Environment and Energy
In the latest issue of Mother Jones, Julia Whitty has a great story on how the BP oil spill is likely to affect the complex ecology of the Gulf for years to come. The piece is too hard to summarize, and is well worth reading in full (she covers possible affects on a wide range of different habitats and species), but this section in particular—on tubeworms of all things—underscored how little we know about what all that dispersed and dissolved oil will do to the region: Least certain of all is what's happening to the life at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.
A great random tidbit from Stan Cox's new book, Losing Our Cool, about the invention of ozone-depleting CFCs: The breakthrough CFC refrigerant, Freon, was invented in 1930 by chemist Thomas Midgley, working for General Motors' Frigidaire division. Midgley earlier had found that the problem of car engine knocking could be solved by adding lead, which wound up causing serious air pollution and health problems. On the strength of his two momentous discoveries, Midgley was credited by historian J.R.
Now and again you hear Russian officials sound pretty blithe about global warming. In 2003, Vladimir Putin joked that a little extra heat would help Russians "save on fur coats and other warm things." More recently, a spokesman in the Natural Resources Ministry put it this way: "We are not panicking. Global warming is not as catastrophic for us as it might be for some other countries.
Gregg Easterbrook has an interesting look back at how car reviewers helped enable America's addiction to gas guzzlers—a trend that, in hindsight, helped bring down Detroit: Because auto reviewers fixated on speed, carmaker executives paid too much attention to horsepower, not enough to manufacturing quality, MPG and safety. The excellent 2002 book High and Mighty by Keith Bradsher not only offers what reads, in retrospect, as a prescient warning of Big Three arrogance and slipshod management.
So what happened to the millions of barrels of oil that leaked out of BP's Macondo well? Where did it all go? Here's a chart from a new study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (click to enlarge): Rough summary: About one-quarter of the oil is still bobbing on the sea surface or washed ashore. Another quarter has been dispersed into microscopic droplets, either by artificial chemicals or natural processes. And another quarter has been "dissolved." All told, just 25 percent has been physically removed from the Gulf ecosystem. The rest is still lurking... somewhere.
Hey, it's the U.S. Senate. What did anyone expect? Harry Reid's now yanking even the stripped-down, hyper-modest energy bill from consideration until after the August recess. Republicans, along with a few Democrats like Mary Landrieu, had strongly opposed the part of the bill that would remove the liability cap for oil companies that spilled crude into the sea. But is it possible that energy legislation come back stronger than ever?
Annie Lee at China Hush relays the future of public transportation in China: the "straddling bus," which glides over other cars on the road. (Okay, it's technically called the "3D fast bus," but straddling bus is more apt.) Apart from looking cool, the idea makes practical sense. Many Chinese cities have severe congestion problems and need more public transit options. Buses can get bogged down amid the slow crawl of cars unless they have their own lanes, and if they do get their own lanes, they're hogging up road capacity. Not a problem for the straddling bus.
Quick, which gets subsidized more heavily around the world, fossil fuels or renewable energy? Bloomberg crunches the numbers and finds that it's not even close—oil, gas, and coal get a whopping twelve times as much total government support: Governments last year gave $43 billion to $46 billion of support to renewable energy through tax credits, guaranteed electricity prices known as feed-in tariffs and alternative energy credits, the London-based research group said today in a statement.
Remember when people were all excited about the coming nuclear renaissance? About how the first new wave of reactors since the 1970s were on their way? It looks like the climate bill's slow death in the Senate is putting all that in peril: Constellation Energy and the French EDF Group say they're committed to building an enormous nuclear-power plant next to the one Constellation already operates at Calvert Cliffs on the Chesapeake Bay. But the $9 billion project looks less and less certain with each month that goes by.
Over the past few years in Europe, anti-immigration groups have been trying to strike an alliance with greens in an attempt to reach a broader audience. So, for instance, in Britain, the ultra-right BNP has started arguing that immigration leads to greater sprawl and congestion and over-consumption. In Austria, the Jörg Haider-founded BZÖ party combines support for stringent border restrictions with an interest in organic farming and heavy pollution taxes. These parties haven't wooed many environmentalists, but that hasn't stopped them from trying. And what about in the United States?