Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Uranium Mining and Nuclear Power

With all the debate on nuclear energy and whether it is good for climate change, etc. The problem is that the discuss is too narrowly focused. What is usually neglected is nuclear waste and other related issues.

What is almost never reported is the effects of uranium mining. Of course natural uranium is radioactive. Further is an alpha emitter, which means that if the uranium either gets into the water supply or is released as a dust it can do serious damage to people internally (This is the same concern as for depleted uranium shells). Of even more concern are the decay products of uranium - thorium, radium, etc. For every ton of uranium fuel there are 13,000 tons of tailings left, these contain most of the decay products. In addition, to being in the surroundings and the soil, the contaminants leach into the groundwater. [For more details on hazardous of nuclear industry see this presentation]

Highlighting this problem is a recent report on concerning uranium mining in Niger. Niger is fourth largest exporter of uranium. It is also ranked by the UN as the poorest country in the world. Many of the people living near the mines have complained about health problems. In addition the country appears to be getting no benefit from the mines. The mining company is European owned and so most of the profit is leaving the country.

Another example is in India. India has only one uranium mine, but does not export any uranium - using all of it being used in their own reactors (and nuclear bombs). A few years ago I heard a BBC report from the mining area. Serious health problems were occurring, yet very little was being done to help the local people. Environmental and health and safety practices were very poor, but the government refused to interfer siting "national security" issues. In addition information about the area was difficult to get.

The endpoint is that while we are looking and seeing no carbon dioxide coming out the front side of the nuclear power plants; we are not looking at what is coming out the backend.

Friday, December 14, 2007


Here I am going to put some updates to previous blogs (with links).

Navy Sonar - In my blog about using "national security" as an excuse for avoiding environmental or other laws, I mentioned the lawsuit against the US Navy to prevent them testing a new type of sonar ("active sonar"). Well, recently the appeals court ruled for the Navy, removing a lower court injunction against the test. Interesting is this line in the court's opinion "We are currently engaged in war, in two countries.". But Afganistan is landlocked and the people were fighting in Iraq have no submarines. Sounds like Navy misinformation has won out.

Climate Change and Human Rights - About six months ago I wrote a very short point about the Inuit in Alaska related to human rights violations:

An interesting twist to the global warming debate. But a very valid point. The Inuit in Alaska has filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights claiming the US government's inaction on global warming in violating their human rights.
The UN and some Pacific Island countries have also recently made statements equating human rights and global warming.

Sustainability - My last post was entitled "Is Sustainable Development Dead?". Some more examples:
Lao Dams - Laos has a couple of large dam projects. Here is a report on one of them. It says the expansion of Theun-Hinboun dam would cause "serious flooding, ruin fisheries, and displace thousands of people". Yet the fact is all most all of the electricity produced at these dams is not for Laos, but sold to neighboring countries.

Water Wastage in Delhi - With all the economic growth of India, it cannot even manage the domestic water supply in its capital. Interesting quote "There is no water shortage in Delhi, just inefficient management of water resources".

Water and Sanitation - The same article as the previous example points out that we will probably miss the Millennium Development Goal of reducing by one-half the number of people without basic sanitation and access to safe drinking water.

Biofuels - In two blogs I discussed the problems with biofuel. Another problem, shown recently by the Agronomy Society of America, is that with increased demand for biofuels some have identified corn residue as a source. However, this residue is vital for being used to replace soil organic matter and reducing soil erosion.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Is Sustainable Development Dead?

In global warming, their is no longer really any debate about whether it is occurring. However, there is a debate about whether developing countries should shoulder some of the burden. I wrote about that debate here.

But I think the simple fact that the debate is occurring to be important. The UN defines sustainable development as "development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". Developing countries argue that they need to "catch up" with the developed world. But this does not mean that they should build huge coal-fired power plants which pump out tons of pollution and CO2. This leads me to ask the question "Is Sustainable Development Dead?".

China and India both have very high economic growth rates. But China has very serious environmental problems (as the government itself has admitted). Indeed the air pollution is so bad, there has been threats of moving the Olympics. Just last week there was the reported that a record amount of sewage and industrial wastewater was dumped into the Yangtze river. And, of course, it has the Three Gorges Dam, an ecological and social disaster.

Much is made of India'a development, yet it has more people in poverty than all African countries combined! It has made many major dams projects recently, when everybody says that smaller scale dams are much better solutions.

The IMF and World Bank continue to pump out reports of how good the world economy is, simply based on the criteria of growth rates. Meanwhile, the World Bank and other development banks continue to support projects which have serious environmental effects.

From my own experience living and working in Asia, so-called technology transfer usually involves transfer of not the most efficient and non-polluting technology, but the cheapest technology. This is usually done because the companies are taking the advantage of poorer environmental standards and/or enforcement in the developing country. It must be remembered that direct foreign investment is much, much larger that foreign aid.

All of this is going on while the UN report on the current status of the Millenium Development Goals in Africa shows there is very poor results on most of the Millenium Goals.

Is sustainable development dead? No, but it is dying. We must do two things: increase the importance of the environment (and other social issues) into economic decisions and get away from using economic growth as the indicator of development.

UPDATE (30/11): In a new report that claims that one-fifth of carbon trading schemes may be not valid, the WWF has said "Promoting sustainable development... seems to have been largely forgotten by project developers, verifiers, and the CDM [Clean Development Mechanism] Executive Board".

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Oil: Nigeria and beyond

Every few months I here something about the oil industry in Nigeria. It is a disaster in both the figurative and literal sense.

One major source of carbon dioxide emissions that can be reduced almost completely is flaring - burning off of oil that cannot be refined and the gas associated with the oil (See here). Remarkably, one-third of all Nigeria's oil is flared. This is almost completely due to lack of capacity in the oil industry.

Now Nigeria is a poor country (despite being the fifth largest oil producer, but that is another story), so not having capital to build its oil infrastructure would be understandable. However, the actual case is that the oil refining industry in Nigeria is controlled by large multinational oil companies - most notably Royal Dutch Shell - and they do have the capital. These companies say they continue to flare because the Nigerian government did not give them the funding.

There are some very important issues here. First, these companies make huge profits, yet they need money from the Nigeria government? Second, they do not get money from the US or British governments to not flare gas, yet these countries are much richer than Nigeria. Third environmental regulators in the US or Europe would never allow this much gas to flared, but the companies can do it in countries such as Nigeria because they have lower standards, if any.

What is it about oil companies? As mentioned in my previous post, US companies complain about proposed greenhouse emission standards reducing capacity, yet they have not built a new refinery in 20 years. And now there making the same claim about new sulfur emission standards.

The oil companies want to claim they are "green", showing ads on TV with lush forests saying how they take care to not harm the environment, and then go and fight all environmental standards. In doing so they will use any excuse - there not enough subsidy, it will cause us to cut back on infrastructure, there is no global warming.

Why do they not come out and tell the truth. It will hurt their profit margin.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Everybody But Me

Why is it that industries always seem to have an "everybody-but-me" attitude toward the environment?

The American petroleum refining industry recently complained that they may have to reduce their refining capacity if emission cuts in greenhouse gases would be imposed on them. They claim that the extra costs to reduce emissions would make it so they cannot spend on increasing their capacity, even though they have not built a new refinery in 20 years!

The automobile industry, while claiming to be working on technology such as hydrogen fuel, are opposed to any increase in fuel efficiency requirements.

It should be remembered that both of these industries, especially the American Petroleum Institute (API), were behind attempts to destroy the claims about global warming.

The aviation industry continues to support their exemption from the trading emissions scheme despite being one of largest emitters (and emitting high in the atmosphere).

The point with all three of these industries is they each seem to think that they are somewhat special and therefore should not have to be subject to regulations, etc. Of course, this is not only true of global warming, but many environmental issues. I remember when lead was purposed to be removed from gasoline, the petroleum industry claimed lead was necessary for car performance.

This all goes to show that the talk of social responsibility is a piece of bullshit.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Water Scarcity

I have lately been reading reports from the recently finished World Water Week 2007 held in Stockholm, Sweden. The most interesting (and best written) report is on water scarcity(pdf).

The article does a very good job of pointing out that there are different types of water scarcity. One important distinction is between blue water scarcity and green water scarcity. Blue water is that in rivers and lakes and aquifers, whereas green water is that retained in the soil. Blue water is the water used directly - drinking, washing, etc, Green water is important for crop production.

Another very important distinction is between real and apparent water scarcity. Real water scarcity is due to lack of rainfall or to having too many people sharing the same resource. Apparent water scarcity is where there is sufficient water but the water gets wasted due to inefficiency and losses.

The importance of these distinctions is that different types of water scarcity require different solutions. For example, apparent green water scarcity requires soil conservation measures to reduce losses due to runoff and poor infiltration. Whereas, apparent blue water scarcity requires reduces system leaks and reducing wasteful water usage.

Notice all this means improving planning and prior determination of the causes of water problems in order to have effective conservation measures.

Finally, one of the most important recommendations of the report is:

When taking concrete policy steps, decision makers should first focus on managing demand – efforts to increase supply should be secondary to that.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Nuclear reactors in Asia

Japan is again having problems with a nuclear reactor, this time a research reactor. This is just after the problems with a nuclear plant after the recent earthquake.

This, along with the increased interest with nuclear energy lately, leads me to think about the use of nuclear energy in Asia.

There are two issues which must be looked at safety and nuclear waste.

There have been safety/environmental problems not only Japan, but in Britain, US, Ukraine (Chernobyl), etc.

Thailand, my home, recently pushed the idea of a nuclear energy reactor - done with big fanfare and a visit by the head of the IAEA. Yet this is the same country that recently could not get a new research reactor, because the design was refused certification by international bodies. I also heard many years ago the then head of the Office of Atomic Energy for Peace say that we do not need to worry about nuclear waste because it degrades in about 10 years! Thailand also had a major scare when recyclers opened a canister of radioactive cobalt-60, a gamma emmitter, which had been thown away in the regular trash by a hospital.

The question is if countries such as UK and Japan cannot insure safe operation of nuclear power plants, how can countries with poor environmental and safety regulations cope.

The other issue is storage of radioactive waste. There is no safe storage method for it. (Yes, the nuclear industry says we can bury it under ground. But they have been saying that for 30 years and have yet to dispose of any waste). Considering this and the fact that their is almost no capacity for handling non-radioactive hazardous waste, what are they going to do? It is interesting that this has not been discussed at all.

No, nuclear energy is not necessary to save the Earth. The risks are to great and I think Asia (and the rest of the world) should avoid nuclear energy and get more sustainable energy alternatives.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Update on Biofuels

In the field of the environment things often fall together in unexpected ways. I have blogged previously on the concerns of biofuels. Last week the World Land Trust in an article in Science magazine, point out that we can save more carbon emmissions by not cutting down forests in order to plant crops for biofuels, then the biofuels themselves would save.

Worldwatch, in response to the publicity of the Science article, then came out with a very good statement about biofuels, which I think hit the nail on the head. It makes an important distinction between first generation biofuels -- where crops are grown specifically for biofuel production, and second generation biofuels -- those which use waste products to produce the biofuels. Whereas first generation biofuels create problems, second generation biofuels are acceptable and a good use of a waste product.

The Worldwatch comment on sustainability is

A sustainable future depends on a diversified energy supply—one that takes advantage first of savings from energy efficiency, and then relies on a range of renewable energy sources, including wind energy, solar power, and fuels derived from biomass. (emphasis added)

That is exactly my own view.

Their last paragraph is also very to the point.
So, nothing is simple, but nothing is impossible either. Biofuels can do harm—but they can do a lot of good too. When evaluating them, as when evaluating any technologies, it is imperative that we take the time to consider the full range of factors to assess whether they are really sustainable or not.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Green Software

Within the last few months, a number of articles have been written about "green computing". But what is this?

First. the term seems to have two meanings. First, is writing software that reduces energy consumption of the computer. Secondly, is changing the hardware to reduce both energy and heat production (reducing cooling requirements). The later usage also includes changing cooling methods of computer rooms.

Actually, I think neither meaning is really significant, with the exemption of the cooling methods of computer rooms which are really not related to computer hardware or software.

Being an avid computer user (Linux user that is :) ) I can say I highly doubt that doing such a thing would save much energy. On slashdot there was an article about how Google would save energy just by using a black background! (However, with LCD monitors black backgrounds may consume more energy -- see comments on the slashdot article.) Now, I really don't think that will solve our global energy crisis or global warming.

Recently, there was a meeting of technology companies. Where they discussed how "green" they were. But they really just a PR exercise.

Maybe if they would quit letting out their hot air, they would not need so much cooling.

All of this talk about green computing sounds like more green propaganda. In fact, it sounds very similar to the 1980's when companies like McDonald's tried to claim they were green.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

What is Clean Technology?

Often there is some confusion on the term "clean technology". Recently, I read a Reuters article where they talked about 'clean coal', by which they meant using carbon sequestering technology (pumping carbon dioxide deep underground) on emissions from power plants.

First, of all it is is not clean coal. In fact, it has nothing to do with coal. Carbon sequestering has to do with carbon dioxide emissions, regardless of whether the source is coal, oil, natural gas, etc. The term clean coal is usually used in talking about removing sulfur from coal.

Secondly, carbon sequestering is not clean technology. Clean technology is preventing emissions from occurring. Carbon sequestering is about taking the emissions and then pumping them underground. An analogy is wastewater treatment -- we take wastewater and treat it; clean technology would be reducing the amount of wastewater produced, say by changing the process.

We have learned from hazardous waste management, that clean technology (also known as pollution prevention or waste minimization) is much more effective than waste treatment. What I hope is not happening is what happened with the term "waste minimization". Waste minimization started meaning (and the preferred meaning still today) as not producing waste. But then industry started to use the name to include off-site recycling. Then they started using it to mean any treatment technology. I even saw a book that included landfilling of hazardous waste!

Let us get back to basics, start using the environmental language correctly, and quit putting the industrial spin.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Global Compact

One of the bigger items in the last two weeks was the triennial meeting of the UN Global Compact. Actual before the conference I had never heard of the compact. In fact, as I found out it had been founded in 2000 by Kofi Annan. The Global Compact is a volunteer grouping of companies who wish to follow a set of ten principles covering human rights, labor standards, and the environment. Companies which join must submit a "Code of Practice"(COP) stating what they will do to follow the 10 principles.

You can find the resolutions from the meeting and related information at the global compact's website.

The Global Compact is a good example of a good idea in theory, but not in practice. It is good for companies to get involve, but is very possible that companies use their COP as a public relations exercise to say "see how 'responsible' we are" -- without doing anything concrete.

I did have a laugh (albeit a sarchastic laugh) at a statement before the conference, which stated that US companies are reluctant to sign up to the compact because it was "not binding". Are these not the same people who say that environmental regulations should be voluntary? It shows how hollow their agrument opposed to environmental regulations really is.

Of the about two thousand companies worldwide that signed the compact only about 30 are in the Fortune 500. That shows the big problem.

One of the companies signed up to the compact is Nestle. That was the same company whose CEO said at the World Economic Forum a few years ago that businesses should forget about social responsibility and instead should be making profit because that what it shareholders want.

In conclusion, it appears that the global compact is being joined by few big businesses, and many of those that have signed are using it as "green propaganda".

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Resources, Sales. Resources, Overpackaging, and Resources

I went to the store to buy laundry detergent and ended up being pissed off. I went to get the brand I normally buy and instead of finding the normal package I saw clear plastic bags containing the detergent I wanted plus a small container of "free" fabric softener for "jeans". I do not own any jeans and therefore do not want jeans' softener, and I absolutely hate being forced to get something for "free", which I am not going to use and end up throwing away.

This is simply a waste of resources. Not only people will buy something which they do not want and which gets thrown out, but it is also overpackaging, because the company decided to use an extra outside container that would not otherwise be used. And why did the company do it? Of course, to sell more detergent!

What to be really makes this relevant today is that much of what I have been hearing late (for example, during the Live Earth concerts) is how individuals can do to prevent global warming. That is fine, but the majority of carbon emissions is industrial and commercial, not residential.

When industry decides it wants to increase its sales without any other considerations such as overpackaging, waste production, resources used, etc. then nothing will ever happen on global warming even if every person changes his light bulbs. We must make industry as responsible, if not more so, then the average citizen.

Remember, nothing is really ever free.

P.S. I ended up buy a different brand of detergent.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Copyright - should we question it?

Coincidently during my writing of the last blog Copyright??? versus Environment. There was an interesting discussion about copyright on slashdot. This led to me looking at the website for an organization I had never heard of called Their objective is exactly what their name suggests, to question copyright -- at least as it exists today.

I have always been bothered about copyright. Here is a statement from the World Trade Organization website "Intellectual property rights are the rights given to persons over the creations of their minds. They usually give the creator an exclusive right over the use of his/her creation for a certain period of time" (emphasis added). NOT!

I am a scientist and if I write an article to most journals, you must sign away the copyright to the journal's publisher. The publisher is not the creator. Then I am explicitly prevented from doing anything else with the article I wrote. I not only do not have an exclusive right, I almost no rights. I find as a writer that attitude repugnant.

I once knew the author of a book on geology. The publisher owned the copyright and gave him 10 cents! for each book sold.

The issue always in the news is about copyright is music. They say "we need to protect our (sic) copyright, so that the musicians get there money". Now, take a good look at your music CD's. Who owns the copyright? The music publishing company, not the musicians.

In 1998, the US extended their copyrights by twenty years under heavy lobbying by major producers. It was even nicknamed the "Mickey Mouse Protection Act" because of the pressure by the Disney Company. It is now the life of the author plus 70 years! (Most countries it is 50 years after the author's death). Some people have even argued it should be forever! Why?, so publishing company can continue to make big profits. Disney is said to make 6 billion dollars a year from holding the copyright on Winnie the Pooh (the author died in 1956).

The bottom line is that there are lots of people are making lots of money off of copyright who show no creativity, while the creative people make little or nothing. It is the damn right time to start questioning copyright.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Copyright??? versus Environment

Two weeks ago I was intrigued by the title of an article on PlanetArk "Copyright Fear Hampers West's Climate Work in China". In fact it was a bad piece of journalism.

The article is about how Western companies do not want to invest in clean energy technology in China because their fears about Chinese "copying" Western technology. But that is not copyright, that is about patents and trademarks (which themselves are different). Copyright refers to copying a work of art, such as writing, music, or film, not about technology. Read this article to understand where the confusion is.

The article title should be "How profits interferes with social responsibility". Compare the following quotes from the PlanetArk article:

In a major climate change review last year former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern put the cost of low-carbon investment in developing countries at US$20 billion-30 billion per year, and urged the private sector to help through technology transfer.

But Western investors, gathered at a clean energy technology conference in Frankfurt, said it is difficult even to sell such products in China because local companies may copy them and violate intellectual property (IP) rights.

So, in other words while an eminent economist says we should invest in technology transfer, investors say no because they cannot make enough profit.

The following paragraph is a laugh; it is quoting a partner in a private equity company.
"They have these 'copy shops' with Ralph Lauren shirts and Rolex
watches, whatever you like, but on the other hand say they don't like
breach of copyright," Lederle said. "We're still a bit cautious."

First, Lederle is not talking about copyright, he is talking about trademarks. Secondly, in clean technology we are not talking about Rolex, Ralph Lauren, or the like. In fact, the issue related to clean technology is patents, not trademarks or copyright.

What is being talked about here is production of solar cells, etc. in China. In other words, the technology we are concerned with here are the production methods, not the final product.

If we want to get into a debate about patents, trademarks, and copyright versus the environment, fine. But let us make sure we talking about the correct issues.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Environment and Peace

Reported in the news this last week was the Global Peace Index (GPI). You can find the index at its website.

Generally, I am not a big fan of these indexes (mainly because such indexes are sensitive to weighting factors used). What is usually more interesting is how countries rate in the individual criteria. In this case 24 criteria were used, including: number of external and internal conflicts, number of deaths due to conflicts, number of armed forces, defense spending as percent GDP, arms import and export, size of police forces, prison population, contribution to peacekeeping forces, level of crime, and respect of human rights. I think the criteria used were very well selected.

What is even more interesting is the discussion paper on the GPI. It gives a emphasis to the link between environment and peace. To quote the Executive Summary:

The major challenges facing humanity today are global – climate change, accessible fresh water, ever decreasing bio-diversity and over population. These problems call for global solutions and these solutions will require co-operation on a global scale unparalleled in history. Peace is the essential prerequisite to create the environment to achieve the levels of co-operation necessary.

The paper points out that the countries with the best GPI also have the best environmental performance, better than countries with higher per capita income.

The report points out that "Maintaining the health of ecosystems and biodiversity, and promoting sustainable agriculture and economic growth, reduces the risk of state collapse and with it the potential for conflict." It further notes that increased use of resources can lead to potential conflicts between nations. It specifically mentions two cases: water - especially since many water sources cross international borders, and depletion of resources due to pressures from overpopulation.

The report further emphasizes that cooperation between countries is necessary to solve many environmental problems. Its statement in this respect on climate change is especially poignant with the problems of Kyoto: "Co-operative and inclusive ways of managing global resources, economies and lifestyles will help to alleviate the potential for conflict that climate change could create. It is clear that the impacts of climate change can be mitigated or greatly varied depending on the levels of co-operation that nations can achieve and the strength of our global institutions."

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Dangers of Roundup

Project Censored has a list of the top 25 censored stories of 2007. Number 3 on the list is the "Oceans of the World are in Extreme Danger". But the one that really caught my attention was #13 New Evidence Establishes Dangers of Roundup. I just recently mentioned Roundup in my previous blog "What is Wrong with GMO's".

To quote the Project Censored article:

New studies from both sides of the Atlantic reveal that Roundup, the most widely used weedkiller in the world, poses serious human health threats. More than 75 percent of genetically modified (GM) crops are engineered to tolerate the absorption of Roundup—it eliminates all plants that are not GM. Monsanto Inc., the major engineer of GM crops, is also the producer of Roundup. Thus, while Roundup was formulated as a weapon against weeds, it has become a prevalent ingredient in most of our food crops.

Three recent studies show that Roundup, which is used by farmers and home gardeners, is not the safe product we have been led to trust.

The article goes on to describe the studies done.

We need to be very concerned about Roundup, given the power that Monsanto is starting to exert world wide.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Misuse of "National Security"

This week I heard two stories that got my interest. The first was the announcement of a lawsuit being brought by five environmental groups against the US Navy. The lawsuit attempts to prevent the navy from performing active sonar exercises in the area around Hawaii. Active sonar is damaging to whales and other marine mammals.

The second was the results from a lawsuit brought by former residents of the Chagos Islands against the UK government. The Chagos Islands are a British Territory in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The residents were moved from there to make way for the Diego Garcia air base, which it has turned out was funded by a secret agreement between the US and Britain. The former residents and their families want the right to return to the Islands. The Court of Appeals sided with the former residents.

What do these two cases have in common? In both cases the government has claimed their defense on "National Security".

The first case is actually only part of a long controversy over the Navy's sonar. The Navy has previously claimed that testing of the sonar is necessary for "national security". In the case of Diego Garcia, the UK government has lost previous cases, but tried to sidestep them by claiming royal prerogative - which means they can bypass parliament.

Frankly, I am tired of hearing the "national security" defense (or should I say excuse) anytime that any military or other organizations does want to do what everybody has to. I have seen the defense used to avoid the environmental laws, to stifle freedom of speech and press, and even to commit murder (aka assassination).

Conclusion, the national security excuse should be abolished by all government in this world.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Biofuels versus Efficiency

There has been much in the news about the use of biofuels lately. However, one thing that is very little publicized is that there are some people who are concerned about the increased use of biofuels.

Their concern is from the fact that for some temperate countries their source of biofuels will be palm oil found in tropical, mostly poor, countries. This demand for palm oil then encourages planting of oil palm. Farmers therefore plant the oil palm as a cash crop instead of planting rice, cereals, or other food crops. It also encourages destruction of forest areas, which in turn increases risks of flooding, etc.

I have heard even a few people call this push for palm oil from tropical countries "colonialism". While I do not go that far, I would agree with their general argument. The problem is best summed up by the title of an article written many years ago by Amory Lovins, a well-known sustainable energy expert and founder/chairman of the Rocky Mountain Institute: "Technology is the Answer, but what was the Question?"

The point made by most of those questioning biofuels, and a point I have made many times before, is that efficiency is the real issue. With improved efficiency we can immediately reduce energy use and hence carbon emissions. I have seen estimates that, using currently available technology, we can reduce energy use by 20% from increased efficiency alone.

This issue leads to two points. Do not simply jump on the bandwagon because something is declared "environmental friendly". And think about the indirect effects of doing anything, including what you might think is environmental.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

New Chemical Plant Regulations

Earlier this month new regulations have been drawn up concerning chemical plants in the US. But these regulations were not drawn up by the US Environmental Protection Agency, but by the Department of Homeland Security.

The regulations are designed to reduce risk from attacks against chemical plants. The government can fine or even close plants which do not comply with the regulations. The regulations are specifically aimed at securing the outside of the facility, controlling access, and preventing sabotage.

I find that these regulations are rather interesting in that the Bush administration has done very little to regulate chemicals which are released to the environment from chemical plants or other facilities. These releases include intentional discharges of wastes, improperly treated waste streams, discharge of pollutants to the air through stacks, evaporation of volatile compounds from spills, and leaching from landfills (both domestic and hazardous). Also important is exposure of workers to toxic fumes, insufficient protective gear, improper handling of chemicals, and poor chemical management.

But of course, we must protect ourselves from "terrorists" (sarc meter on high!).

The importance here is perceived versus real risk. Bruce Schneier, a computer security expert, has written much on this topic. The risk from a spill or other release of toxic chemicals (whether accidental or intentional) is much greater then the risk of a terrorist attack. We should be protecting the public health by correct environmental and safety regulations, not through anti-terrorism legislation drawn up by homeland security "experts".

It is also interesting to note that, unlike the US, the European Union has new regulations (called REACH) which does address the real issues of hazardous chemicals (especially testing and substitution). But the US has criticized them for interfering with "free trade" (see this story).

One thing worries me on a global scale. Around the world there has been the rhetoric of anti-terrorism to justify many actions, including human rights violations. Will other countries follow the US lead on chemical plants, while ignoring the sometimes major environmental problems plaguing their countries?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Mileage Maniacs

Here is a interesting story about "mileage maniacs" in Japan who try to get the best gas mileage they can. They can get up to 115 miles per gallon (48 liters per kilometer).

My question is if these people can get such good gas mileage why cannot the big auto makers with their much larger research and development budgets?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Flash Floods in Thailand

It happened again. Another flash flood in Thailand killing 38 people - all tourists. The meteorolgy department had said that heavy rains could cause flooding.

I blogged about a very similar event last year. Here is part of what I said (original post here):

A couple of years ago a flash flood occurred in a national park in Thailand which killed some people. The thing that first came to my mind when I heard the news was: what were these people doing in that area in the first place?

I grew up in the Midwest of America where we get many thunderstorms and flash floods. People around there know that if the weatherman gives a flash flood warning, then you get out of the low lying areas because you cannot outrun the water.

My reaction this time was the same "what were they doing there?" Here is what I said about the solution:

I think the answer is that the public needs to be involved. When I say "involved" I do not only mean teaching people about hazards and how to respond, but also in getting people to make the government give them information, force tour operators to not go to areas when danger threatens, and prevent buildings from being setting up in dangerous areas (for example flood plains or vulnerable shorelines).

Frankly, something must change. The meteorolgy department here in Thailand does not take weather seriously. And the people do not either. Backpackers and the like respect nature and learn to know when there is a dangerous situation. Others must learn this also.

If you are going into parks or similar areas, or if you are a tour operator, please pay attention to the weather.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Note to Viewers

This is a note to anyone who happens to come across this blog. It is ...well... under construction. Actually I am in the process of moving from another site ( to this site. If you wish to read my posts they are here.