Environment Forum

from Entrepreneurial:

Innovation is how we make our living: Is China buying?

A wind turbine is seen near a gate of the ancient city of Wushu in Diaobingshan, Liaoning province January 18, 2011. REUTERS/Sheng Li

-- Tom Lyon is the director of the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise, and Peter Adriaens is a professor of entrepreneurship at the Zell Lurie Institute of Entrepreneurial Studies, both at the University of Michigan. The views expressed are their own. --

President Barack Obama, in his State of the Union speech, called for America to “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.” But who is the competition, exactly? Who is presenting “our generation’s Sputnik moment”? Who are we racing against to put a million electric vehicles on the road? The president’s answer: China.

Encouraging American innovation is a major piece of the president’s strategy to win the future. And a global leadership position in innovation is ours to lose.

During another era of innovation, the dot-com boom of the 1990s, the U.S. was perhaps the best market in the world for the launch of the Internet. Now, China is arguably the best market today for deployment of clean technology. China is adding energy production capacity, cars on the road, and new cities faster than any other country in the world. Plus, it has the financial and political power to direct the market to move away from cheaper, legacy technologies.

So how can U.S. researchers, inventors and entrepreneurs profit from the market in China while preserving innovation leadership? That’s a question we first explored during the University of Michigan’s Clean Tech Symposium this past December. In our view, the overwhelming message of the symposium was that the U.S. and China are well matched in bringing together the supply and demand for cleantech innovation.

Excess baggage in Bangkok: tortoises, lizards, spiders and snakes

ploughshare-seized-thailandWhat happens when the airport scanner  shows shapes that look like live spiders, snakes, lizards and tortoises inside three big suitcases? Last week in Bangkok, it meant the detention of an Indonesian man and the seizure of 259 live creatures that were slotted into compartments in the black traveling bags.

The suspected smuggler reportedly went on a wildlife shopping spree in Bangkok’s Chatuchak Market, a hub for rare animal trade, according to conservation group TRAFFIC, which monitors illegal trafficking of species.

The suspect had stuffed 88 Indian Star Tortoises, 33 Elongated Tortoises, seven Radiated Tortoises, six Mata Mata Turtles, four Southeast Asian Narrow-headed Softshell Turtle, three Aldabra Tortoises, one Pig-nosed Turtle and even one Ploughshare Tortoise—the world’s rarest tortoise, TRAFFIC said in a statement.

A winter’s tale of climate skepticism

USA/Another winter storm is brewing in Middle America. So what else is new?

It’s been one spate of severe weather after another even before 2011 began. And you would expect those skeptical of climate change to capitalize on the cold snap by questioning whether human-spurred global warming is a real deal.

Strangely enough, climate skeptics appear to be less vocal than they were last year, when Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma built an igloo as a blizzard blew through Washington DC, and dubbed it “Al Gore’s new home.” If it’s so cold, the argument went, how can there be global warming?

Gore himself offered an answer last week, in a blog post meant to respond to just such a question from Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly.

Pure water from solar power; will it catch on?

water1 Remote villages in developing countries might benefit from these twin 40-ft long containers (left) — a water purification system driven by solar power — as a substitute for noisy diesel-powered generators, trucks bringing in water or people spending hours every day walking to fetch water.

That’s the hope of the makers, environmental technology group SwissINSO Holding Inc. The small company has recently won its first contracts to supply the systems to Algeria and Malaysia and is aiming to sell 42 units of what it calls the world’s “first high-volume, 100 percent-solar turnkey water purification system” in 2011.

The system, an interesting-sounding technology in a world where more than a billion people lack access to fresh water, could also have extra uses from disaster relief to construction sites or to helping armies stay healthy in remote regions.

from Tales from the Trail:

Salmon ‘chanted evening?

SALMONThe one word that leaped out of President Obama's State of the Union address to Congress wasn't "optimism," "business," "teachers," "economy" or "budget."

To those who listened to the speech on National Public Radio, the memorable term was "salmon," writ large in a word cloud NPR compiled from its listeners after Obama finished.

That kind of makes sense. Without the Punch-and-Judy theater of Republicans and Democrats popping up from their seats to cheer or boo, as they customarily do when they're seated on opposing sides of the room for a presidential address, it was up to the Commander in Chief to deliver some chuckle-worthy lines.

from Davos Notebook:

Cancun needs to be a key issue at Davos

-- Lord Julian Hunt is a Visiting Professor at Delft University, Vice-President of Globe, and former Director-General of the UK Met Office. The opinions expressed are his own --

CLIMATE/The environment has long been a key area of focus for delegates at the World Economic Forum.  This year will be no different with the gathering at Davos taking place only a month after the UN Climate Change Conference meeting in Cancun.

Far from being another unsuccessful international environmental meeting, as some predicted, the Cancun Summit is likely to be looked back upon in years to come as a seminal moment.  The accord endorsed the various actions of countries to limit green house gas emissions.  However, more significantly for the long term it accepted that preserving the global environment in its present state is probably unattainable.

Hu’s visit is over, but China’s ecological footprint lingers

CHINA-PARLIAMENT/The Chinese flags have disappeared from Washington’s wide avenues after China’s President Hu Jintao’s visit this week, but one statistic is still in the air: the rapidly expanding size of the Chinese ecological footprint, compared to the huge but slowing impact U.S. consumers have on global supplies of food, water, fuel — everything, really.

China and the United States are generally considered to hold the top two spots in the world for emissions of climate-warming greenhouse gases. But how do they compare when consumption of all goods is taken into account?

A report by Global Footprint Network indicates both countries are living beyond their means, ecologically speaking.

Greenland ice melt sets a record — and could set the stage for sea level rise

camp1Greenland’s ice sheet melted at a record rate in 2010, and this could be a major contributor to sea level rise in coming decades.

The ice in Greenland melted so much last year that it formed rivers and lakes on top of the vast series of glaciers that covers much of the big Arctic island, with waterfalls flowing through cracks and holes toward the bottom of the ice sheet. Take a look at video from Marco Tedesco of City College of New York, who is leading a project to study what factors affect ice sheet melting. The photo at left shows a camp by the side of a stream flowing from a lake — all of it on top of the ice sheet.

“This past melt season was exceptional, with melting in some areas stretching up to 50 days longer than average,” Tedesco said in a statement.  “Melting in 2010 started exceptionally early at the end of April and ended quite late in mid- September.”

from Tales from the Trail:

Panda diplomacy: the remix

USAThe latest chapter in the long story of panda diplomacy was written at Washington's National Zoo, where the Chinese government agreed to lengthen the "loan" of popular panda pair Mei Xiang and Tian Tian for another five years. Actually, the loan is conditioned on whether they produce a new heir or heiress to the cuteness of panda-dom in the next two years;  one or both could be exchanged for more fecund substitutes.

They have a good track record: Washington native Tai Shan, born in 2005, headed back to China last year.

This was a big enough deal for President Barack Obama to mention it at an elaborate state dinner at the White House for Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Food for thought

USA/Feeling hungry? Maybe that’s because of all the news, from around the world, about food today — how much people produce, how much more they need, how much it’s going to cost, how much of an effect it will have on climate change, and vice versa.

Starting in Washington, the U.S. Agriculture Department reported that American stockpiles of corn and soybeans will shrink to surprisingly low levels this year, which sent grain prices soaring to 30-month highs. Bad weather in places like Australia and rising world demand led by China are partly responsible for cutting crop inventories around the globe.

There’s actually encouraging news on the food front from south Sudan, where citizens are voting now to become an independent nation. While much of Africa is under intense pressure to provide food for its people, the U.N. World Food Programme says south Sudan could become a food exporter and end its chronic food dependency within a decade. But immediately after the vote, this area is likely to need more food aid, according to the U.N.

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