Nearly two years ago to the day I wrote the headline New Bluefin Tuna Quota Levels Are A "Mockery of Science" and today the exact same thing still holds true: TheInternational Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna met for 11 days in Paris and, despite overwhelming scientific evidence that bluefin tuna in the Atlantic are critically endangered and several nations supporting an outright ban on trade in the fish by CITES (the US being one), quota levels were cut just 4% for 2011. As Greenpeace's Oliver Knowles says (The Guardian), "the word 'conservation' should be removed from ICCAT's name."

Next year ICCAT has set the quota for Atlantic bluefin at 12,900 tons--which if 2011 is like past years will likely be greatly exceeded due to rampant illegal fishing. A few weeks ago we learned, despite greater efforts at reining in poaching of bluefin in the Mediterranean, the bluefin black market is a multi-billion enterprise. Furthermore, due its large stockpiles of frozen bluefin (35-40% of available stock), Mitsubishi stands to make billions once bluefin go extinct.

Earlier this autumn there were indications that the EU would support substantial cuts in bluefin tuna quotas, but under pressure from fishermen these plans were abandoned.

I don't want to belabor the point, but this is yet another perfect example of people prioritizing present needs (or perceived present needs) over preserving the long term sustainability of those needs being met. While Atlantic bluefin well may be extinct by 2012 at current fishing rates, a temporary ban on fishing could allow them to recover sufficiently so that in the future fishing could resume at sustainable rates. It's frankly delusional thinking.

Dr Sergi Tudela, head of WWF Mediterranean's Fisheries Programme, sums up the situation perfectly:


Greed and mismanagement have taken priority over sustainability and common sense at this ICCAT meeting when it comes to Atlantic bluefin. After years of observing ICCAT and countless opportunities to do the right thing, it is clear to us that the commission's interests lie not in the sustainable harvesting of bluefin tuna, but in pandering to short-term business interests. There have been no effective measures implemented here to deal with widespread illegal and unreported fishing for bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean. ICCAT members are willfully blind to the fact that failing to reduce fishing quotas to precautionary levels recommended by science will logically result in the lack of recovery of the species.

Prior to the Paris meeting, WWF and other conservation groups called for quotas to be cut back to 0-6,000 tons per year.

More background info on bluefin: Meet the amazing Atlantic bluefin tuna

 
 
California has a history rich in gold, but despite sky high prices, the gold mining industry doesn't seem positioned for a revival in the state. The price of gold is more than $1363 an ounce, causing some folks in areas near historic lodes to clamor for a renewed mining industry in California. But cultural attitudes have shifted, and residents concerned about the environmental impacts and effects on tourism seem more inclined to preserve mining as a relict of the past.

At its peak in 1853, California produced more than 3 million ounces of gold. But duringWorld War II, production almost collapsed when the federal government ordered the closure of "nonessential" gold mines to free up equipment to extract metals for military use. By the 1970's, when the price was allowed to float again, most of the California mines had closed. Last year, California only produced 161,000 ounces, not much compared to Nevada, the leading state for gold mining, which produced more than 5 million ounces. 

But the allure of gold could bring about more mining. Companies are trying to reopen old mines near Sutter Creek and in Grass Valley. Sutter Gold Mining Inc. wants to reopen a mine that runs alongside Highway 49 near Sutter Creek, and has said it's sitting on as much as 680,000 ounces. (At today's prices that's a potential bounty of $900 million).

Critics say the projects could negatively impact the quaint character of the former gold towns and create environmental hazards. Many mine shafts have filled with water, adding environmental issues.

It can take up to a decade to assemble the needed permits for mining in California. The Sutter Creek plan is at least a year away with no guarantees of success. Some residents worry about potential noise and traffic problems, but others think Sutter Gold deserves a chance. Perhaps ironically, a resumption of mining would interfere with the tours of Sutter Gold's mine, one of the area's top attractions. Sutter Gold officials acknowledge they would be forced to close the tours, but insist that mining can coexist with the area's overall tourism trade.

Emgold Mining has been working on the Grass Valley gold mining proposal since 2003, but the mine is still several years from reopening. Emgold faces regulatory and financial hurdles. Still, Emgold CEO, David Watkinson, has said that mining will create 400 jobs in Grass Valley, and that the project has the support of 72% of Grass Valley residents (from a 4 year old survey by the City.) 

As the recession lingers, gold mining may be a shiny temptation for California towns still dealing with some of the highest unemployment and foreclosure rates in the country. Hopefully, residents will also remember the landscape degradation and river debris caused by mining, and that the mercury used in gold amalgamation pollutes the air and water that both residents and tourists breathe and drink.

 
 
It's been tagged the 'kitchen table conversation' approach. And if a recent trial is anything to go by it works. "Participants ... cut power use by 37 per cent and their carbon footprint by 27 per cent," says Paul Graham, one of the projects proponents. Now the search is on to find 500 folk who'll act as convenors of these kitchen conversations with family, friends, neighbours or workmates on the topics of energy, climate change, water and waste.

It is well known that we humans are herd animals and much of our changes in behaviour result from observing our peers. The Energymark program seems to know how effective this can be. Something that Environmental Psychologist, Doug McKenzie-Mohr, Ph.D. with his work on Fostering Sustainable Behavior through Community Based Social Marketing, has long known.

Energymark is an initiative of Australia's premier scientific research institute, CSIRO, in particular, their Energy Transformed Flagship, which "aims to lower greenhouse gas emissions by providing sustainable, efficient, cost effective energy solutions for electricity supply and transport." The program has the support of the environment departments in the states of New South Wales and Queensland.

CSIRO's lead researcher, Paul Graham, says of the 500 prospective convenors: "They don't need to know a lot about energy or climate change to participate - they just need enthusiasm and some organisational skills." The CSIRO encourage the convenors to gather up 10 other folk for eight conversations on the likes of energy and water and they, CSIRO, will furnish the convenor with discussion notes, and a free copy of The CSIRO Home Energy Saving Handbook.

Doug McKenzie-Mohr's free PDF book on Community Based Social Marketing (CBSM) explains why this method of peer related communication is more effective than bombarding the populace with posters, information leaflets, TV commercials and the like. Behavioural change occurs more often when we commit to that change in the company of our contemporaries.

For those of our readers not in those particular Australian states mentioned above, other possibilities are available. You could grab a copy of The CSIRO Home Energy Saving Handbook, or alternatively work through this PDF checklist of it's salient points to effectively lower your power needs and greenhouse gas emissions. Or, for the really dedicated, you could follow up on the many links and references provided in the book.

Energymark, via EcoMedia

 
 
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US electricity demand projections...low but continuing rate. Image credit:USEIA


Most of last remaining State electricity rate caps will have fallen away by the end of this year. Recent and coming electric bill increases - stemming from both "rate cap removal" and higher-priced coal - tend to be in the 20% and higher range. "Coal-Dems" and "Tea Partiers" won't have Cap & Trade to blame, however, as the higher bills are mainly the result of the deregulation fervor present during the Clinton Administration (an Administration which helped make deregulation more popular by 'triangulating' into the middle of the Republican Revolution). And no, EPA is not the primary cause of recent coal price increases. China is. (See the NY Times article:Nations That Debate Coal Use Export It to Feed China's Need)

Increased electric bills are an especially painful burden on those who have lost their jobs; and, high-cost electricity makes it harder to expand the US manufacturing base. But much more is at stake than just personal or corporate hardship. Distributed power is the cleaner, the more cost-effective way of satisfying added consumer and industry electricity demand.

With North Korean military aggression against South Korea currently in the spotlight, revising international banking and currency policy to favor US job creation has just lost diplomatic priority. That reality acknowledged, overall electricity demand in the USA is still projected to gradually increase (as pictured in above graphic)

Somehow, as time passes, we will need to make and deliver more juice. 
Seth Blumsack, an economist in the College of Engineering at Pennsylvania State University, has highlighted the only feasible alternate path to satisfy demand growth, one which would obviate hundreds of coal plant additions and upgrades, reduce the need for more high transmission lines through forest land, and so on.

In his feature article in IEEE Spectrum, How the Free Market Rocked the Grid, Seth explains that favoring distributed power and conservation together would be the only realistic alternatives to the central power and big grid status quo.

The real question facing the United States now is whether it can maintain reliable electricity grids without building lots of new transmission lines and big power plants. The only realistic alternative to such massive construction projects is for the generation of electricity to become more widely distributed, coupled with substantial efforts in energy efficiency. Electricity markets will surely have to become more expansive and open to accommodate that inevitable evolution. And they will also require new technical standards and, yes, some new forms of regulation.Seth is dead on with his analysis. Political battles over related investment and regulatory choices - whether to favor a future dominated by central vs distributed power - will be bitter and protracted, beginning with the first US Congressional sessions of 2010.

Want to know which state congressional delegations will most favor central power expansions? Here's a good clue: coal dependency.

Update: We absolutely need to purge the phrases 'green power' and 'green jobs'. Every time someone writes or argues for investment in 'green power' they play into the hands of the radical right - giving ammo to attack on the basis that green power proponents overlook the public debt issue, or that they are just pushing a climate change agenda, calling it something else. There is no need to push the 'green jobs' mantra either. Saying you would prefer investment in distributed power initiatives is sufficient.

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When residents of the Turkish village of Büyükeceli decided to install a set of solar panels to demonstrate how renewable energy could be a viable alternative to the proposed nuclear power plant they are fighting, they first thought to use the green electricity to power a local school. But when the government refused to give permission, they found another ally: the village mosque.

"Our youngsters left the village for [the neighboring cities of] Silifke, Antalya, and Mersin in the belief that the nuclear power plant will be built," Kemal Budak, the 70-year-old headman of the village, which is part of the town of Akkuyu, told the Turkish newspaperHürriyet. "The state didn't want to invest in farming or tourism here. We are in this struggle because we cannot be certain of our future. At least our children will not someday tell us, 'You left us a dumpsite.'"

Villagers with the group "The Sun is Rising in Akkuyu" installed the panels with the support of volunteers from Greenpeace, which also donated the solar system, in 10 days. According to Hürriyet, the system's 2.25 kilowatt capacity is "enough to meet the power needs of the entire mosque.... The mosque in Büyükeceli will transfer electricity to the grid, but cannot earn money from this yet because there is no legal regulation for it in Turkey." The village celebrated the successful installation by drinking orange juice squeezed using electricity generated by the panels.

Earlier this year, the Turkish Parliament approved the construction of a nuclear power plant in Akkuyu, a town in southern Turkey. If built, it would be the country's first.

A Muslim Duty to Protect the Planet
Solar panels on a mosque is likely a first for Turkey as well, but Muslims around the world are increasingly becoming involved in environmental issues. Earlier this month, the European Parliament held a panel about Islam and the environment, urging European Muslims to become part of the green debate and "turn the strong theology on [protecting the] environment in the Quran into action." Muslim author Ibrahim Abdul-Matin is promoting a similar message in Brooklyn, writing for GOOD that "the Earth is a mosque ... [that] is sacred, and must be kept clean to be used for worship."

With water particularly scarce in many Muslim countries, Islamic environment ministers agreed at a recent conference that "finding a solution was one of the 'most important duties of our time'" -- something that Arwa Aburawa of Green Prophet says could be achieved by reconnecting to Islamic water-management principles that hold that "every human has a right to clean water to quench their thirst and also that water is precious resource which must not be wasted even during abundance."

 
 
The Juvet Landscape Hotel in Gudbrandsjuvet, Norway is accurately named. Its seven rooms (each a separate building) offer spectacular views of the surrounding area: mountains, streams, valleys, and, no one room can be seen from any other. Once you get over staring out the window and get yourself outdoors, you can ski (even in summer), hike, go white water rafting, camp, and visit the Geirangerfjord Mountain Farm, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Juvet Landscape Hotel, the work of Jensen & Skodvin Architecture is a fantastic reminder of what nature can offer, and why it's worth saving. But with a 1,000,000 euro price tag ($1.28 million) to build it and room rates starting at 210 euros per person per day (a package including all of the mentioned activities runs 360 euros per person per day), it's far from the simplest, greenest way to get outside. Factor in the carbon footprint of getting there, and it's even less so. But you don't have to feel guilty drooling over the photos, and daydreaming just a bit.

Check out some photos via ArchDaily.

 
 
From city-wide charging at Sainsbury's supermarkets to individual borough councils opening electric vehicle charging stations at an impressive rate, London has already seen its fair share of pro-electric car initiatives. But when Mayor Boris Johnson announced that every Londoner would be within a mile of an Electric Vehicle charging station by 2015, advocates for electrified transportation were excited. Now that plan is beginning to take shape, and it really does look like a single, unified EV charging infrastructure will become a reality across the city. And the fun starts next year.

True, with a city that already boasts a comprehensive mass transit network; bike and pedestrian infrastructure; and congestion charging, we would do well to remember that cars—electric or not—as just one part of the transportation puzzle, and hopefully a subordinate one at that. (People should always be the core focus behind any plan. Modes of transportation are just tools...)

Nevertheless, the launch of Source London—a website that boasts information on EVs; a map of charging points; and details of what is to come—is a sure sign that despite troubling economic times, one of the world's premier cities remains committed to promoting EVs as one tool in our struggle to kick fossil fuels.

According to the mayor's plans, by 2013 the Source London network will deliver 1,300 public charging points across London with a single visual identity. Members will be able to charge their vehicles at any one of these charging points for no more than a £100 annual membership fee. This is a sharp contrast to the status quo, whereby EV drivers currently have to register with each separate borough where they wish to use charge points.

More on Electric Vehicles in London
City-wide Charging at Sainsbury's Supermarkets
EV Charging Continues to Spread Across London
Every Londoner Within a Mile Electric Vehicle Charging by 2015

 
 
Leonardo DiCaprio is serious about saving tigers: He'd already partnered with the World Wildlife Fund for its Save Tigers Now campaign, and this week he donated $1 million to the campaign through his self-named fund.

"Illegal poaching of tigers for their parts and massive habitat loss due to palm oil, timber and paper production are driving this species to extinction," said the actor in a statement. 'If we don't take action now, one of the most iconic animals on our planet could be gone in just a few decades. By saving tigers, we can also protect some of our last remaining ancient forests and improve the lives of indigenous communities."

 
 
While I do think it's true that we can an overload on apocalyptic imagery in discussions and stories about climate change, that's not why people have stopped believing that it's real. A recent study from UC Berkeley purported to find that too much doom and gloom was turning people off to the very idea of global warming, because it "threatens deeply held beliefs that the world is just, orderly, and stable." Faced with a concept that poses such a threat, people flat-out reject it, the paper argues. But that's almost certainly not what's happening with climate change.

We've seen a steady decline in the number of people who tell pollsters they believe in climate change -- those polls show numbers dropping from the high 70s two or three years ago to the low 50s (or below) now. Not good. So what's the problem? If you subscribe to the takeaway of that poll, then all that talk of rising sea levels and incoming droughts and more extreme storms threatened people so much that they simply refused to believe it. They went into denial.

But this struck me as suspicious, so I held off on posting about the Berkeley study. Thankfully, a few other folks found the concept unlikely as well. As Dave Roberts points out over at Grist, the time when the most people believed in climate change was precisely during the height of the so-called 'doom and gloom' talk -- the time when popularity of Al Gore's film Inconvenient Truth was at a peak, and surrounding press hoopla was consistently delving into the scary impacts of climate change.

Now, in the years since the frenzy over climate change, the discourse has come to be dominated by far less scary topics like clean energy, green jobs, and climate politics. And that's when belief started dropping off. Think about it -- you'd be hard pressed to find any truly scary stories about climate change impacts in the mainstream media over the last year or two. The MSM has bought the narrative that the public thinks it exaggerated climate change, and now only presents occasional, tepid coverage -- at best.

So what's really to blame? I think Roberts has it right:

the explanation seems simple enough: the economy has been in the tank and partisanship has been on the rise. This study indicates that people's acceptance of climate change tends to rise and fall with the economy. And as the latest from Pew and Gallup make clear, the vast bulk of the shift in climate change attitudes since 2008 has come from a dropoff among conservatives (and conservative-leaning independents). The economy plus partisanship.I think that pretty much explains it -- the narrative of the doom and gloom being too much for folks to handle may be more exciting, and provide some interesting fodder for debate, but the truth is much more straightforward.
 
 
For billions of years the sun has been shining on a field in Rovigo, Italty -- but, thanks to a new PV solar farm built on that spot, that energy will now be put to some good use. Just nine short months after being given the green-light from the government, the US based SunEdison has officially inaugurated Europe's largest single-site solar farm, producing enough clean-energy to power around 17,000 homes.

The 70 megawatt facility, located in the city between Bologna and Venice, isn't only impressive for it's size, but for how the various parties involved in its construction were able to build it so quickly. A report from CNET explains what factors made it possible for such a massive plant to begin operating in less than a year:

Maybe the fast-tracked project had to do with the competence of SunEdison, its recent financing progress as a company, or Isolux Corsan, the Spanish construction company SunEdison commissioned to built the PV solar farm. But it's worth noting that the project also had the complete backing of the Italian government from federal through local levels. Rovigo, Italy, also happens to be a member of CLEAR (City and Local Environmental Accounting Reporting). It's an EU initiative in which member towns agree to implement environmental accounting and sustainability plans as part of standard government budget operations.According to SunEdison, the new plant at Rovigo is the largest single solar farm in Europe, distinguishing it from Germany's Finsterwalde Solar Park, which, while producing 81 megawatts, is actually divided into three separate facilities.

The new solar farm will prevent the release of 40,000 tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere annually -- the equivalent of taking 8,000 cars off the road.