Posts Tagged ‘environment’

Bureaucrats Squabble Over Oceanic Slaughter

May 4, 2013 Leave a comment

Bureaucrats Squabble Over Oceanic Slaughter

Two bodies of European diplomacy have squared off over proposed regulations on the fishing industry. Ministers of The European Parliament have been rebuffed by their legislative counterparts The Council of the European Union, the latter attempting to neuter a newly ratified ban on the practice of fish discards.

An overwhelming majority of Members of the European Parliament (MEP) voted in February to immediately end the dumping of viable catches at sea. National ministers who make up The Council are calling for a staggered implementation of the ban taking place between 2014 and 2017 depending on the species in question, as well as permanently allowing up to 7% of any given catch to be dumped as accidental by-catches.

Dumping perfectly good fish has been the fishing industry’s way around existing quotas on particular species. Ships laden with lower-priced catches routinely toss unwanted breeds to make way for more lucrative catches as they prepare to pull into harbor. Few fish can survive the trauma of being caught, stored and released, resulting in tons of carcasses wasted on the sea floor. Activists and scientists condemn the practice which has contributed to the depletion of fish stocks around the world. More than 1 million tons are discarded by European fleets annually. The European Commission estimates that 23% of all catches are tossed overboard while activists place that figure at closer to 40%. Read more…


Tides Hit the New England Grid

October 3, 2012 Leave a comment

History was quietly made off the coast of Maine on September 13th when an underwater turbine, anchored on the floor of Cobscook Bay, came online. It’s the first time a commercially licensed tidal power project has generated electricity for the grid and signals the first step in exploiting a renewable resource that the Department of Energy (DOE) suggests can contribute up to 15% of the nation’s electrical power by 2030.

The Cobscook Bay project is administered by Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) who developed and implemented the TidGen Power System. TidGen is an array of metal foil sheets resembling a vacuum cleaner head mounted on struts, running roughly 100ft across and 30ft high. Currently in pilot phase, the project will eventually add two additional TidGen turbines, each with a peak output of 180kw. Upon completion the project is expected to generate enough power for a hundred homes.

Coastal Maine is a hotbed of kinetic energy. The project location enjoys regular 20ft tides and possibly serves as a laboratory to prepare future models for the neighboring Bay of Fundy, whose 50ft tides are the world’s highest. Read more…

Foreign Investment in Tanzania: Impacts Past & Perceived

June 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Masai women’s group on their land in Arusha

Fourth in a series. Begin at the Introduction, then Wants & Needs, then The Agrisol Proposal.

Chinese factory workers earn less than their American counterparts. People in the Cambodian garment industry or Indian call-centers will be paid less than the same functionaries in more developed nations. The standard and cost of living is lower in the third world. Opportunities are lacking. Consumer and producer relationships subsist on the gulf between richer and poorer.

Companies from the states or Europe can hire abroad and insist on strict labor guidelines. The fact that American corporations benefit from places which violate the standards protecting workers here is morally and ethically reprehensible. That a government would sign an agreement with a foreign company knowing that wealth will stem from misery is criminal.

The contracts crafted by Agrisol Energy and Tanzania are open to interpretation. Either the company develops a business model which generates profit without abusing the residents of its host country or the government safeguards its people from absolute exploitation. Already direct capital injection is stripped from the deal. The lease agreement raises little cash for Tanzania; relaxed tariffs and wealth repatriation will fail to benefit the people who are most impacted by large-scale agricultural projects. Local manufacturing firms, assuming there are some up to the task, will not profit from sales of tractors or combines– Agrisol already expects to bring in Monsanto, John Deere and Stine.1

Success will depend on Agrisol’s ability to pay workers, who will leave their own subsistence farms, enough to compensate the loss of food production. The company needs to sell some crops to local markets at local rates to protect against the price fluctuations which will result. If employees are trained in modern techniques which they could share with their families everyone benefits. If neighboring communities see an investment in infrastructure Agrisol could prove its detractors wrong. None of this is going to be easy to accomplish. Business demands will compel Agrisol to shift focus to the bottom line, and only the Tanzanian government can ensure that citizens are protected. Read more…

The Future Is La Antigua Guatemala

March 20, 2009 4 comments

La Antigua Guatemala is a small city which enjoys a robust tourism industry and hosts innumerable Spanish language schools for foreigners. Buried in the colonial architecture (which earned the city status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site) lies all the trappings of modern civilization. The relative wealth of La Antigua amidst the poverty and violence of Guatemala has afforded the city opportunities to modernize, and the government seems open to all ideas which may propel La Antigua into the 21st century as assuredly as any western nation.

Towards the end of last year the municipality introduced a free wireless zone in its central park, earning it status as the first digital city of Latin America. The novel concept of free wi-fi for all has been championed by consumer advocates the world over but in San Francisco the process has been bogged down by negotiations with competing providers and to this day there is no such service, but in La Antigua they just decided to roll up their sleeves and make it happen. When one thinks of Guatemala they probably don’t imagine internet cafes and people using their laptops in the park, but access is available to all who would wish to make use of it.

As encouraging as that development is the people of La Antigua are preparing to lay the ground-work for another first, and possibly becoming the first city of its kind in the entire world. According to Rudy Giron’s excellent La Antigua Daily Photo, a group of dedicated people are busy laying the framework for an alternative fuel project for the city. Biopersa organizers went from restaurant to restaurant collecting spent cooking oil with the intention of reprocessing it into biodiesel for municipal vehicles and the local hospital. If the initial steps are successful and the idea takes hold La Antigua Guatemala could be the first city which operates its city vehicles entirely on reprocessed biodiesel.(See bottom for an update.) Read more…

The Gasman Cometh

March 10, 2009 Leave a comment

All eyes have been on the Senate’s budget wrangling which has allowed some interesting things to slip under the radar that may otherwise have received more cameras and klieg lights. Majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada recently convened a clean energy summit in DC, inviting such political luminaries as Bill Clinton and Al Gore as well as words of wisdom from noted oil wildman T. Boone Pickens to discuss how to prepare America’s future as a sustainable energy producer. Most conversation has been focused on revamping the country’s electrical grid by renaming it a smart grid which is currently ill-equipped for handling wattage loads from wind and solar farms which factor largely into the overall scheme of things. However, Pickens takes things a step further as he pounds the pulpit pushing for natural gas to be diverted from electrical production to transportation.

California voters might recall Pickens backing Proposition 10, the Alternative Fuel Vehicles and Renewable Energy Bonds measure which proposed to fund rebates for the purchase of high-efficiency or alternative fuel vehicles, the latter being code for cars running on natural gas. There was also money dedicated to researching renewable energy solutions, but the crux of the initiative was to encourage the purchase of cars which would require natural gas to run. Pickens, it so happens, owns a large chain of natural gas stations called Clean Energy which explained why a Texas oil tycoon who achieved wealth through aggressive company purchases in the 1980’s would be shelling out massive amounts of cash to pass a proposition in another state. Voters rejected this by about a 60-40 margin. Read more…

Loosen the Belt, Here Comes the Cash

February 11, 2009 2 comments

There has always been a certain joy experienced when I happen to catch stock market news filled with unhappy premonitions and arrows pointing towards hell. While I understand that the implications of our current dire straights reach far and wide, possibly even affecting someone as disconnected from money as myself, I must admit that the idea of a complete economic collapse is exciting. Not necessarily because I revel in the idea of a Mad Max-esque world with roving gangs of bandits and bizarre outposts of civilization operating on jerry-rigged technology but because I feel that the utter depths of foolishness which propel the world forward cannot be stopped without the bottom of the bucket falling out.

In a recent op-ed piece, New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof examines the issue of Guantanamo, the US’s military foothold on Cuba which houses the nameless accused in America’s war on the world. Barak Obama has asserted his intentions are to close the prison down as a gesture of transparency and responsibility and Kristof argues that the military should leave as well. Ideally, his plan would have the base handed back to Cuba but realizes the political difficulty in doing this so he proposes a secondary plan borrowed from the Public Library of Science: convert Guantanamo into a research center to combat tropical disease. Read more…

Better Than Tiger Head

January 18, 2009 Leave a comment

Somewhere in between my rapidly decaying body and my rapidly decaying mind is a slumbering mid-life crisis. There will be no cherry-red convertible and a mistress half my age, but when my thoughts do stray into the possibilities of life-improving changes that can be made the fact that I’m still slugging away in the thankless realm of unit-pushing retail finds itself naked in the spotlight.

It’s not so bad, of course, which is why I’ve been able to stay for so long. They leave me alone and let me do what I do without any oversight, they don’t mind the fact that I’m a slob who shows up a little late here, leaves a little early there. I don’t interact with customers except through the safety of the internet, I have a little computer in the corner and I’ve been able to amass a collection of bizarre import DVDs and countless records. The company isn’t horrible, doesn’t go out of its way to destroy the world or exploit anyone; they try to donate money to worthy causes and collect old batteries and personal electronics for recycling. However, the daily knowledge that I contribute to a cycle of plastic exchanging hands hangs heavily over my head and makes me feel useless and lazy, caught in a trap of an empty existence. Underneath the general curiosity and compulsive clicking that takes me from one corner of the internet to the next is a search for something that might resonate within the core of my being.

The entrepreneurial spirit is not strong in me, so I find what people come up with endlessly fascinating. Today Dave Richards of Defeating Global Poverty introduced a new company called Burro operating in Ghana renting rechargeable batteries to locals. The business plan is straightforward: electricity is unreliable or unavailable to many citizens who have to operate lanterns and radios by battery power. The favorite brand is Tiger Head, a low charge disposable zinc-carbon variety dry-cell that corrodes and releases manganese dioxide. People using batteries to keep their houses lit at night or ghetto blasters blaring all day burn through these quickly, throw them away and have to buy more.

Burro imports cheap Chinese rechargeables and rents them to people who have signed on for monthly accounts. The high-quality rechargeable batteries can be swapped out as frequently as needed through any number of agents who resupply them and recharge the spent batteries. For a moderate sum per month (roughly equal to three times the cost of a single Tiger Head D-Size battery) customers are guaranteed as much battery power as they need for a set cost.

The company was started by Whit Alexander, co-founder of the Cranium board game. Presumably the sale of Cranium to Hasbro has lined Whit’s pockets with enough capital to invest in this innovative project currently being run out of the city of , due north of the capital Accra. They set up shop and began to hire a team of partners, agents and salespeople; by all accounts the idea has caught on very quickly with the Ghanaians and subscriptions have soared. So we have a company that provides a necessary service which gives people steady jobs while reducing the amount of toxic trash polluting the world. Expanding slowly into neighboring villages the company is effectively establishing a network which can be used for future projects.

Still there’s a little rough with the smooch. I’m not keen on cheap Chinese imports, although I understand that trying to supply an African nation with affordable products must be a challenge. It’s also distressing in an irrational way to see yet another wealthy white guy swooping into the continent and wrapping the locals in his benevolent arms. It doesn’t make him a bad person, of course, and I believe that his intentions are good, but it still sits uneasily in my gut. I hope that when the business is established Alexander spins his participation off to the local partners he’s working with and lets them take the reins for the next Burro ride.

Both pictures are stolen from the Burro Brand blog. You can check it out and follow their progress as they take over the local battery market.