Environment Forum

‘Friendly’ push for Facebook to dump coal

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, delivers a keynote address at the company's annual conference in San Francisco, California July 23, 2008. REUTERS/Kimberly White

With half a million signatures backing it up, Greenpeace fired off a letter to Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg today calling for the world’s largest social network to cut ties to coal-fired power at its new data center in Oregon.

“Other cloud-based companies face similar choices and challenges as you do in building data centers, yet many are making smarter and cleaner investments,” executive director of Greenpeace, Kumi Naidoo, writes. He points to Google and its a recent agreement to buy wind power from NextEra Energy for the next 20 years to power its data centers.

The letter adds to what’s turning into a miserable week for Zuckerberg, who is also fighting a civil lawsuit by a man who claims to own a huge chunk of the social network site and is seeking to uncover “unnecessary details” about Zuckerberg’s private life.

Greenpeace’s “Unfriend Coal” drive targeting Facebook falls under the environmental group’s larger Cool IT campaign, which aims to influence infrastructure choices behind the cloud-computing boom.

When Facebook broke ground on its center in Prineville, Oregon, last January, it blogged about energy-efficient technologies at the new facility, including cooling the air by bringing in cooler air from outside in an “airside economizer” and re-use of server heat during the colder months.

Must the natural gas industry clean up its act?

Natural gas is regarded as a relatively clean source of energy but there is mounting evidence that it has a dirty side.

My colleague Jon Hurdle has reported on Wyoming water woes that have been linked to the booming gas industry. You can see his stories here and here.

In August U.S. government scientists reported that they had for the first time found chemical contaminants in drinking water wells near natural gas drilling operations, fueling concern that a gas-extraction technique is endangering the health of people who live close to drilling rigs.

Futurist says dollars mean bright future for solar energy

   Solar power may bring us cleaner air and clearer skies. Nice, yes. But it’s money — not saving Mother Earth — that will catapult solar energy past dirty coal-fueled power plants.

That’s the theory of Ray Kurzweil, a futurist and inventor. At a technology conference on Friday, Kurzweil said billions are being invested into solar power and new advances in the technology are driving down the cost of powering by the sun. 
    “As a result, the amount of solar energy is doubling every year two years,” Kurzweil said. “But ultimately it will be very inexpensive. So what’s motivating (its adoption) is economics.
    “It has the side effect that it’s environmentally much friendlier,” Kurzweil said at the Fortune Brainstorm: TECH conference in Pasadena, California.
    The inventor is far from the first to predict the success of solar power. Some may give more weight to his words: Kurzweil has predicted the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of wireless technology.
    He has his critics as well. Kurzweil, who wrote “The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology,” envisions a future where we can download memory and reverse-engineer the brain.
    (Reporting and writing by Laura Isensee)

      (Picture: Inventor Raymond Kurzweil speaks at the Fortune Brainstorm TECH conference in Pasadena, California July 24, 2009. REUTERS/Fred Prouser)

Coal-promoting ringtones draw Sierra Club’s ire

West Virginians who want to show off their pride in the state’s coal industry can now do so via some catchy, coal-promoting ringtones put together by the West Virginia Coal Association.

Beware, however, that the ringtones have already drawn the ire of environmentalists.

The ringtones are jingles the West Virginia coal group has used for some time to promote the state’s vast coal resources (and presumably to offset the bad rap coal gets for producing about 30 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gases).

A bad week for U.S. coal projects

It was a bad week to be planning a coal-fired power plant in the United States.

The industry suffered its second blow of the week on Friday with the cancellation of a plant in Michigan. The move by power plant developer LS Power marks the ninth such plant to be dropped in the United States so far this year, according to a count by environmental group the Sierra Club.

The company blamed regulatory uncertainty and the weak economy for the cancellation, which environmentalists cheered because coal-fired power plants are responsible for more than 30 percent of the United States’ global warming emissions.

The Michigan plant cancellation wasn’t the first blow to coal this week, either. On Tuesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency withdrew a permit for a massive coal-fired plant in New Mexico that would have been built on an Indian reservation.

Anti-coal TV campaign goes Hollywood

A U.S. anti-coal campaign has gone Hollywood with a new TV spot directed by Academy Award-winning filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen of “No Country for Old Men” and “Fargo” fame.

The Reality Coalition, a project backed by environmental groups Alliance for Climate Protection, Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the League of Conservation Voters, launched the ad this week.

Entitled “Air Freshener,” it features a product pitchman entering a family’s home with a spray can labeled “Clean Coal” that spews black, cough-inducing fumes.

Citi mulls moving (coal) mountains after Bank of America acts

Now that Bank of America is cutting back on lending to mountain top removal mining companies, citing the environmental costs, rival Citigroup is weighing its options.

“Bank of America’s announcement has just been released so Citi will study the content,” the bank said on Friday. Citi and Bank of America were prime targets of Rainforest Action Network and others for their support of mountaintop removal mining for coal in Appalachia. Cutting the top off a mountain is a cheap and efficient way to get coal — and environmental groups call it an ecological disaster.

“We are continuing to learn about this issue through engaging and listening to a variety of stakeholders, including our clients. Today we met with a number of industry, scientific, and community experts to listen and learn from their perspectives. Citi has a long history of engaging in dialogue with our stakeholders on this and other critical environmental issues,” the bank said.