winds which pour down the Antarctic plateau blasting everything in sight.

Wind gusts here have been known to exceed 370 kilometres per hour (185 knots), so I consider myself lucky to have only had to endure 100 kilometres per hour winds funnelling through my tent during the past six weeks at Cape Denison.

Pauline in bivvy bagSo it seemed only right that I test my endurance a step further by putting my survival training into action and spend a night in a bivvy bag in the great icy outdoors.

Dressed for all occasions

Being inappropriately dressed in Antarctica can be life threatening. However, being appropriately dressed takes a lot of time and an exceptionally good memory.

Pauline AskinWith over 40 items of clothing to track, it’s par for the course to see an expedition member walk in and out of our base three or four times retracing their steps to find a missing part of their polar apparel or backpack.

The conversation between expeditioners goes like this:

“What did you lose?” asks a concerned colleague.

“My glasses, my gloves, my balaclava, my backpack. I had them in my hand two minutes ago. I’m sure I left them on the table,” replies the frustrated expeditioner as he fossicks for the missing items in base hut, leaves and returns still fossicking.

German Greens at 30, world’s No. 1 green party

GERMANY/Germany’s Greens party celebrated their 30th birthday on Wednesday.

The world’s most successful environmental party spent seven of those 30 years as junior partner in the government of one of the world’s biggest industrial nations and are now part of three state governments. They were the driving force behind the country’s Renewable Energy Act (EEG) 10 years ago that has made Germany the world’s leader in wind energy and photovoltaic and the world’s first major renewable-energy economy — laws promoting the development of renewable energy that led to the creation of some 280,000 jobs in the last decade.

Despite their rather chaotic and inauspicious start on Jan. 13, 1980, the Greens have matured into one of Germany’s major political forces and formed a centre-left government with the Social Democrats in 1998 — even though they ended up on the opposition benches again in 2005. An opinion poll published in Stern magazine today showed 63 percent of Germans believe the Greens are indispensible.

The Greens won 10.7 percent of the vote in September federal election, their highest score ever. They would win 14 percent of the vote if an election were held this Sunday, the Stern poll also found. That makes them the third largest party in Germany at the moment. But more important than their seats in the federal, state and local assemblies, the Greens have become an established force in Germany with clout that goes far beyond their numbers.

Something fishy about deadly Taiwan typhoon

fish fish fishTaiwan fisheries flopped to an 18-year low point after Typhoon Morakot flooded much of the low-lying south in August, the island’s Central News Agency told us, casting aquaculture as a victim. Fish farmers, swamped by the stench of their own produce a month after the storm, struggled to recover.

But were farmers also villains?

Taiwan’s Control Yuan, a central government agency that can censure public officials, says in a report  this month they were at fault, as were Pingtung county officials who had given permits to only 29 percent of them, ignoring the rest as they pumped groundwater. The use of groundwater for fish farms has sunk surrounding land, leaving villages prone to floods, the report says.

“According to data the county gave us, still more than 70 percent of fish farming households and fish farm land area are illegal,” the Control Yuan autopsy says. “Registration of water rights is a county responsibility, but the county government over the long term pushed away the responsibility and neither offered timely guidance nor enforced laws.”

from Tales from the Trail:

“Heroism fatigue”: another hurdle for U.S. climate change action?

GERMANY/Could "heroism fatigue" be yet another bump in the road for any U.S. law to curb climate change? And what is "heroism fatigue" anyway?

To Paul Bledsoe of the bipartisan National Commission on Energy Policy, heroism fatigue is what happens when the Congress has spent most of the year doing something heroic, like trying to hammer out an agreement on healthcare reform, when what lawmakers might rather be doing is naming a new post office. Following one big, gnarly piece of legislation with another -- like a bill to limit climate-warming carbon dioxide -- can seem daunting.

"Especially Democrats want to get  back to some meat-and-potatoes job-creation stuff," Bledsoe says. "They're going to need a little time after healthcare."