Date: 1/31/09

This program is about greener, cleaner, energy. We interview Miriam Horn, co-author of a book called Earth: the Sequel—The Race to Reinvent Energy and Stop Global Warming. We talk with Miriam about some promising new technologies for generating green energy, and we also discuss the economics and politics of energy, particularly the controversial proposals for a “cap-and-trade” system for managing emissions.

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Global News and Background on Green Energy

From ZD Net Asia, a business and technology news service comes speculation about where the green economy will be going in an economic recession and a time of global warming. Martin LaMonica writes:

As the person who coined the term “clean tech,” Nicholas Parker has been around the industry as long as anybody and he thinks people underestimate the potential of green business. To most people, green technology means renewable electricity, fuel efficiency, and perhaps water purification technologies. But to Parker, those technologies–most of which focus on addressing climate change–are still just a sliver of the innovation needed to address the world’s environmental woes. [,,,] Parker sees a need for technical and business solutions under the overall rubric of sustainability. “In a way, this is a design revolution. It’s not about doing things more efficiently or doing things less bad. It’s about redesigning everything from scratch,” he said. […] [G] overnment stimulus packages around the world will help propel green-tech industries, but a “price signal” in the form of a tax or carbon-trading system is still needed.

“Other countries are being as aggressive (on clean energy) if not more aggressive as we are here,” he said. “Whether we like it or not, China is coming to this space.”,39044229,62052663,00.htm

From Technology Review we have this analysis of President Obama’s proposal to “cap” carbon emissions and then “trade” carbon credits on the open market. Kevin Bullis explains:

President Obama’s budget numbers depend heavily on revenues from a proposed cap-and-trade program for reducing carbon dioxide emissions.[…]The cap-and-trade program does not yet exist: it will need to be established in future legislation. But the inclusion of future revenues in the budget, and a promise to pursue necessary legislation, is the strongest commitment yet that the administration will follow through with one of Obama’s campaign promises and establish a cap-and-trade system for carbon dioxide emissions.

Under such a system, the government sets an annual cap on carbon dioxide emissions–the budget calls for a cap of 14 percent below 2005 emissions levels by 2020, and 83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. The government then issues a set number of credits for the total emissions allowed under that cap. Under Obama’s plan, those credits won’t be given away, as they were in the initial version of a cap-and-trade system employed in Europe. Instead, the credits will be auctioned off, and that money will be the source of government revenue. Polluters will be required to buy enough credits at the initial auction to cover their carbon dioxide emissions, or acquire more by trading with others at a later stage. Alternatively, they can reduce their emissions by investing in more efficient technologies.

Our Questions for Miriam Horn coauthor of a book called Earth: The Sequel—The Race to Reinvent Energy and Stop Global Warming:

Part I: Energy Entrepreneurs and Amazing Technology;

· You write that we are in the midst of “a new industrial revolution” with industries that are “capital intensive” but “shovel-in-ground” and “dedicated to greening the planet.” Please tell us about this revolution.

· Reviewers say that your book is filled with optimism, and we found that to be true. Let’s talk about some of the gee-whiz sci-fi technologies you’ve found in:

o Solar. You report that 100 square miles of solar voltaic could take care of U.S. energy needs. And there are solar We’ve got that much space in the southwest deserts. What’s to make that all happen. What’s promising in solar thermal? (How do grid transmission problems slow progress? What’s possible with “smart grids” of the sort IBM is advertising on TV?)

o Biofuels. Our romance with corn-based ethanol came to an end pretty quickly as we discovered that it jacked up commodity prices, chewed up farmland, and consumed a lot of petroleum in production. What do you see as the prospects for biofuels, in particular, cellulosic biofuel production. (Genetic engineering prospects and nightmares: “Plants that produce the enzymes needed to break down their own cellulose . . . [but might] “eat themselves alive in the field.”)

o Ocean energy and bouncing buoys with “acceration tubes.”

o Coal reconsidered. High-tech pollution controls, gassification, in-ground burning. Facts and myths about carbon sequestration.

o Nuclear energy—where does it fit into the future energy picture?

Part II: Free Market, the Will of the People, and the Role of the Government

· Underlying your book is a strong belief that cap-and-trade legislation is the key to a successful energy program globally. Why do you have such confidence in this approach?

· There are some pretty vocal critics of cap-and-trade arguing that cap-and-trade:

o plays into the hands and wealth of the big polluters.

o would create a new gamblers’ market akin to the stock exchange, where people who produce nothing make a lot of money in speculation.

· Why not just a carbon tax: make the polluters pay; they pass on the costs to consumers; the free market drives carbon out of business?

· Or, why not just let the new technologies work their magic—won’t clean energy eventually dominate on its own?

· President Obama favors cap-and-trade, with the government itself profiting from sale of credits. What do you think of Mr. Obama’s plan? What do you think are the prospects for significant climate change legislation in the next several years?

· You’ve also talked about the merit of prizes and other incentives (e.g., Richard Branson’s $25 million prize). What other incentives—private or public—might push us toward a greener planet?

· What’s your best guess (or best hope) for climate control over, say, the next two to three decades?

· What should listeners, concerned citizens, voters do at this point to bring about a greener energy program?

· And in closing, a question we like to ask on this program: How did you get interested in this movement and who are your role models or inspirational gurus?

The book is Earth: The Sequel and it is published by W. W. Norton & Company. You can also learn more about the Environmental Defense Fund where Miriam works on line at,

Do-It-Yourself Greenery

From Voice of America by reporter Mike O’Sullivan.

A study by the environmental organization Green Seal finds that four out of five Americans are buying “green,” environmentally friendly, but often more expensive, products despite the economic recession. But, the study also shows that consumers are uncertain which products are really green.”

[The study was based on 1000 phone calls done by the EnviroMedia polling firm and] shows that consumers are uncertain how to tell whether a product helps the environment. One in 10 relied on advertising and one in five said that product reputation helped them determine whether a product is green. One in five said that word of mouth – getting advice from friends – was an important source of information. [Green Seal] certifies products and services as environmentally friendly through a life-cycle evaluation – looking at the raw materials and the manufacturing process, transportation and recycling of old products.

From the Environmental Defense Fund website:

  • Interactive “green” maps that highlight firms in key manufacturing states poised to grow and create jobs under a cap on global warming pollution. A study on green jobs conducted by Duke University.
  • How to calculate your carbon footprint and cut emissions.
  • A “paper calculator” that allows you too look at paper consumption and find out about green and greener kinds of paper.
  • A “seafood selector” that presents information on fish and other seafood, from eco-best to eco-worst, including a Sushi Selector.
  • A link to EDFs “carbon offset” purchase site, where you can make donations to support companies that are exploring energy solutions, like a California Dairy that is converting cow manure to methane. The offset site sells these credits for $10 per ton and estimates that the average American produces 24 tons of C02 per year.

  • Petition links to the Obama administration and congresspeople to urge prompt action on Global Warming Issues.

From Green Living Tips, the Zeer Pot, a way of cooling food without electricity.

A pot-in-pot fridge consists of two unglazed terracotta pots, one larger than the other. […] A layer of sand is placed in the bottom of the large pot and the smaller pot placed inside. Sand is poured in the gap between the two pots to just below the rim.[…]Water is then poured on the sand until it begins pooling on the surface. The pot is then placed in a shaded area with good ventilation. The dampness penetrates the walls of the terracotta pots, which then evaporates. This evaporation cools the pot, the sand and the food/drinks that are placed inside the smaller pot. Wet fabric such as a tea towel or hessian is also placed over the smaller pot to assist further with cooling. The Zeer pot works best in areas with low humidity levels.

Playlist for Ecotopia #26

1.  Working on a Dream, Bruce Springsteen
2.  Effect and Cause, White Stripes
3. The Shop of Wild Dreams, the Tiptons Sax Quartet
4.  Solar Power Princess,  Nooshi, the Balloon Dude
5.  Wind Power David Suzuki
6. Weave Me the Sunshine, Peter, Paul, and Mary