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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Women Rising VIII: International Changemakers

We have a new media partner at Greener Mag, NRP the National Radio Project. Each week we'll feature a current program from their Environmental or Globalization desk. You can listen to the programs on the NRP Media Player in our sidebar or visit our News Room featuring Reuters Video.

Upcoming programming will be listed each week

Women are gaining influence as leaders throughout the world, fighting for peace, justice, the environment and civil society.

Listen to the program here

Clockwise from upper left: Anne Kajir,
Olya Melen, Dana Rassas and Ilana Meallam.

On this edition, we profile four courageous young ecology activists, going to court for environmental justice and leading regional cooperation to rescue precious natural resources and indigenous cultures. Anne Kajir is an indigenous lawyer fighting for the rainforest and the people of Papua New Guinea. Olya Melen is a Ukrainian lawyer who stopped her government from destroying the Danube Delta. Dana Rassas is a Palestinian activist on trans-boundary water policy issues in the Middle East. Ilana Meallam is an Israeli advocate for the indigenous Bedouin people of the Middle East.


Anne Kajir, Papua New Guinea indigenous lawyer and Goldman Environmental Prize recipient; Olya Melen, Ukrainian lawyer and Goldman Environmental Prize recipient; Dana Rassas, Palestinian activist; Ilana Meallam, Israeli advocate.

Host: Sandina Robbins
Producer/Writer:Lynn Feinerman
Mixing Engineer:Stephanie Welch

For more information:

Contact info for Ilana Meallem and Dana Rassas:

  • In Israel: The Arava Institute for Environmental StudiesKibbutz Ketura D.N. Hevel Eilot 88840 ISRAEL972-8-6356618; fax 972-8-6356634
  • In the U.S.: The Arava Institute North America293 Barnumville RoadManchester Center, VT 052551-866-31-ARAVA; roni@arava.org

by NRP The National Radio Project
Greener Magazine

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1:11 PM

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Corn ethanol, super fuel or hype

Corn is one of those all around workhorse crops, which we are able to grow successfully under a variety of circumstances over a wide range of terrain and climate. It can be popped, boiled, barbecued and turned into flour, deep fried used as fodder and decorated for Halloween so it is little wonder that so much hope has been pinned on the future of this super cob turned ethanol as answer to the current energy crisis.

Ethanol is the main component of E85, which is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline and the E85 revolution has begun according to a recent story by the New York Times in which they report that as many as 39 ethanol production plants will be built in the coming year. Ethanol plants powered by corn have the folks who trade in commodities all "fired up" by the prospect for the future of their 'futures' as well as ours. The farming industry, in particular mid-western farm states like Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska, are ready to declare an economic boom comparable to the heady days of the space program in the 60s. And everywhere consumers are ready to believe in the holy grail of salvation through corn - what could be more American?

And so we blithely head off to the showroom to seek out the newest and most cunning hybrid flex fuel guzzlers on the market and raise the standard for imports already promising 30, 40 60 miles per gallon and still the petroboomers are pushing for increases in off-shore drilling while Congress enacts huge tax incentives for ethanol production and continues to increase subsides for ethanol research and no ones gettin' fat 'cept mamma gas.

Turns out ethanol, while a great concept on paper, is not the fountain of truth for the oil industry. In fact, most researchers have for some time understood that producing ethanol from corn produces more emissions from the oil required to fuel the process than it saves in the end. Oil and gas are the fuel needed to grow, cook and transport the ethanol and there in lies the paradox, corn is simply not the best raw material from which to produce biofuel alternatives, sugarcane would be far better - it has more sugar content. Alas, sugar is also more expensive due to artificially high prices designed to protect a few domestic growers from foreign competition.

And so the debate rages as more Americans, some 2 million of us, drive our shiny new flex fuel cars, fueled by standard gasoline, while some corn producers worry that shifting so much of their crop to ethanol production will have a detrimental impact on the nation's food supply.

We are not likely to hear much from congress either. Facing mid-term elections members are not likely to vote against any part of the $2-billion in subsidies granted to giant agri-conglomerates like Archer Daniels Midland whose share last year fueled a 100 percent increase in their stock price.

Still, ethanol from some source, no doubt will be a significant part of the alternative energy that ultimately weans our economy off mamma gas. For now it is important only that Congress must attempt to spend our tax dollars on a variety of alternatives and not sinply rely so heavily on the corn solution.

by Harlan Weikle
Greener Magazine

:: 6/23/06 - A Greener media video discussion about corn ethanol and its market potential in the production of E85.

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8:18 AM

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Offshore drilling: Big bucks or major mistake?

“A house divided against itself cannot stand,” said both Jesus and Abraham Lincoln. Well if they’re right, then it looks like we’re all in trouble, given the House of Representatives’ divisive split over the latest oil drilling drama.

The House has recently approved a controversial bill that, if approved by the Senate, will end a 25-year moratorium on oil and natural gas drilling on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts as well as in the Gulf of Mexico.

Currently, states have jurisdiction over the first three miles of water extending from their shores (with a nine-mile exception on Texas and Florida’s Gulf coasts). This new legislation, however, offers billions of federal dollars to states that allow offshore drilling at any distance offshore. Waterways more than 100 miles offshore are available for unlimited drilling; waterways between 50 and 100 miles out are open as long as the state does not protest, and waterways within 50 miles of shore are closed to drilling unless the state should choose to open them.

Proponents of the bill, holding 232 of the 419 House votes, argue that the change in legislation will affirm states’ rights over their own coasts, while providing much-needed income, employment, and a boost to the economy. “[The bill] represents a significant step toward energy independence, preserves states’ authority over the coastlines, and respects the environment,” asserts Representative Neil Abercrombie (D-HI).

In contrast, detractors argue just the opposite. “This bill basically hands over our coastal waters to oil interests and makes it hard for states or citizens to do anything about it,” assesses Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY). Alcee Hasting (D-FL) calls it “a black eye for generations to come... bad for the environment, bad for tourism, bad for business.” Economic analysts argue that the financial rewards outlined in the bill would gift just four states where offshore drilling is already permitted – Alabama, Lousiana, Mississippi, and Texas – with more than $600 billion from the federal treasury, according to Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey, who describes the bill as “a raid on the federal treasury.” Even the Bush administration has openly opposed the bill’s financial aspects, questioning the wisdom of such fund allocation.

Financial furor has likewise struck the Senate, where an alternative version of the bill is currently stalled over monetary arrangements. This incarnation of the legislation, which would open up just 2.9 million currently protected acres in the Gulf of Mexico, passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in March.

While distribution of federal dollars is certainly a concern, this emphasis on the bottom line, at the expense of other factors, is frankly disturbing. It is unarguably true that, given our current rate of energy consumption, America ought to be searching for new sources of energy. However, to environmentally-concerned citizens, it is clear that this bill is these are merely a short term solution. Tapping a soon-exhausted source of already-dwindling fossil fuels addresses the symptom of our immediate need, but does not resolve the real problem at hand: our insatiable rate of continuous energy consumption. No matter how much we drill, we will eventually exhaust the earth’s supplies of natural gas and oil. Perhaps our House’s time would be better spent brainstorming on a long-term solution to our energy crisis, rather than some quick cash…

by Sara Kate Kneidel
Greener Magazine

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7:41 PM

Friday, July 14, 2006

Hurricane Hunters, NOAA's Aircraft Operations Center

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's Air Operations Center at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa serves as home to The Hurricane Hunters. The air group provides life saving, real time information on the formation and progress of earth's deadliest storms. However, the AOC's year round mission as NOAA's air platform for gathering vital data on weather, ocean resources and the atmosphere may be our best tool yet in the quest to understand the environment.

At 9 AM, it is already a steamy 93 degrees as we approach the main gate to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. The sky is bright and clear betraying no hint of severe thunderstorms approaching from the west – but you know they’re there all the same. This is hurricane season and storms rising daily over the Gulf are a constant reminder that hurricanes are our perennial companions.

We are met by Lori Bast from Public Affairs, NOAA – the Hurricane Hunters. She quickly guides us through security and leads our small caravan into the city within a city that the base has become since taking on the role of U.S. Central Command. Our destination is a hanger marked Aircraft Operations Center (satellite image). The hanger building is parked inconspicuously among a half dozen other hangers along the concrete apron bordering the base’s interlace of runways. We are here to meet Dr. James McFadden Chief of Programs & Projects Staff for NOAA and a few of his charges: Kermit, Miss Piggy and Gonzo.

Originally designated as the Research Flight Facility (RFF), the group began operations in 1961 in Miami conducting weather studies and gathering information about atmospheric conditions for the U.S. Weather Bureau's National Hurricane Research Project. One project, early on, was called Operation Stormfury, an attempt to determine if a hurricane’s destructive energy could be somehow modified by controlled cloud seeding.

In 1970, President Nixon proposed unifying several branches of earth science studies under one umbrella and assigned it the designation National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration under the Department of Commerce and NOAA was born. Data gathered by NOAA’s five line offices each responsible for a different research venue is shared with other government agencies, research communities, private industry and the public. NOAA’s Aircraft Operations Center moved to MacDill AFB in 1993. The AOC provides the aircraft platform from which NOAA conducts its various studies.

To the public much of what NOAA does on a day-to-day basis is lost in the glare of the “Hurricane Hunter” missions. Part of the reason the public focuses so intensely on the hurricane flights themselves Dr. McFadden observed, is that, “people notice weather, they don’t notice climate”. These dramatic flights above and into the eye of the storm provide dynamic data streams of information from which weather forecasters can predict a storm’s strength, growth potential and probable track to landfall. This vital service saves lives and property and has become, over the years, the most visible aspect of NOAA operations. I asked Dr. McFadden if he would describe some of the other missions the Aircraft Operations Center enables throughout the year.

NOAA, he told us, flies a variety of environmental missions designed to support science studies such as marine resources surveys for the National Marine Fisheries Service, monitoring coastal erosion, annual changes in snow pack levels, which aid in predicting spring flooding from melt runoff and winter storm research in the Pacific. The AOC may partner with other agencies as they did recently when they joined with NESDIS, the National Satellite, Data and Information Service, flying low-level flight instrumentation checks to help calibrate GPS mapping coordination of their satellite imagery. NESDIS satellite imaging provides global environmental data to scientists and government agencies, which in turn is used in a variety of studies designed to enhance our understanding of weather, natural resources and the environment.

The men and women who comprise the AOC come from many different backgrounds. Some are scientists, or engineers; some are flight officers, mathematicians or aircraft mechanics; civilian or NOAA Corp, which, Dr. McFadden explained, is the seventh uniformed service of the United States. The Corp can trace its origins back to the establishment of the Survey of the Coast by Thomas Jefferson in 1807. Like the Coast Guard, the Uniformed Corp of NOAA maintains an organizational identity similar to the military and works in close association with their civilian counterparts. For more information about the NOAA Corp, visit their web site at NOAA Marine and Aviation Operations (NMAO.)

Standing inside the Hurricane Hunter’s cavernous hanger, one can not resist the impression that regardless their training or service specialty the one thing that motivates this team of specialists as much as their dedication to the science of weather is the presence of their teammates and partners, the most visible element of their organization, the aircraft themselves. Earlier we mentioned Kermit, Miss Piggy and Gonzo, names certainly familiar to generations of America children and the respective designated names of 2 giant Lockheed WP-3D Orion aircraft and a sleek, high flying Gulfstream G-IV SP. Next week we’ll take you aboard Kermit and explain how the Hurricane Hunters reveal the nature of these violent storms.

By Harlan Weikle
Greener Magazine

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9:53 PM

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Tibet, Islands on the sky train

A little more than 50 years after Chinese Communist soldiers marched into Tibet as conquerors, Chinese and Tibetan officials Saturday sped across the high mountain plateau in air-conditioned comfort aboard the world's highest sky train the Qinghai.

The Qinghai, named after Qinghai Province, originates in Xining, capitol of that region in central China, and proceeds west then south for more that 2500 miles to Lhasa, capitol of TAR (Tibet Autonomous Region) over some of the most forbidding, highest landscape on Earth. The Tibetan plateau averages an elevation of 16000 feet and has passes, like the Tangulla, which rises to 16,737 feet, (first area satellite images, Greener Earth.) Passengers are required to sign a waiver declaring that they understood the risks of traveling at such high altitude. The specially designed train cars are equipped with double-paned windows to protect against high-altitude ultraviolet radiation and, like passenger jets, there are outlets for oxygen masks near every seat, for passengers who need help coping with the thin air.

While most Tibetans expressed genuine national pride over the much-anticipated opening of the Qinghai Railway, some international protests were filed by environmentalists and people loyal to the exiled Tibetan government of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Tibetan and Chinese officials declared the new railway a triumph of transportation engineering and a great boon to the economics and culture of the hitherto isolated region.

Much of the sky train is elevated, crossing deep ravines and high mountain passes with portions of it built on permafrost. Permafrost is a condition of soil that renders it as solid as bedrock when, because of elevation or latitude, water in sub surface soil remains frozen year around. Permafrost may be built upon with the same confidence engineers use when constructing footing on bedrock. The biggest challenge for the builders was keeping things cool. Construction work on permafrost can heat up the ground, as can the pounding of a thousand-ton train – the added pressure is translated into heat energy. In some places, the best solution was to build an elevated track: About 100 miles of the rail system are raised, allowing cold air to flow below the track and cool the ground. The sight of these stretches of raised railway in the otherwise untouched vastness of the plateau is surreal – a frozen ribbon of concrete floating above the landscape and disappearing into the distance.

In areas where elevated track didn’t make sense or proved too expensive, sections of the railway are lined with vertical pipes that circulate liquid nitrogen. In other places, hollow concrete pipes beneath the tracks create a reverse-insulating effect. Metal sunshades were also placed in a few south-facing locations to reduce warming from the sun.

The Chinese government has, for many years, used railway construction as a means toward an end in uniting far-flung, sometimes reluctant lands and people, much in the same way early American railroads connected the eastern States with the largely Spanish Republic of California and the Pacific coast. The Sky Rail is just such a geopolitically driven feat of engineering and social construction. The difference, if there is one, is that the Chinese government likely will not provide as much two-way commerce with the Tibetans as they will use the rail as a means of tightening their control over the onceindependent Kingdom. Lowland Chinese tourism, business and official government travel to the TAR is expected to grow by as much as 400% in the months immediately following the line’s opening.

Tibet remains one of the last traditional Buddhist states in the world and as such stands opposed to Chinese efforts at nation building. Chinese authority has declared Tibet's monotheistic government archaic and has proceeded methodically to close most of the traditional temples used by Tibetans. Those temples have been for generations the centerpieces of their social and civil culture. The eco tourism industry as well as Tibetan loyalists are concerned that the railway is a last ditch effort by the Chinese government to subdue the isolated province before world attention brought about by trend to global tourism shines a brighter light on the Himalayan highlands. Environmentalists are quick to point out that the railway, while it may be a feat of super-engineering for the moment, will prove disastrous in the short term as rising global temperatures begin to thaw the underlying permafrost. Some in China worry that the concrete piling may begin to sink as the permafrost below turns from a frozen solid into damp, seasonally spongy tundra. Some estimates are that this newest and brightest example of China’s expanding infrastructure may be in ruins within a decade.

However the outcome it may be fairly stated that with the opening of The Qinghai following closely on the heals of last months completion of Three Gorges Dam China appears determined to make the most of its new found economic stability by investing heavily in projects that seem certain to secure a future for China and her 3.2 billion people.

by Harlan Weikle
Greener Magazine

Next week: A Chinese Lake, the race for global shipping dominance.

::some portions of this report were contributed by Xinhua, the CN Government News Agency

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10:55 AM