Cincinnati zoo turns on the solar (video)

May 22nd, 2011

With 6,400 solar cells producing 1.56 megawatts, the Cincinnati Zoo says its new solar parking lot the largest publicly accessible urban solar array in the US. The zoo says that on average the solar array with cover 1/5 of its total energy use and on some days will actually send clean energy back to the grid.

“Innovative projects like this solar canopy showcase the benefits of public and private investment working together to provide a powerful economic boost to communities that need it,” said Assistant Treasury Secretary for Management Dan Tangherlini in a press release. “New Market Tax Credits and a Treasury Recovery Act program that funds renewable energy development helped make this project possible, resulting in new jobs, reduced energy costs and less carbon dioxide being released into the air.”

For more recent news on solar energy:

Clean energy investments rise 630% in 7 years

(03/29/2011) According to a report by the US Pew Environment Group global clean energy investments, which do not include nuclear power, jumped 630% since 2004. The report detailing 2010 clean energy investments found that China remains the global leader in clean energy, while the US fell from 2nd to 3rd. This is the second year in a row that the US fell: in 2009 it lost first place to China. In all $243 billion were invested in clean energy in 2010.

Is Obama’s clean energy revolution possible?

(01/26/2011) Last night US President Barack Obama called for a massive green energy make-over of the world’s largest economy. Describing the challenge as ‘this generation’s Sputnik moment’ the US president set a goal of producing 80 percent of America’s energy by clean sources by 2035. While this may sound improbable, two recent analyses back the president up, arguing that a global clean energy revolution is entirely possible within a few decades using contemporary technology and without breaking the bank. “Based on our findings, there are no technological or economic barriers to converting the entire world to clean, renewable energy sources,” Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford said in a press release. “It is a question of whether we have the societal and political will.”

U.S. Congress passes legislation to boost solar, wind, and geothermal energy

(09/24/2008) Tuesday the U.S. Senate passed a bill that will extend tax credits on solar power installations through 2016. The House approved the measure Wednesday.

Making shrimp farming sustainable (video)

May 18th, 2011

An in-depth look at one figure in the shrimp farming industry, Linda Thorton, who is helping with efforts to create standards for environmentally sustainable shrimp production. Shrimp farming has been a target of environmentalists for links to mangrove destruction and pollution, among other impacts.

Activism: alternatives to the Serengeti road

April 6th, 2011

Note: does not endorse the action below, but believes its readers may be interested in taking action or discussing the issue in comments.

Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) in Tanzania. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

The NGO Serengeti Watch has released a petition urging the Tanzanian government to cancel plans to build a road through the northern portion of Serengeti National Park, which scientists say will hugely impact the world’s largest migration of wildlife, and instead take up offers from the German government and the World Bank to fund an alternative route. According to Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete the road across the Serengeti is necessary to alleviate poverty in the region. However, the German government has offered to build communities local roads to provide greater access while safeguarding the Serengeti ecosystem.

According to the organization: “The government of Tanzania has approved a major commercial route across the Serengeti National Park, in the direct path of the greatest land migration on earth. Such a highway would destroy the integrity of a priceless World Heritage that has been protected by the people of Tanzania since the birth of their country. The Tanzanian government has a responsibility to work for development and welfare of its people. But in doing so, it does not need to sacrifice its most precious natural area, its income from tourism, or its heritage of conservation.”

Serengeti Watch’s petition: Save the Serengeti : Choose an Alternate Route & Local Development.

For more information on the proposed road in the Serengeti:

Serengeti road project opposed by ‘powerful’ tour company lobby

(03/16/2011) Government plans to build a road through Serengeti National Park came up against more opposition this week as the Tanzanian Association of Tour Operators (Tato) came out against the project, reports The Citizen. Tato, described as powerful local lobby group by the Tanzanian media, stated that the road would hurt tourism and urged the government to select a proposed alternative route that would by-pass the park. Tato’s opposition may signal a shift to more local criticism of the road as opposition against the project has come mostly from international environmentalists, scientists, and governments.

First International Serengeti Day hopes to halt road project

(02/23/2011) On March 19th the conservation organization, Serengeti Watch, is planning the world’s first International Serengeti Day to celebrate one of the world’s most treasured wildlife ecosystems. But the day also has another goal: bring attention to a Tanzanian government plan to build a road that would essentially cut the ecosystem, threatening the world’s largest mammal migration. “The proposed road will be a major commercial route that cuts across a narrow stretch of the Park near the border with Kenya. It goes through a wilderness zone critical to the annual migration of 1.3 million wildebeest and 0.7 million zebras, antelope, and other wildlife. This will involve extracting a strip of land from the Park itself, resulting in both the fragmentation of the ecosystem and the removal of the Serengeti National Park from the list of UN World Heritage Sites,” said David Blanton, co-founder of Serengeti Watch, in an interview with

Leaked government study: road will damage Serengeti wildlife, despite president’s assurances

(02/10/2011) Tanzania’s President, Jakaya Kikwete, today gave promises that his proposed road project, which will bisect the Serengeti plains, would not hurt one of the world’s most famed parks and one of its last great land migrations. “The Serengeti is a jewel of our nation as well as for the international community. […] We will do nothing to hurt the Serengeti and we would like the international community to know this,” Kikwete said in a statement reported by the AFP. However, a government environment impact study, leaked to the conservation organization Serengeti Watch, paints a very different picture of how the road will damage the Serengeti. The report includes warnings that the road will ‘limit’ the migration of the plains’ 1.5 million wildebeest and 500,000 other herbivores including zebra.

Green dams in the Amazon? (video)

April 3rd, 2011

Video looks at how to save the Amazon in midst of rising pressure to build massive hydroelectric power in the region.

WWF (with aid from Nature Conservancy) looks at what rivers must be preserved from hydroelectric power in order to keep the Amazon ecosystem thriving using ecosystem-wide modeling.

For more information on dam projects in the Amazon:

Bill Clinton takes on Brazil’s megadams, James Cameron backs tribal groups

(03/28/2011) Former US President, Bill Clinton, spoke out against Brazil’s megadams at the 2nd World Sustainability Forum, which was also attended by former California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and film director, James Cameron, who has been an outspoken critic of the most famous of the controversial dams, the Belo Monte on the Xingu River.

World’s most controversial dam, Brazil’s Belo Monte, back on

(03/06/2011) A recent injunction against controversial dam, Belo Monte, in Brazil has been overturned, allowing the first phase of construction to go ahead. The ruling by a higher court argued that not all environmental conditions must be met on the dam in order for construction to start.

Indigenous leaders take fight over Amazon dams to Europe

(03/02/2011) Three indigenous Amazonian leaders spent this week touring Europe to raise awareness about the threat that a number of proposed monster dams pose to their people and the Amazon forest. Culminating in a press conference and protests in London, the international trip hopes to build pressure to stop three current hydroelectric projects, one in Peru, including six dams, and two in Brazil, the Madeira basin industrial complex and the massive Belo Monte dam. The indigenous leaders made the trip with the NGO Rainforest Foundation UK, including support from Amazon Watch, International Rivers, and Rainforest Concern.

Rivers worldwide in peril: society treats symptoms, ignores causes

(09/29/2010) Dams, agricultural runoff, pesticides, sewage, mercury pollution from coal plants, invasive species, overconsumption, irrigation, erosion from deforestation, wetland destruction, overfishing, aquaculture: it’s clear that the world’s rivers are facing a barrage of unprecedented impacts from humans, but just how bad is the situation? A new global analysis of the world’s rivers is not comforting: the comprehensive report, published in Nature, finds that our waterways are in a deep crisis which bridges the gap between developing nations and the wealthy west. According to the study, while societies spend billions treating the symptoms of widespread river degradation, they are still failing to address the causes, imperiling both human populations and freshwater biodiversity.

How Can You Put a Price on Air and Who Would Buy It?

October 19th, 2010

Guest post by the American Society of Landscape Architects

It seems a price on the CO2 in air can be determined, and lots of people will buy it, said Denise Farrell, Environmental Capital, at a meeting of ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability USA. In a session that explored how cities and local communities can access voluntary carbon markets to finance landfill gas elimination, wetland restoration, or reforestation projects, experts said carbon credits “can create project revenue” even without a national, regulated carbon market in place.

Lisa Jacobson, Business Council for Sustainable Energy, said the idea of a carbon market “took a huge hit” on Capitol Hill during the recent debate on the comprehensive climate and energy bill. However, there is still a growing bottom-up call for market-based approaches that can “generate revenue for good projects.”

What Is a Carbon Market?

A carbon market can be defined as a process of measuring and monitoring the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. There are two major types of markets: regulatory markets which are used for verified greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions, and voluntary markets, which is the option available in most of the U.S. The E.U. currently has a regulated market, formed under the Kyoto Protocol. Under the Kyoto system, developed countries can buy GHG emission offsets structured and verified by the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which provides funds to developing countries for their GHG reduction projects. The U.S. has never signed on to the Kyoto Protocol so largely operates in voluntary markets (except for California, which has its own regulated market).

Dealing with environmental pollution through a cap and trade system, which Jacobson said will now “need a new name,” is an approach that has some history in the U.S. The approach already exists under the Clean Air Act and has been used for reducing other types of environmental air pollution. In the system proposed for GHG emissions, the government would set a cap, the E.P.A. would issue allowances equal to the cap, and capped utilities and other entities would need to retire allowances at the end of the year equal to their annual emissions. “If they are short, they can purchase allowances or they can buy offsets.”

Offsets are a financial tool designed to reduce emissions efficiently. An entity can purchase and retire offsets. One offset is usually equal to one metric ton of CO2 (or even methane). These offsets are called carbon credits when they are used for an environmental compliance program.

The American Carbon Registry (ACR), California Climate Action Registry, WWF’s Gold Standard, and the Voluntary Carbon Standard are all ways to register local GHG emissions reduction projects but each have different methodologies. Unfortunately, however, it seems registering a project’s GHG emission reductions isn’t so quick and easy. The emissions reductions still need to be verified by a 3rd party to ensure they are “real, surplus, additional, permanent, net of leakage, fungible, and transferable.”

To be viable, the GHG emission reduction projects “can’t be business as usual.” The project designers must be targeting GHG emission reductions as a key goal. Kyoto mandates credits need to be enough to justify the project. “Real” implies they must be verifiable. “Permanent” means projects can’t be reversed. “Net of leakage” relates to the boundaries of a project, and forestry projects are especially complex in this regard. This means that “landfill methane gas capture projects are the easiest because the gas can be destroyed. Forests are the hardest because, over time, trees grow or parts of the forest gets cut down. Also, you have to estimate GHG emission reductions over a 100 year period but verify annually,” said Farrell. Other complex issues involve ownership. “Who owns the emission reductions?”

Accessing Voluntary Carbon Markets to Finance Projects Now

In 2009, some 94 million tons of GHG emissions worth nearly $400 million were traded. Despite the debate on Capitol Hill, the market has been growing, says Farrell. While there are a range of voluntary or regulated markets for nutrients, water, wetlands, and other ecosystem services, project designers seeking to tap the existing voluntary carbon market can’t get “credit in multiple places.” The concept of ecosystem services is all about “aggregating the benefits along the value chain.” In comparison, carbon markets are just about isolating out and verifying the GHG emission reductions. So while a project may provide ecosystem services naturally, designers can’t financially benefit from both markets at the same time. In other words, either benefit from an environmental market or design the project to generate GHG emission reduction revenue, says Farrell. “Carbon finance has to be central to the inception of the project.”

Beyond defining the project so it meets the criteria of a registry, the project designers must also actively seek out a potential buyer. “Some projects involving selling credits in five-year increments or by year” and buyers may be interested in one over the other. Designers need to put together the project with prospective buyers, which are mostly large corporations seeking to offset their own emissions through corporate responsibility programs. Google, for instance, is buying a lot of carbon credits but is mostly interested in “charismatic carbon,” or projects that have high-profile GHG emission reductions. Walmart and other major retail firms are buying carbon to meet the terms of disclosure rules. The E.P.A.’s Climate Leader program is also a place to find some of the 300 major corporate buyers of carbon, who need to purchase a set number of tons to meet their climate leader goals. Lastly, E.U. hedge funds are also buying up American emissions. “They think the crazy Americans are totally undervaluing their carbon.”

Given the growth in demand for carbon, cities and communities are now in a position to create their own carbon mitigation projects (or even voluntary markets). “There’s lots of buyer interest in the projects of municipalities and public authorities because they are reputable agents.” Plus, municipal records are “transparent and open to the public.” Farrell sees composting, recycling, and green building efficiency as potential carbon markets, but “says you have to find buyers” interested in these specific areas.

Farrell argued that the future of the voluntary markets will be shaped by what happens on Capitol Hill. “Will existing credits be absorbed into a new federal system?” If it passes, Proposition 23 in California will also have a major impact on the Western Climate Initiative and “ripple effects” on the price of carbon throughout the U.S.

Image credit: Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment