Hinterland Green

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Fisker Automotive, Backed by Former Vice President Al Gore, Gets $$529 Million Government Loan

How is it possible that California startup Fisker Automotive Inc., which is backed by former Vice President Al Gore, was able to secure a $529 million U.S government loan to help build a hybrid sports car in Finland that will sell for about $89,000? This award follows a $465 million government loan to Tesla Motors Inc., purveyors of the ultra-pricey $109,000 British-built electric Roadster. Incidentally, Tesla is another California startup, but there's a twist, it has a number of celebrity endorsements that is backed by investors who have contributed to Democratic campaigns. It is really unfair that the average working class American will not benefit from Fisker or Tesla's products, but the very wealthy. Why can't the government ever show that it really cares about the average American citizen? Other companies that would service the needs of the taxpayers have had their bids rejected, instead the companies with vehicles aimed at the wealthiest customers are getting the loans at our expense. That's just shameful and wrong.

Fisker's Karma hybrid sports car, above, will initially cost about $89,000.

Fisker's Karma Hybrid sports car AFP/Getty Images

 According to the Wall Street Journal, Henrik Fisker, who designed cars for BMW, Aston Martin and Tesla before starting his Fisker Automotive in 2007, said his goal is to build the first plug-in electric hybrids that won't sacrifice the luxury, performance and looks of traditional gas-powered luxury cars. Enter the Karma and guess who was one of the first to sign up for one? Mr. Al Gore himself. Thanks a million Al Gore for showing the American people what you really value and how much you really care about our needs. According to the WSJ, Mr. Fisker said he pitched Gore at an event hosted by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers last year and he almost immediately submitted a down payment on the car. Kalee Kreider, a spokeswoman for Gore, confirmed that he backs Fisker. Doesn't this muddy the water as to how this company managed to land such an enormous loan?

Fisker said that most of the DOE loan will be used to finance U.S. production of a $40,000 family sedan that has yet to be designed.  They claim that it was "the ability to drive a significant change in fuel economy across a large market segment that swayed the department to approve Fisker's loan." Fisker's government loans will  reportedly come from a $25 billion program established by Congress in 2007 to help auto makers invest in the technology to meet a new congressional mandate to improve fuel efficiency. In June, the DOE awarded the first $8 billion from the program to Ford Motor Co., Nissan Motor Co., and Tesla, which are all developing electric cars.

Fanged Frog Among 163 New Species Discovered in Mekong River Region of Southeast Asia

WWF International said a gecko with leopard-like spots on its body and a fanged frog that eats birds are among the 163 new species discovered last year in the Mekong River region of Southeast Asia. Researchers working for the group have warned that the effects of climate change, plus an upsurge in droughts and floods, pose a serious threat to the diverse habitat that supports these species, as well as the traditional threats such as poaching, pollution and habitat destruction. The environmental group also said scientists discovered 100 plants, 28 fish, 18 reptiles, 14 amphibians, two mammals and one bird species in the region.

Fanged frog, or Limnonectes megastomias (WWF International)

The fanged frog, given the scientific name Limnonectes megastomias, lies in wait along streams for prey including birds and insects. Scientists believe it uses its fangs during combat with other males. According to WWF, the species has a greatly enlarged head and enlarged fangs in its mouth. Those fangs are actually growths that protrude from the jawbone.
Males of the species use fangs in male-to-male combat situations and scientists have observed frogs with missing limbs, and multiple scars. There are a number of differences between the males and females of the species. Unlike many other species of frogs, the males are larger than the females, have exceptionally large mouths and powerful jaws that appear to be out of proportion with the rest of its body.

The frog has only been found in three isolated and remote protected areas in eastern Thailand: at medium-to-high altitudes (600-1,500m) at Sakaerat Environmental Research Station (SERS); in Pang Si Da National Park and in the Phu
Luang Wildlife Sanctuary. Remarkably, the SERS area has been the subject of scientific study for more than 40 years, but this frog had escaped detection until now. Source: WWF International
The bottom line is that climate change is profoundly impacting the biodiversity of the Greater Mekong region. It has already been warmed and experienced more frequent and damaging extreme climatic events such as droughts and floods. Climate change is also have an adverse effect on the availability of freshwater, affecting the timing of migration and flowering, among other things. It threatens many of the region's unique species, including some of the ones newly discovered.

To read the entire report, CLICK HERE.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Trash Hauler Recology's Plan to Dump Trash in Nevada Desert Sparks Protests

Recology, a San Francisco trash company, has met strong resistance from local residents for its latest project to build a 560-acre landfill in Nevada's Winnemucca and about 30 miles from the playa where Burning Man, which is an annual festival popular with San Francisco residents, is held every year. If approved, Recology would ship some 4,000 tons of trash from Northern California to Nevada by train five days a week for 95 years.

The firm claims that the site is in the middle of nowhere, and would not affect nearby communities, residents like Jim French and other members of Nevadans Against Garbage are strongly opposed to the plan. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has joined the fray. He sent a letter to Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons urging him to reject the plan as an affront to Nevada’s dignity. Other protesters have expressed their concerns about pollution of the air and water.

Eastern Pacific Black Ghostshark, An Ancient And Bizarre Fish Discovered in Off Coasts of California And Baja California

An ancient and bizarre species of fishes, distantly related to sharks, has been discovered off the coast of Southern California and Baja California, Mexico. The new species, named the Eastern Pacific black ghostshark (Hydrolagus melanophasma), is the first new species of cartilaginous fish to be described from California waters since 1947. According to Science Daily, chimaeras, also called ratfish, rabbitfish, and ghostsharks, are possibly the oldest and most enigmatic groups of fishes alive today. Their evolutionary lineage branched off from sharks nearly 400 million years ago, and they have remained an isolated group ever since.

They are similar to sharks, in that they have skeletons composed of cartilage and the males have claspers for internal fertilization of females. The difference is manifest in the male chimaeras, which also have retractable sexual appendages on the forehead and in front of the pelvic fins and a single pair of gills. Most species also have a mildly venomous spine in front of the dorsal fin.
Chimaeras were once a very diverse and abundant group, as illustrated by their global presence in the fossil record. They survived through the age of dinosaurs mostly unchanged, but today these fishes are relatively scarce and are usually confined to deep ocean waters, where they have largely avoided the reach of explorers and remained poorly known to science.

This new species belongs to the genus Hydrolagus, Latin for 'water rabbit' because of its grinding tooth plates reminiscent of a rabbit's incisor teeth. This new species was originally collected as early as the mid 1960s, but went unnamed until this year because its taxonomic relationships were unclear. A large blackish-purple form, Hydrolagus melanophasma (melanophasma is Latin for 'black ghost'), is found in deep water from the coast of Southern California, along the western coast of Baja California, and into the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California). This species is known from a total of nine preserved museum specimens, and from video footage taken of it alive by a deep-water submersible in the Sea of Cortez. Source: Science Daily
This is phenomenal and with continued advances in research and discovery, perhaps more will be known about these living fossils and their diversity in the world's oceans.

Photo credit: ghostshark, Science Daily

Sydney Braces for More Dust Clouds as Authorities Clean Up City from Yesterday's Dust Storm

Forecasters say that the city of Sydney may be hit by more dust clouds this weekend when strong winds blow in from the Australian Outback. This comes as city authorities cleaned up from yesterday's choking storms. The Bureau of Meteorology said winds as fast as 40 miles an hour may blow more dust and top-soil in the country's dry interior tomorrow and cause a haze in Sydney on September 26. Though they are forecasting that it won't be as bad as the previous storm. According to the weather bureau, the dust storm, more than 500 kilometers wide and 1,000 kilometers long, was the largest to hit Sydney since the 1940s and was driven from the drought-stricken Outback by gale-force winds.
About 75,000 metric tons of dust an hour was blown over the city during the peak of the storm yesterday morning, according to the New South Wales state government. More than 100 sweepers took to the streets of central Sydney early today to brush away the dust residue.

Air pollution readings for the region were the highest ever recorded and the state Health Department reported a spike in the number of people needing medical attention for breathing problems. Paramedics treated 218 people in Sydney yesterday for respiratory complaints, it said. Source: Bloomberg
The Bureau of Meteorology said a big cold front in New South Wales caused severe thunderstorms and gale-force winds, which whipped up the dust from the inland and spread it across Australia's most populous state. Winds of more than 100 km per hour also fanned bushfires in the state. We are literally seeing earth, wind and fire manifesting themselves in an unprecedented manner.

Monday, September 21, 2009

World's River Deltas Sinking Due to Human Activity: University of Colorado (Boulder) Study

According to Science Daily, a new study led by the University of Colorado at Boulder has indicated that most of the world's low-lying river deltas are sinking from human activity, making them increasingly vulnerable to flooding from rivers and ocean storms and putting tens of millions of people at risk. Despite a 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that concluded many river deltas are at risk from sea level rise, the new study takes it a step further. It indicates other human factors are causing deltas to sink significantly. The researchers concluded the sinking of deltas from Asia and India to the Americas is exacerbated by the upstream trapping of sediments by reservoirs and dams, man-made channels and levees that whisk sediment into the oceans beyond coastal floodplains, and the accelerated compacting of floodplain sediment caused by the extraction of groundwater and natural gas.
The study concluded that 24 out of the world's 33 major deltas are sinking and that 85 percent experienced severe flooding in recent years, resulting in the temporary submergence of roughly 100,000 square miles of land. About 500 million people in the world live on river deltas.Published in the Sept. 20 issue of Nature Geoscience, the study was led by CU-Boulder Professor James Syvitski, who is directing a $4.2 million effort funded by the National Science Foundation to model large-scale global processes on Earth like erosion and flooding. Known as the Community Surface Dynamic Modeling System, or CSDMS, the effort involves hundreds of scientists from dozens of federal labs and universities around the nation.

The Nature Geoscience authors predict that global delta flooding could increase by 50 percent under current projections of about 18 inches in sea level rise by the end of the century as forecast by the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. The flooding will increase even more if the capture of sediments upstream from deltas by reservoirs and other water diversion projects persists and prevents the growth and buffering of the deltas, according to the study.

"We argue that the world's low-lying deltas are increasingly vulnerable to flooding, either from their feeding rivers or from ocean storms," said CU-Boulder Research Associate Albert Kettner, a co-author on the study at CU-Boulder's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and member of the CSDMS team. "This study shows there are a host of human-induced factors that already cause deltas to sink much more rapidly than could be explained by sea level alone."

Other study co-authors include CU-Boulder's Irina Overeem, Eric Hutton and Mark Hannon, G. Robert Brakenridge of Dartmouth College, John Day of Louisiana State University, Charles Vorosmarty of City College of New York, Yoshiki Saito of the Geological Survey of Japan, Liviu Giosan of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and Robert Nichols of the University of Southampton in England.

The team used satellite data from NASA's Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, which carried a bevy of radar instruments that swept more than 80 percent of Earth's surface during a 12-day mission of the space shuttle Endeavour in 2000. The researchers compared the SRTM data with historical maps published between 1760 and 1922.

"Every year, about 10 million people are being affected by storm surges," said CU-Boulder's Overeem, also an INSTAAR researcher and CSDMS scientist. "Hurricane Katrina may be the best example that stands out in the United States, but flooding in the Asian deltas of Irrawaddy in Myanmar and the Ganges-Brahmaputra in India and Bangladesh have recently claimed thousands of lives as well."
The study results are pretty damning and we must take steps to halt any further damage to the rive deltas.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

U.S. Navy to Make Jet Fuel From Seawater

The U.S. Navy could be on to something big in its latest research project -- making jet fuel from seawater. Chemists at the Naval Research Laboratory hope to secure a cheap and steady fuel source for its fleet of jets by extracting dissolved carbon dioxide from seawater and combining it with hydrogen stripped from water molecules. Converting the CO2 and hydrogen into jet fuel could be done through a process known as Fischer-Tropsch, which typically starts with carbon monoxide and hydrogen and, using metal catalysts and heat, ends with a mixture of methane, waxes and synthesis gas (syngas), which can then produce fuel or plastic.

Fischer-Tropsch is expensive and energy-intensive, which often limits its usefulness. One of the few times it has proven economical was using solid coal to produce liquid fuel for World War II Germany.

Instead of coal, the chemists want to use the carbon dioxide dissolved in seawater (140 times the amount found in the atmosphere) and hydrogen stripped from water as the base materials for the reaction.

They also want to change the metal catalysts, switching from cobalt, which produces mostly methane, to iron, which drops methane production by 70 percent and increases the amount of syngas produced. Source: Discovery Channel

Photo credit: Discovery Channel

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Maldives Archipelago to Introduce Green Tax on Tourists

The Maldives archipelago will introduce a new environmental tax on all tourists who use its resorts and provide its economic lifeline. Why? The archipelago is threatened by rising sea levels due to climate change. The Maldives, which is the stomping ground of the rich and famous, has made quite a name for itself as an advocate for mitigating climate change because the rising sea levels are forecast to submerge most of its islands by 2100.

The Maldives' $850 million economy reportedly gets more than a quarter of its gross domestic product from tourists, but has not yet taxed them to help it fight climate change. President Mohammed Nasheed said an environment tax was soon to be levied on all tourists. "We have introduced a green tax. It's in the pipeline. It's a matter of parliament approving it and I hope parliament will approve it -- $3 per each tourist a day," Nasheed told reporters in Male, the capital of the Indian Ocean archipelago.

According to Reuters, based on an annual average of 700,000 tourists who spend an average of three days on the islands, that translates to about $6.3 million annually.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Delta Air Lines Under Fire for Running "Ghost" Flights from US to Heathrow to Meet Australian Quarantine Regulations

Delta Air Lines Inc. has come under attack by the Campaign for Better Transport, an environmental group, for flying empty planes across the Atlantic to be disinfected. The airlines admitted running "ghost" flights from the US to Heathrow in order to meet Australian quarantine regulations. According to the Guardian, authorities in Australia require inbound airplanes to be sprayed with insecticide to ward off malaria and dengue fever. Delta is not allowed to carry out the treatment in the US and the nearest airport with facilities sanctioned by the Australian quarantine and inspection service (AQIS) is Heathrow, which requires the carrier to make a number of trips to the airport over the past two months.

A Delta spokeswoman said: "Materials used for this process are approved and available for use in the United States; however, according to US regulations, these treatments must be carried out at designated AQIS locations outside the United States."

The Campaign for Better Transport said the round-trip taken by Delta's Boeing 777 jets operating the Los Angeles to Sydney route summed up the "wanton" attitude of airlines towards global warming. Delta is planning to stop its disinfection trips to Heathrow at the end of the month, but is expected to switch to a Chinese airport. (Source: The UK Guardian)

The aviation industry has been under pressure as a prominent producer of greenhouse gases and it has been the subject of a number of "ghost flight" stories.

Fanged Frogs, Giant Woolly Rat Found in Crater on Papua New Guinea's Mount Bosavi

VolcanoA team of scientists from Great Britain, the United States, Hawaii and Papua New Guinea found more than 40 previously unidentified species when they climbed into a crater of Mount Bosavi on the island of Papua New Guinea. This pristine jungle habitat teemed with life that evolved in isolation since the volcano last erupted 200,000 years ago. The biologists discovered 16 frogs which have never been recorded before by science, three new fish, a new bat and a giant woolly rat, which may very well turn out to be the world's largest.

The team of biologists included experts from Oxford University, the London Zoo and the Smithsonian Institution and are believed to be the first scientists to enter the mountainous Bosavi crater. They were joined by members of the BBC Natural History Unit which filmed the expedition for a three-part documentary. They also found a camouflaged gecko, a fanged frog and a fish called the Henamo grunter, named because it makes grunting noises from its swim bladder.

According to the UK Guardian, the discoveries are being seen as fresh evidence of the richness of the world's rainforests and the explorers hope their finds will add weight to calls for international action to prevent the demise of similar ecosystems. They said Papua New Guinea's rainforest is currently being destroyed at the rate of 3.5% a year.

Photo credit:  The Guardian

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Bans Government Employees from Wearing Suits, Jackets & Ties to Save Electricity

Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister of Bangladesh, has ordered male government employees to stop wearing suits, jackets and ties to save electricity. He told officials that it would minimize their use of air-conditioners. The country suffers from daily power outages because power plants are unable to meet the country's growing demand. According to BBC, during the hot months between March and November, men have been ordered to wear pants and shirts instead and they do not have to tuck them into their pants any more. That's like a permanent casual Friday!

Officials and ministers have also been told not to turn their air-conditioners below 24C. The government introduced daylight saving in June and the clocks moved forward by one hour, in another attempt to reduce energy consumption.

According to BBC, the current state-owned plants have not been able to keep up with Bangladesh's large population and its economy, which has been growing at about 6% annually for the past five years.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Starving Sea Lions off Chile's Northern Coast May Mark the Herald of "El Nino"

Sea lions on Chile's northern coast are starving to death in unusually high numbers, signaling the weather shift, or El Nino, that is taking hold in the Pacific. The El Nino effect is essentially bring warmer waters to the shores of South America, which is driving away the fish that the sea lions eat. According to Walter Sielfeld, a professor of marine science at Arturo Prat University in Iquique, Chile, the evidence to support this shift is being found in the autopsies of the emaciated pups. They found that the sea-lion pups had empty bellies and no adipose tissue, the fat that insulates their bodies. This warming trend also spells disaster for the country's $4 billion fishing industry, which has already been ravaged by a salmon virus that has had a devastating blow on exporters.

Over the last 30 years, El Nino has sparked deadly floods and landslides from Ecuador to California, caused drought in Africa, wildfires in Australia and caused billions of dollars in damage, according to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. More than 1,000 sea lions have been found dead, Chile’s national fishery service said in an Aug. 28 statement.This die-off trend is similar to deaths that occurred in California and is among the first concrete effects of El Nino, which starts when warm waters from the western Pacific shifts along the equator to the eastern Pacific. The cool water, which is nutrient-rich, usually wells up from the ocean floor, but becomes blocked. As a result, the fish supply declines sharply or move elsewhere, leaving mammals and seabirds to starve.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

EPA to Declare Carbon Dioxide a Dangerous Pollutant

Carbon dioxide will be declared a dangerous pollutant shortly. This move could help jump-start the slow-moving climate-change legislation on Capitol Hill. EPA administrator Lisa Jackson said a formal "endangerment finding," which would trigger federal regulations on greenhouse gas emissions, probably would "happen in the next months."

Jackson disclosed her timeline even as top senators said they were delaying plans to introduce legislation that would set new limits on carbon dioxide emissions. They were set to unveil legislation next Tuesday, but the date has now been pushed back to a later date in September.
The EPA kick-started the regulatory process in April when it proposed declaring carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases as pollutants that jeopardize the public health and welfare. EPA scientists believe the greenhouse gases contribute to global warming by trapping heat in the Earth's atmosphere. The EPA can formalize the finding anytime, now that it has closed a 60-day public comment period that netted more than 300,000 responses.

A formal endangerment finding would obligate the agency to regulate greenhouse gas pollution under the Clean Air Act - even if Congress doesn't pass a final climate-change bill. Source: San Francisco Chronicle
This is a move that will be applauded by many environmentalists. President Barack Obama and Lisa Jackson said they prefer that Congress, instead of the EPA, lead the charge in implementing new greenhouse gas limits.