Environment Forum

Vatican gets solar power; should White House follow?

 The Vatican (left) is going green from today with a new solar energy system on some roofs to help boost renewable use.

If Pope Benedict can have solar panels, are they something for the White House (right), after Barack Obama takes over as President on Jan. 20?

Former President Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the White House during the oil crisis of the 1970s — his successor Ronald Reagan took them down when the roof was being repaired in 1986 (…a year when oil prices tumbled to below $10 a barrel).

When he got the panels installed, Carter said:  “a generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people; harnessing the power of the sun to enrich our lives as we move away from our crippling dependence on foreign oil.”

So should Obama, who spoke of a “planet in peril” in his victory speech and who says climate change will be a priority, start by bolting on a few solar panels at his new home?

Wind power wants a place on your roof, too

Putting solar panels on your roof may be all the rage in California, but what’s a green homeowner to do in less sundrenched parts of North America?

How about powering your home or business with wind, for starters. And no, that doesn’t mean planting a 100-foot-tall wind tower in your backyard.

This week, Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Cascade Engineering launched a wind turbine aimed at residential and business customers. According to Jessica Lehti, the company’s senior sales and marketing manager, the Swift Wind Turbine is as soft as a whisper and fits on the side of buildings, making it “more zoning compliant” for urban and suburban settings.

How many jobs does it create to screw in a lightbulb?

Change to an energy-saving lightbulb – create a job? lightbulb.jpg

Energy efficiency efforts in California over the past three decades have created or saved 1.5 million jobs and added $45 billion to payrolls in the state, according to a report from David Roland-Holst of the Center for Energy, Resources and Economic Sustainability at the University of California, Berkeley.

It comes as the Golden State is debating whether plans to radically cut carbon dioxide emissions will be a financial burden for California or spur economic growth in a state that already leads in energy efficiency.

When people save money on utility bills and buying gasoline for cars, it frees up money for buying other things from groceries to appliances to theater tickets, Roland-Holst said.

Another reason for bats to like Halloween

bat1.JPGHalloween is just around the corner, and it may be better than most years for one of Earth’s most unpopular species: the bat. 

Something sinister is happening to bats in the United States — not only are their numbers declining due to a mysterious malady, but large numbers of them are also being caught mid-flight in the spinning wind turbines that are cropping up rapidly across the nation.

The furry flying critters may get help this month thanks to an unlikely group of conservationists, wind energy companies and the U.S. government, who say they are undertaking a big effort to lower the number of bats killed by wind turbine blades.

Renewables investor Khosla: “I’m a Republican, but…”

khosla.jpgVinod Khosla is a card-carrying Republican. But, the billionaire venture capitalist and alternative energy entrepreneur said, Democrat Barack Obama would be better for green businesses.

“I am a Republican, but I do believe Barack Obama will be a much bigger supporter of clean tech and renewable energy than John McCain will,” Khosla said at the Reuters Global Environment Summit in San Francisco. To see a video of the interview, click here.

Khosla stopped short of saying whom he would be casting a ballot for on November 4th, but added of McCain: “Unfortunately over the election cycle he’s gotten very beholden to some of the traditional energy interests. ”

Will the financial storm blow climate action off course?

This National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration satellite image, taken August 28, 2005 and released August 28, 2006, shows Hurricane Katrina as the storm’s outer bands lashed the Gulf Coast the day before landfall. Katrina hit on August 29, 2005 and killed more than 1,500 people in four states, flooding 80 percent of New Orleans, where entire neighborhoods are still nearly empty. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY REUTERS/NOAA/HandoutIt took Hurricane Katrina’s battering of New Orleans in 2005 to alert many people to the risks of climate change.  Will the storm in financial markets make them forget all about global warming again?

The financial crisis that may cost the United States $700 billion to fix is likely to shift actions to fight climate change towards cheaper, sure-fire winners such as energy efficiency — such as better insulation for buildings – rather than more exotic long-term projects such as trapping and burying carbon dioxide from power plants. Read the story  here.

The U.N. Climate Panel insists that the world has to act now to avert ever more droughts, floods, heatwaves, more powerful cyclones and rising sea levels. Fixing the problem now will be a lot cheaper than suffering the consequences. A man walks past an electronic board displaying share price movements in Tokyo September 30, 2008. Japan’s Nikkei stock average fell nearly 5 percent on Tuesday to touch a three-year after U.S. lawmakers rejected a $700 billion financial bailout plan, fuelling fears about lasting damage to markets and the economy. Exporters and banks were particularly hard hit, as Tokyo followed the lead of the Dow Jones industrial average, which posted its largest point decline ever and its biggest daily percentage slide since the 1987 stock market crash. REUTERS/Issei Kato (JAPAN)