Archive | Urbanization

Study Urges Less Urban Sprawl, More Forest

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind., Aug. 19 (UPI) — Less urban sprawl and more forests are keys to decreasing water runoff and disastrous flooding, U.S. scientists said.

Researchers at Purdue University used computer modeling to study the runoff rates of Michigan’s Muskegon River watershed from 1900 to the present and predict them 30 years into the future, a university release said Thursday.

Several variables — including forest re-growth, urbanization and buffers between development and streams — were analyzed to estimate their impact on rivers and streams.

“Changes in the land’s surface feed back to runoff. Urban sprawl and impervious surfaces are the biggest culprits,” Bryan Pijanowski, an associate professor of forestry and natural resources, said. “If you’re able to control development, it is the most effective way to save our river ecosystem.”

Urban areas in the United States would double in 20 years at the current rate, Pijanowski said, and in the model predictions, doubling the urban area in the Muskegon River watershed increased runoff by 1 1/2 times.

The findings, published in the online version of the journal Environmental Management, suggest slowing the rate of urban sprawl would be the most effective way to reduce or control runoff.

Adding forest near rivers and streams and requiring buffer zones between those waterways and development also could help, the study said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Other, Urbanization0 Comments

China Discusses Carbon Emissions and Greenhouse Gases Targets

COPENHAGEN, Denmark, Dec. 7 (UPI) — As world leaders gathered for the Monday opening of the U.N. climate-change conference in Copenhagen, a Chinese minister said his country’s carbon emissions would peak between 2030 and 2040.

Wan Gang, minister of science and technology, told the Guardian he hoped the maximum output of Chinese greenhouse gases would come as soon as possible within that range.

While Wan’s comments to the newspaper are not official policy, it is the nearest China has ventured in setting a target for when emissions will begin to decrease. Various experts, research groups and academics in China have estimated that emissions could peak between 2020 or 2050, although the government has yet to officially announce a target.

Determining a peak date for developing countries, which are experiencing quickly rising emissions, is a crucial issue for some 192 world leaders meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, Dec. 7-18 to agree on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. Under Kyoto, China was exempt from any requirement to control emissions.

“There are some uncertainties here, so it is difficult to say whether it will be in the beginning, the end or the middle, but I can say for sure it will be within that range,” Wan said in predicting the emissions peak occurring between 2030 and 2040. “As the minister of science and technology I would say the sooner the better.”

Wan said unpredictable factors such as the pace of China’s economic growth, increases in urbanization, and the level of scientific strides would affect the timing of the emissions peak. Attaining the earlier date in the range, he added, would be possible if China continued to invest in renewable energy efficiency, implemented carbon capture technology and promoted changes in consumer behavior.

China, the world’s biggest emitter of carbon, will account for approximately 29 percent of total global emissions by 2030, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration,

Beijing announced its first carbon intensity target Nov. 26, saying it would cut carbon emissions per unit of its gross domestic product by between 40 percent and 45 percent by 2020 compared with 2005 levels. Even with this cut, the country’s output of carbon dioxide is expected to increase by about 90 percent if the economy grows by 8 percent.

China’s Nov. 26 announcement “has assisted in triggering fresh momentum” in the days running up to the Copenhagen talks, Nick Nuttall, spokesman for the office of the U.N. Environment Program executive director, told state news agency Xinhua Saturday. “It underscores China’s determination to continue and accelerate the decoupling of CO2 emissions from economic growth,” he said.

Nuttall noted that China’s announcement, alongside commitments and pledges by other countries or blocs like the European Union, Brazil, Mexico and the Republic of Korea, is bringing the opportunity of a decisive agreement in Copenhagen much closer than perhaps was the case only a few months ago.

Xinhua predicts tough negotiations at the Copenhagen meeting.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Energy, Energy Efficiency, Office, Other, Pollution & Toxins, Science, Space, & Technology, Urbanization0 Comments

Changes in Land Use Proven to Reduce Vegetation Cover and raise Surface Temperatures

COLLEGE PARK, Md., Nov. 3 (UPI) — A new study shows most U.S. land-use changes reduce vegetative cover and raise regional surface temperatures, scientists said.

Researchers from the University of Maryland, Purdue University and the University of Colorado-Boulder said they found nearly any change that makes land cover less “green” contributes to warming. However, they said they also found conversion of any land to agricultural use results in cooling.

The scientists said their findings add significant weight to a growing recognition for the need to more fully incorporate land-use change into computer models that are designed to forecast future changes in climate conditions.

“We found that most land-use changes, especially urbanization, result in warming,” said University of Maryland Professor Eugenia Kalnay, one of the study’s co-authors. “A clear exception is conversion of land from other uses to agriculture, which produces relative cooling, presumably because of increased evaporation.”

The study, led by Purdue University researchers Souleymane Fall and Dev Niyogi, also included Roger Pielke Sr. of the University of Colorado-Boulder.

Kalnay emphasized the findings don’t negate the effects of greenhouses gases like carbon dioxide.

“I think that greenhouse warming is incredibly important, but land use should not be neglected,” she said. “It clearly contributes to warming, especially in urban and arid areas.”

The study is to appear later this year in the Royal Meteorological Society’s International Journal of Climatology.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Effects Of Air Pollution, Global Warming & Climate Change, Other, Regional, Urbanization0 Comments

Yemen's Water Crisis a Mideast Warning for Decades That Lie Ahead

SANAA, Yemen, Oct. 29 (UPI) — Sanaa may be the first capital city in the world to run out of water. If that happens, it will be a signpost to the conflicts over shrinking resources that scientists and sociologists see coming in the decades ahead.

The ancient city, which dates back to the Sabean dynasty of the 6th century B.C., is expected to run out of drinking water as early as 2025 at current consumption levels, according to the Sanaa Water Basin Management Project funded by the World Bank.

The people of Yemen, which lies on the southwestern tip of the Arabian peninsula, have lived on scarce water resources for centuries. But the current water crisis has been heightened by a rapidly expanding population, accelerating urbanization and the ravages of climate change.

Sanaa’s population, currently pegged at 2 million, had quadrupled since the 1980s and is growing by about 8 percent a year, overwhelming the available water supply. The national growth rate last year was 3.46 percent, one of the highest in the world.

A decade ago Sanaa got water from 180 wells. These days that’s down to 80 as the aquifers dry up.

In 2008 a World Bank report found that groundwater levels across Yemen were dropping by 20-65 feet a year. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace noted that 19 of Yemen’s 21 main aquifers were not being replenished because of lower rainfall.

Many of the people moving into Sanaa are the first wave of what are becoming known as “climate refugees.”

These are expected to number in the millions in the next few decades as global warming melts polar icecaps, floods coastal regions, accelerates the spread of deserts and destroys farmland.

Much of Yemen’s water problem is self-inflicted. An estimated 40 percent of available water is consumed by the cultivation of qat, a leafy stimulant that is chewed by 70 percent of Yemeni males daily. Farmers prefer to grow it for the high profit involved in the narcotics trade.

The government in Sanaa has been unable to do much to ameliorate the crisis. Its authority does not run much beyond Yemen and other major urban centers, and its oil reserves, never particularly big, are running out like the water resources.

It is also grappling with a tribal insurgency in the lawless north, an increasingly volatile secessionist movement in the south and the resurgence of al-Qaida forces in the east.

The water shortage is starting to cause civil unrest. Water available across the country, much of it rocky highlands, amounts to 100-200 cubic meters per person per year, well below the international water poverty line of 1,000 cubic meters.

“We have a water shortage that reflects itself in fighting between the people,” says Deputy Planning Minister Hisham Sharaf. “If we continue spending this much water on qat, Sanaa has 10 to 15 years.”

Yemen’s problems are probably more acute than those of other regional states, but not by much, and the danger lies in the seeds of conflict that it contains.

Conditions have been exacerbated by a four-year drought that has affected all of the Middle East, from Iran to Morocco.

The urban population drift this has caused is dramatically changing the demographics of the region and putting greater strain on water resources.

The subsequent poverty and social discontent this engenders increases the risk of destabilization and armed conflict within and between states.

“Water is definitely a security problem in the region,” according to Samir Taqi, director of the Orient Center for Strategic Studies, a think tank in Damascus, capital of Syria.

“It’s always been this way in the region, but now what’s making it of much greater amplitude is that from one side the drought is much heavier, and second, the region itself is much more vulnerable geopolitically speaking.”

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Consumption, Drinking Water, Drought, Other, People, Regional, Urbanization0 Comments

49 Mediterranean Mammals Facing Extinction

MALAGA, Spain, Sept. 15 (UPI) — New research suggests one in six of 320 Mediterranean mammals is threatened with extinction at a regional level.

The assessment, which excluded whales and dolphins, was conducted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Researchers found 3 percent of the mammals are critically endangered, 5 percent are endangered, 8 percent are vulnerable, another 8 percent are near threatened and 3 percent are extinct or regionally extinct.

Scientists said the study marks the first time all Mediterranean mammals have been assessed for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

“The number-one threat is habitat destruction, which affects 90 percent of the threatened species,” Annabelle Cuttelod, co-author of the report, said. “We need international action to protect key areas and preserve natural habitats to ensure we don’t lose the rich biodiversity in this area.”

She said rodents, bats, shrews, hedgehogs and moles, which make up the majority of Mediterranean mammals, are finding it increasingly hard to survive due to habitat loss and degradation from agriculture, pollution, climate change and urbanization.

Large herbivores — such as deer, carnivores, rabbits and hares — are particularly threatened, Cuttelod said. Eight species from those groups have already become extinct in the Mediterranean region.

Of the 49 threatened mammalian species, 20 are unique to the region and found nowhere else in the world, the IUCN said.

The report, co-authored by Helen Temple, is available at

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Animals, Biodiversity, Conservation, Mammals, Other, Regional, Urbanization0 Comments

The Top 9 Greentech Predictions for 2009

On nearly the eve of the new year, a couple of noted industry observers have already gone public with their greentech predictions for 2009. On December 4th, Cleantech Group Executive Chairman Nicholas Parker published their “Nine clean technology predictions for 2009,” which, briefly stated, are the following:

  1. Energy efficiency infrastructure boom initiated
  2. Global climate talks bog down—no serious deal until 2011/12
  3. U.S. passes national RPS, but cap & trade bill only in 2010
  4. Wind stocks come back; thin film PV shakeout
  5. Clean technology VC stabilizes at $7B globally; Private Equity more active
  6. Failure rate of cleantech startups doubles
  7. IT turns to the energy opportunity
  8. R&D stagnates; corporates acquire green growth assets
  9. Energy-water-food nexus emerges

One day earlier, on December 3rd, Lightspeed Venture Partners Managing Director Peter Nieh published their “2009 Cleantech Predictions,” which are:

  1. Cleantech funding will slow significantly, forcing startups to seek alternative growth strategies,
  2. Companies will come under increased pressure to achieve competitive cost economics,
  3. Investor interest in energy storage, especially for automotive and grid-scale applications, to grow strongly,
  4. Government will play larger role in cleantech, as policymakers around the country increase their support,
  5. Cleantech comes of age in China.

Shortly after Nieh’s predictions went public, I had the opportunity to talk with him. The prevailing question underlying all of these predictions, for me, is fairly simple – to what extent is greentech a bubble, and to what extent does reaching the limits of leverage combined with low prices for conventional energy wipe out entire sectors of greentech?

As Nieh put it, “there is the financing chasm where many of the capital intensive cleantech companies will really suffer. The pilot stage, up to about $30 million [invested] is about as far as most VCs want to go – once you go into full scale production you may need $50 million or more, this is where hedge and private equity funds drop in to fill that gap, and those sources are gone. We always knew that was the toughest part of cleantech; the credit crisis has really opened up this chasm again.”

So what is left? Where will serious funding come from, and what greentech sectors are going to win or lose with cheap conventional energy? Nieh had several observations:

On cheap conventional energy: “Our investments never assumed oil staying over $100 per barrel. For example, LS9 claims they can produce diesel fuel from sugar at a cost without subsidies that is competitive with crude oil as low as $45 per barrel.”

On funding: “There will need to be stronger syndicates forming to make bigger initial investments. There will have to be more government support, such as stronger DOE loan guarantees. There may be more interest from corporate partners looking for technology to comply with RPS mandates.”

With oil at $35 a barrel, which greentech schemes will soar
onward, and which will become carrion for Cathartes aura?
(Photo: EcoWorld)

On what sectors may show continued growth: “There are water treatment technologies that are ‘capital light;’ utility scale solar will yield better economics sooner, because half the installed cost for [distributed] solar is balance of system, but at the utility scale the balance of system as a percent of total cost goes way down; thin film PV has a low cost per watt, but at the utility scale this lower efficiency is not a constraint; energy efficiency technologies will be more interesting, but they are not bringing as much upside and don’t have as much proprietary technology; there is a lot of innovation on the installation side of distributed PV, such as distributed inverters that will get more efficiency out of the panels; there is a real opportunity on the efficiency side since greater panel efficiency means less racking, less glass, and less wiring.”

On energy storage: “Sodium sulpher batteries are still very expensive, we need to get storage down to about $100 per kWh for it to get really interesting. The vanadium redox flow batteries have promise.”

On China: “The Chinese are able to create capital intensive technologies with far less investment, everything is less expensive, parts, machines, labor. The Chinese are pumping money into urbanization, they will continue to promote and drive this. You can apply energy efficiency in a new city or a new building, you can build them in. In China most development is new instead of retrofit, it is a petri dish of innovation where you have the opportunity to leapfrog what went in place in the west.”

From Lightspeed and from the Cleantech Group we see predictions all grappling with the question of where greentech goes in a capital constrained global economy that has returned to the days of cheap energy. In both sets of predictions a greater role for government and corporate partners is envisioned. In both it isn’t perfectly clear which sectors will continue to thrive, if any. Perhaps the worst possible outcome would be if R&D truly does stagnate (Cleantech Group #8). A second gotcha will be if government involvement results in money pouring into sectors and technologies that aren’t necessarily the best solutions.

The momentum greentech has acquired, the innovations that have been accelerated, the awareness that has been awakened and heightened, guarantee the contributions of greentech are already destined to be lasting. But greentech is undoubtedly at a crossroads. How greentech and the larger environmental movement adapt and evolve as the global economy resets over the next few years is a question of more than passing interest to investors – along with the rest of humanity. Nieh summed it up quite well when he said “predictions are hard to make, in our business we try to profit from the unknown. If it were known everybody would be doing it.”

Posted in Business & Economics, Energy, Energy Efficiency, Science, Space, & Technology, Solar, Urbanization, Wind0 Comments

The Crichtonian Green

In 2004 author Michael Crichton published “State of Fear,” a novel that he uses as a platform to attempt to debunk global warming alarm. Whether or not one finds Crichton’s arguments compelling generally governs how someone might characterize his views on environmentalists and environmentalism. But Crichton, in his own way, is himself an environmentalist. Having obtained a transcript of a recent speech by Crichton on environmentalism, what follows is our synopsis of some of the key points he makes:

“DDT is not a carcinogen…the DDT ban has caused the deaths of tens of millions of poor people…”

“Second hand smoke is not a health hazard and never was.”

“The evidence for global warming is far weaker than its proponents would ever admit.”

“There is no known technology that will enable us to halt the rise of CO2 in the atmosphere in the 21st century.”

“The percentage of U.S. land that is taken for urbanization, including cities and roads, is 5%.”

State of Fear)
by Michael Crichton

This is a lot of fairly contrarian stuff, but Crichton is correct about DDT, and assessing DDT – along with second hand smoke – rests on basic toxicology. Properly applied, DDT is a fantastic solution to malaria, and banning it instead of properly regulating its use has been a tragic mistake. Obviously second hand smoke with extreme exposure is harmful, but Crichton is saying the criteria being used to justify smoking regulations are far below genuinely harmful levels.

Our commitment to publishing skeptical analyses relating to global warming and global warming policies is well documented, but Crichton’s statement regarding low levels of urbanization is another area where we add conviction to principle. There is plenty of land in the United States, definitely including California. Declaring “open space” to be endangered is ridiculous. This fatally flawed argument – now buttressed if not guaranteed by the trump card argument of supposedly stopping global warming – is the justification to force people into ultra-dense, punishingly regulated and taxed urban bantustans inside the “green line,” or the “urban service boundary.” It is dangerous nonsense. Here’s one more of Crichton’s contrarian zingers:

“The Sahara desert is shrinking, and the total ice of Antarctica is increasing.”

We are constantly trying to get good information on this and it is astonishingly difficult, given how fundamental these two observations are towards assessing global climate change. But there is strong evidence supporting Crichton’s claim that the total ice mass of Antarctica is increasing. There is data indicating increasing or at least stable rates of snowfall in the interior, as well as data that the total surface area of the icecap is increasing. Furthermore, other than in limited areas where there is rising geothermal heat, or the waters around the relatively insignificant Antarctic Peninsula, most of the ocean around Antarctica is getting colder. In all cases this information is hard to find and often conflicting. Read our Climate page for much more.

Yet through all this, Crichton is an environmentalist – a Crichtonian environmentalist – but nonetheless someone with environmentalist sentiments. Consider this:

“It is incumbant on us to conduct our lives in a way that takes into account all the consequences of our actions, including the consequences to other people, and the consequences to the environment. I believe it is important to act in ways that are sympathetic to the environment, and I believe this will always be a need, carrrying into the future. I believe the world has genuine problems and I believe it can and should be improved.”

Environmentalism, according to Crichton, has gone well beyond this invocation, and has become a movement that cannot admit to past or present mistakes or excesses. He believes environmentalism has fulfilled an innate urge that urban atheists find fulfilling as an alternative to religion. This may be a bit much at least insofar as environmentalists, including Crichton himself, come from an infinite diversity of faiths and personal perspectives. But Crichton is on to something when he questions the reactions he elicits from many environmentalists to, for example, his observations regarding DDT, second hand smoke, global warming, urbanization, the Sahara or the Antarctic. Why is debate closed on these issues when they can be challenged on a factual basis? Why can’t the facts speak for themselves? The intense reactions environmentalists have displayed towards Crichton are unfounded unless something more powerful than reason is involved – belief, ideology, passion, a primal inner need for meaning and mission.

Crichton’s opening remarks included compelling reminders that humanity has always adapted and humanity has relentlessly improved the collective well being, and this is continuing. In his closing remarks he warns how politicized and entrenched environmental organizations have become, stating “what more and more groups are doing is putting out lies, pure and simple, Falsehoods that they know to be false.”

Of course everything Crichton says is not true, just as everything the current environmentalist establishment maintains is not false, or unhelpful, but in his final remarks, here, he also described his state of fear, and mine – and to paraphrase Czech President Vaclav Klaus – what is at stake, our global climate or our freedom? Or according to Crichton,

In the end, science offers us a way out of politics. And if we allow science to become politicized, then we are lost. We will enter the Internet version of the dark ages, an era of shifting fears and wild prejudices, transmitted to people who don’t know any better. That’s not a good future for the human race.”

Posted in Geothermal, Organizations, Other, People, Policies & Solutions, Policy, Law, & Government, Religion, Science, Space, & Technology, Smoking, Urbanization1 Comment

Green Abundance, the Future of Sustainable Living

As the cleantech revolution gathers momentum and environmentalist values command unprecedented influence on policy, it is more important than ever to have a vigorous global dialogue as to what constitutes clean technology, and what constitutes a legitimate continuum of environmentalist values.

How these questions are answered will have profound impact on the nature and speed of economic growth, as well as the quality of our lives and the quantity of our individual rights and freedoms.

There are two fundamental assumptions that govern environmental values today:

  1. The use of fossil fuels should be phased out as soon as possible
  2. Resource scarcity is an inevitable reality will not be escaped for generations.

To this end, massive reallocations of wealth are being enacted to subsidize alternatives to fossil fuel, and rationing of resource use is becoming policy in the areas of energy, water and land. But what if both of these assumptions are completely wrong?

Tomorrow’s leaders today, children
at the slopes to Kilimanjaro.

There is a case to be made that resource abundance, not scarcity, is the immediate destiny of the human race, and that scientific innovation combined with free markets are the keys to realizing this optimistic scenario. In every fundamental area, energy, water and land, there are promising trends – unfolding with breathtaking speed – that provide humanity with the opportunity to realize global wealth and prosperity within a generation.

Probably the most difficult notion to intuitively fathom is that land will become abundant again, but for several important reasons, that is precisely what is going to happen. The primary reason for this is that human population growth is finally leveling off. From today’s total of 6.7 billion people, projections now indicate human population will peak at somewhat less than 9.0 billion around 2050, an increase of only another 30 percent. While this seems like a lot, it is important to remember that in 1970, the world population was only 3.7 billion, meaning the last 40 years has registered a human population increase of 80%. We have already seen the dramatic growth in population, and are now in the leveling off phase.

The reason this slowdown and leveling of human population will result in more abundant land is because as human population increase slows, human migration to cities continues to accelerate. In 1970 only 1.3 billion people lived in cities, 35% of the world’s population. Today over half the world’s population live in cities, 3.4 billion people. Over the past 40 years overall population has increased 80%, but urban population has increased by 160%. Urbanization is accelerating, and is depopulating rural areas far more quickly than projected remaining overall population growth will fill them. Forty years from now, there will be more open land in the world than there is today. And these twin phenomenon, urbanization and population stabilization, are completely voluntary, inexorable, and are occurring at rates that are, if anything, underestimated.

If land abundance on planet earth is going to be achieved by a stabilized population living mostly in megacities, how will we build these cities? How will we transform our cities, already swarming with far more people than they were originally designed to hold, into 21st century magnets for humanity, offering economic and cultural opportunities instead of merely a last destination for the destitute? Here is where Malthusian assumptions, combined with an overweening environmentalist ideology that condemns development, have conspired to stifle the building of next generation infrastructure. The good news is these delays have also allowed us the time to develop better-than-ever technology.

High-rise agriculture has the potential to greatly
reduce the amount of land required for agriculture.
(Photo: Vertical Farms LLC)

From high-rise agriculture to high-speed rail, from advanced water recycling to ultra-efficient energy conduits and appliances, from cars that are clean, smart and safe, to wide new roads that convert pavement heat into utility-scale electricity and convey luxurious mass transit busses that offer wi-fi and drive themselves, cities of the future can be built today – but not if the wealth we need to pour concrete and smelt steel is spent instead on environmentalist lawsuits, and not if the market incentives that animate billions of construction entrepreneurs are squelched because instead we gave the work to government bureaucrats. Creating abundance is human nature – but only individual liberty, property rights, and free markets will enable this nature to be realized. Governments enforce the rules, but only a free people can play the game.

Abundant water is just around the corner because of several interrelated technological opportunities. The most promising of all is the potential of smart irrigation. Primarily this means using drip irrigation instead of flood irrigation, but this also refers to no-till farming, new crops that consume less water, inter-cropping, and advanced irrigation management, where irrigation timing and volume are precisely coordinated with weather conditions. Smart irrigation techniques could reduce the volume of water required for global agriculture by 40-50%.

Other means to create water abundance span the gamut from traditional methods – contour berms to catch and percolate runoff, urban cisterns to harvest rainwater, or where necessary, massive new infrastructure projects to move large volumes of water from water rich areas to water poor areas. To save ecosystems and restore fisheries, why not build a gravity-fed canal connecting the Volga River to the Aral Basin, if the Caspian Sea is rising anyway? Diverting only 10% of the Volga’s 250 cubic kilometer annual flow would make a decisive contribution to restoring the Aral Sea. Why not divert a small percentage of the Ubangi River north to refill Lake Chad?

Finally, water reuse and desalination will guarantee water abundance in urban areas. High-rise agriculture, for example, can use gray water to irrigate hydroponic gardens at a commercial scale, and the transpiration these plants emit within these enclosed spaces can be harvested to yield pristine drinking water. Desalination is no longer a technology reserved for energy rich nations – it now only takes 2.0 kilowatt-hours to desalinate a cubic meter of seawater. Desalination already provides over 1% of the fresh water used world wide, over 30 km3 per year, and this total is rising fast. But water reuse is the most promising source of urban water of all – technologies now exist to create essentially a closed loop in urban areas. Water is used for drinking, then treated and piped back to use for irrigation and to refill reservoirs, then after percolating and filtering back into aquifers, is pumped up, treated, and used again for drinking.

Water abundance will enable us to grow all the food we want, using new strains of crops and new agricultural techniques that are enabling another revolution in yields, guaranteeing abundant food. Water abundance will allow us to finally begin refilling our depleted aquifers, restore our vanished lakes, and never have to wonder whether or not the next war might be fought to quench a nation’s thirst.

To create water abundance, however, and to build megacities, to create 21st century civil infrastructure, and to deploy advanced technologies, we will need wealth and prosperity, and more than anything else, the enabler of wealth and prosperity is energy production. Today global civilization produces about 500 quadrillion BTUs of energy per year, which equals an average per person of 75 million BTUs per year. But this energy consumption is not evenly distributed. In the European Union, per capita energy consumption is about 250 million BTUs per year; in the USA, the average is closer to 350 million BTUs per year. But energy consumption equals wealth. Even with extraordinary improvements in energy efficiency, say, twice what we enjoy today, for 9.0 billion people to average only half the per capita energy consumption of residents of the EU, i.e., 125 million BTUs per year, global energy production would have to more than double, to 1,125 quadrillion BTUs per year. And this is what needs to happen by 2050.

The challenge to achieve resource abundance is not impossible; it is within our grasp. Despite heartbreaking examples of lingering poverty all over the planet, the fact is the overall condition of humanity is remarkably better now than it was 40 years ago, 400 years ago, 4,000 years ago. Disease and starvation remain endemic, but by all objective measures, they are on the retreat; and this is the trend the future holds, if we seize the opportunity. But to achieve this bright future, we must ask these questions: What is clean technology, and what are legitimate environmentalist values?

To create prosperity, for example, given 80% of the world’s energy currently comes from fossil fuel, and given there is a staggering abundance of remaining fossil fuel reserves in the form of heavy oil, coal, and natural gas, do we really want to stop using fossil fuel? What if clean technology stopped at the point where harmful pollutants were reduced to parts per billion through advanced filtration and efficient burning, instead of having to make that gigantic leap beyond simply making emissions healthy, and requiring zero emissions of CO2? Given the certain and devastating price humanity will pay in the form of ongoing poverty and escalating tensions over resources – especially if we precipitously abandon developing new sources of fossil fuel – do we really want to stop emitting CO2? What if solar cycles indeed are all there is causing climate change? What if climate change isn’t anything but normal fluctuations? What if rainforest destruction and aquifer depletion, dried up lakes and misused lands are the reasons for regional climate change? What if we can’t do anything at all about climate change anyway? If you believe the worst scenarios, it is too late anyway – but what if the models are simply wrong? If they’re right, it’s too late, and if they’re wrong, it doesn’t matter. So why on earth would we consign humanity to much higher probabilities of poverty and war, instead of developing clean fossil fuel, at the same time as we systematically develop advanced, alternative sources of energy?

The challenge to achieve resource abundance in the world hinges on the role environmentalists play in influencing policy. There are vital environmentalist values that everyone should embrace, such as practicing sustainability, eliminating genuine pollution, and taking reasonable steps to protect species and ecosystems. But without the energy, without the mines, without the steel mills, without the paved roads and poured concrete and power plants and pumping stations and water treatment plants and countless other ecologically disruptive activities, humanity will struggle to realize their destiny of prosperity; humanity will struggle to find peace.

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Posted in Business & Economics, Cars, Coal, Consumption, Drinking Water, Electricity, Energy, Energy Efficiency, Infrastructure, Natural Gas, Other, Population Growth, Recycling, Regional, Science, Space, & Technology, Solar, Urbanization6 Comments

The Tibetan Plateau

The rooftop of the world, the land of snows… with an average elevation of 4000 meters (over 13,000 feet), the Tibetan Plateau is the highest and largest plateau on earth. The plants and animals there are unique– the snow leopard, Tibetan antelope, Tibetan gazelle, Bengal tiger, wild yak, blue sheep, brown bear, and black-necked crane, to name a few. Visitors to Tibet before 1950 compared it to East Africa, with vast herds of large mammals roaming free through the mountains. Today, precious few remain.

Snow Leopard
There could be worse days in the life of a Tibetan Snow Leopard.
(Panthera uncia)

But although the flora and fauna are diverse, the extreme climate has allowed only a relatively small number of them to flourish; species that have been able to adapt to the thin air, low temperatures, intense radiation, and strong winds. The most recent research indicates that about 13,000 vascular plants and 1200 species of vertebrates have been identified: 678 species of birds, 206 mammals, 83 reptiles, 80 amphibians and 152 fish. Of these, 40 plants and 141 animal species are considered to be endangered.

While this picture may seem rich—and indeed it is—these numbers are actually very low when looked at on a global scale. This ecosystem is the polar opposite of, for example, a South American rainforest consisting of millions of different species of flora and fauna. The result is a web of life that is much more vulnerable and difficult to repair. Imagine a spider web with ten strands next to one with a hundred, or a thousand—if even one string is broken on the first, the whole thing will fall apart.

“Because of its high elevation, the ecosystem here is extremely fragile,” said Dawa Tsering, who heads the World Wildlife Fund’s China Program Office (local branch) in Lhasa. “Once damaged, it is extremely difficult to reverse.”

The major threats the region faces are grassland degradation and deforestation, poaching and the illegal trade of animal products, destruction of habitat due to urbanization and mining, and air pollution. Because of the elevation, the air is thin and more susceptible to toxic fumes.

“The sale of souvenirs and other products made from endangered species is growing due to tourist consumption, and is increasing pressure on local biodiversity,” Tsering said. “Tourists can make a difference simply by not purchasing these products.”

Tibet is the last remaining refuge of the Bengal tiger in China. WWF and other non-profits plan to distribute pamphlets, asking visitors not to buy illegal products made from endangered species like tigers and Tibetan antelopes. The soft underbelly fur of these antelopes is made into shahtoosh shawls, which fetch high prices on the black market.

“International and local laws have guaranteed that killing wild tigers and other protected species for their parts isn’t legal anywhere in the world,” said Dr. Xu Hongfa from TRAFFIC’s China Program. “But the killing of these animals will continue until the demand for buying them stops.”

“Integrating the needs of local development with conserving Tibet’s biodiversity is in need of urgent attention,” Tsering said.

China invaded Tibet in 1949; since occupation, Tibet has suffered loss of life, freedom and human rights. In March 1959, Tibetans rose up against China’s occupation, but were unsuccessful. The Dalai Lama was forced to escape into exile in Dharmshala, India, followed by 80,000 Tibetans. It is from here that the Dalai Lama heads the Tibet Government-In-Exile.

When a country is taken by force, and brutally occupied, and its people are regarded as little more than an impediment to another end, without basic rights, what chance can that country’s plants and animals have? And do we have the right to concern ourselves with flora and fauna when human beings, perhaps some of the most beautiful and peaceful human beings on this planet, are also nearing extinction?

It is not necessary to choose. For thousands of years the Tibetan people have lived in harmony with their ecosystem and been a part of it; therefore, their struggle to survive must be included in a discussion of the destruction of that ecosystem.

Tibet is also the only nation in the world that has recognized meditation as essential to life, and has made the search for truth and the awakening of personal consciousness an undisputed priority in its culture and religion. In the words of Osho, a contemporary enlightened master:

Himalayan Mountains
Above harsh rangeland nearly three miles above sea level, vast
beyond imagining, tower the mighty Himalaya, backbone of the world.
(Photo: Guy Taylor)

“Nowhere has such concentrated effort been made to discover man’s being. Every family in Tibet used to give their eldest son to some monastery where he was to meditate and grow closer to awakening. It was a joy to every family that at least one of them was wholeheartedly, twenty-four hours a day, working on the inner being. They were also working but they could not give all their time; they had to create food and clothes and shelter… but still every family used to give their first-born child to the monastery.

“And we think the world is civilized, where innocent people who are not doing any harm to anybody are simply destroyed. And with them, something of great importance to all humanity is also destroyed. If there were something civilized in man, every nation would have stood against the invasion of Tibet by China. It is the invasion of matter against consciousness. It is invasion of materialism against spiritual heights.

“If humanity were a little more aware, Tibet should be made free because it is the only country which has devoted almost two thousand years to doing nothing but going deeper into meditation. And it can teach the whole world something which is immensely needed” [Om Mani Padme Humm].

Tibetan Buddhism belongs to the Mahayana branch of Buddhism, which emphasizes compassion as the ultimate goal of meditation, rather than just enlightenment. Recent scientific studies show neurological proof that people who meditate actually feel more compassion for others, and are more likely to feel compassion for strangers.

“Emotionally, mentally and physically, all humans are equal and the same. We should take care of one another. It is good for us,” said the Dalai Lama last month in India. His life and work embody compassion, laughter and love—although the Chinese insist it is a diabolically constructed illusion, and to possess even a photograph of him is illegal in Tibet.

At least 6,000 Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, nunneries and temples, and their contents have been destroyed since the Chinese invasion and during the Cultural Revolution. At least hundreds of thousands of Tibetans have been killed as a direct result of Chinese execution, imprisonment and torture; by some counts, including suicide and other indirect means of death, the number is over a million.

Perhaps because the Dalai Lama is both the religious and political leader of Tibet, China still regards Tibetan Buddhism as a threat. “Patriotic re-education” is their term for the torture of monks and nuns, who are forced to denounce the Dalai Lama, and repeat after them that “Tibet has always been part of China.” Religious pilgrimages are restricted, or impossible, and Buddhist education is difficult or impossible for Tibetans now. Forced sterilizations and abortions are commonplace.

A belated band of steel to the remotest place on earth.
The newly buit Qingzang Railway passes over Namtso Lake
(Photo: Guy Taylor)

Since the turn of the century, China’s economy has been booming, and what they call their “Western Development Plan” in Tibet has been picking up steam. Key to the plan has been the Qingzang Railway project.

The 815 km section of the railroad from Xining, Qinghai to Gormo (Golmud in Chinese), Qinghai opened to traffic in 1984.

Construction of the remaining 1,142 km section from Gormo to Lhasa could not be started until the recent economic growth of China. This section was begun in 2001, and completed in 2006. The cost to the Chinese Government was $3.68 billion.

Before he left office, the former President of China, Jiang Zemin, said of the Gormo-Lhasa railway, “Some people have advised me not to go ahead with this project because it is not commercially viable. I said this is a political decision” [New York Times, 10 August 2001].

This political decision is advantageous to China in many ways, and is one which will likely prove financially profitable.

Tibet houses an estimated 4-5 billion tons in potential oil reserves; the railroad has greatly increased the efficiency of lumber, mining, and other government industries and projects as well.

Due largely to the railroad, Tibetans have become a minority in their own country. A recent report by the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet says the completion of the railway has led to an influx of ethnic Chinese immigrants to the region, and that any economic gains from the improved transport links are largely limited to urban areas, rather than the countryside where about 80 percent of Tibetans live.

China Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told reporters in Beijing that the railway has played a positive role in developing Tibet’s economy and it has also strengthened its communication links with neighboring provinces. “I believe the benefits of this project are obvious to all,” he said.

The rail link contributed to a 60 percent increase in the number of tourists visiting the region last year, according to a previous government report. This year, tourism is predicted to gross over $800 million.

Monks in Lhasa
Monks carry on ancient traditions in Lhasa.
(Photo: Guy Taylor)

In 1980, there were only 1059 visitors to Tibet, and 95 percent came from abroad. Since then tourism has surged, and in 2002, an estimated 140,000 visited Tibet.

With 1.22 million visitors arriving in 2004, Tibet logged an increase in tourism of over 1,000 times the 1980 level. Ninety-two percent of the visitors are Chinese tourists.

But while the economy may have improved, the general economic status of Tibetans has not, as they are largely unskilled workers, and cannot compete with the skilled Han Chinese migrants. The ICT report says that the needs of the region’s largely rural population are ignored by China’s planners, and that Tibetans feel increasingly marginalized as their culture and rural way of life are slowly eroded. The Tibetan language is being systematically eliminated, and nomads forced into settlements.

The Chinese government itself has touted the Qingzang railway as a means of transport for troops, saying that not only will the railway improve the efficiency of the army, but the army will improve the efficiency of the railway (Xinhuanet, 10 December 2003). The railway has enabled rapid troop deployments and facilitated the expansion of the People’s Liberation Army, as seen in the recent crackdown. It not only has strengthened China’s grip on Tibet, but its strategic location may pose a threat to India as well, increasing instability in the region.

This April, China announced its plans to continue construction of the railroad all the way to Khasha, on the Nepalese border, estimated to be completed by 2013. Eventually, the train may run all the way through Nepal, to the North Indian state of Bihar.

The ICT report also states that China’s policy of urbanization in Tibet, encouraged by the new rail link, is damaging its natural ecosystems. Over 46% of forests have been destroyed, which has led to increased soil erosion and siltation of rivers, creating major floods and landslides. Government lumber operations continue to cut at an unprecedented rate, and reforestation is generally neglected and ineffective. Rapid and widespread deforestation has life-threatening consequences for the hundreds of millions who live in the flood plains of the major rivers of Southeast Asia, many of which have their headwaters in Tibet. Clear-cutting also threatens the habitat of the rare giant panda, golden monkey, and over 5,000 unique plant species.

The demands of the fast-growing human population, construction of roads, mining, and poor grazing practices are degrading Tibet’s grasslands as well. Huge factory farms are being developed, motivated by the need to feed the growing Chinese population and reduce the costly wheat imports. Traditional farming practices have maintained the ecological balance for centuries, but large-scale commercial agriculture may ultimately harm Tibet more than it helps.

Of far greater concern, however, are China’s nuclear weapons projects in Tibet. Today there are at least three nuclear missile launch sites there, and the number of actual warheads is unknown. The northern Tibetan Plateau was home to China’s “Los Alamos”– its primary nuclear weapons research and development plant. Tibetan nomads living in the area claim to have suffered illness and death. Their strange symptoms are consistent with radiation poisoning, indicating that nuclear waste may have been dumped on the plains nearby. The International Campaign for Tibet has published a ground-breaking report on the issue, entitled Nuclear Tibet.

The Tibetan Plateau is the source of almost all of Asia’s major rivers: the Yellow River, the Yangtze, the Mekong, the Salween, the Indus, and the Yarlung Tsangpo, which downstream becomes the Brahmaputra. Contamination of these waterways, nuclear or otherwise, harms not only residents of Tibet, but potentially all those who drink from them—nearly half the world’s population lives downstream.

One such threat to the rivers is the mining industry. Tibet is rich in natural resources, and the unregulated extraction of borax, chromium, copper and gold is increasing rapidly. More surprising, however, is Tibet’s supply of lithium.

Chabyer salt lake, at an elevation of 14,400 feet (4,400 meters) is not only the largest lithium mine in China but also one of the three largest salt lakes in the world. Chabyer now makes Tibet the No. 1 area in the world in terms of prospective lithium reserves, according to the China Tibet Information Center. China is now the largest producer and consumer of lithium-ion batteries, found in everything from cell phones to computers and even hybrid cars.

The future of zero and ultralow emission vehicles depends on lithium, which is relatively scarce. Lithium is only the 33rd most abundant element on Earth. With Tibet in its hand, China is well poised to move into that future.

March 9th was the anniversary of the 1959 uprising, which recent protesters have been commemorating; but like their predecessors, this cry for freedom has met with little more than imprisonment, torture, and often death. The Chinese Government claims that 18 Han Chinese immigrants were killed in the Lhasa riots; but in their crushing response, over 140 Tibetans were killed by the Chinese. Countless others are still being held in prison, and may be executed as well.

On June 21, the Olympic Torch came and went through Lhasa in about two hours. Since March, Tibetans live under virtual martial law, and were told not only to stay at home, but not to look out of their windows during the relay.

The decision by China to continue with the relay through Lhasa in light of recent events is a message to the world, that Tibet is their property and they fear no one. At the end of the relay, Zhang Qingli, the Communist Party secretary of Tibet, stood beneath the Potala Palace, the historic seat of the Dalai Lama. “Tibet’s sky will never change, and the red flag with five stars will forever flutter high above it,” Zhang said, according to Reuters. “We will certainly be able to totally smash the splittist schemes of the Dalai Lama clique.”

This is the language of power, and people who use it know no other. Talks have just resumed between the Chinese and envoys of the Dalai Lama since the protests, but those talks had been going on since 2002 without progress. The Dalai Lama does not hope for independence, only autonomy for Tibet. Only time will tell if this round is any different.

The Dalai Lama spoke in Denver years ago—not about politics, but parenting, love, and other topics. When he asked for questions, one woman said, “What can we do about Tibet?”
The Dalai Lama was silent. “Just go and see it before it’s gone,” he said at last. “It is a beautiful country.”

Tibet—the plants, animals, water, air, people, religious heritage and the inner search itself— is our heritage as human beings; it is a part of us. Tibet is one of the real diamonds of this world… its freedom is our freedom, and whether the effort is futile or not, we must do anything and everything in our power to save it.

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Desalination is Here!

With desalination, reuse & recycling,
and smart agricultural irrigation, fish can
thrive, and humans can avoid rationing.

Editor’s Note: In this excerpt from an in-depth study authored by international water investment expert Laura Shenkar of the Artemis Project, the state of desalination technology today is examined. It is clear that desalination has come a long way – and just in time, in order to address the “triple threat” of population growth, crumbling water utility infrastructure, and climate change.

Even if you believe climate change is overhyped, and we do, the challenge posed due to population growth, combined with increasing global prosperity which increases per capita water consumption, along with scandalously inadequate investment in water infrastructure, makes any drought or climate irregularity far more likely to cause catastrophe. But with any threat comes opportunity.

To answer this triple threat is a triple opportunity – the promise of desalination, smart irrigation, and advanced water recycling techniques – that in aggregate bestow the potential of water abundance at a level and quality unimaginable a few decades ago.

Technology and free markets create wealth and abundance, which happens when businesses compete for customers, never through punitive rationing. Defining what is clean sets crucial ground rules, but only free markets create abundance. And while we define what is clean, we might be cognizant of which special interests may wish to set the bar so high that nothing is clean enough, that only endless and futile war, only socialist misery, is an acceptible moral choice. But is this true, or a convenient deception?

It is quite plausible that the entire notion of permanent water, energy and land scarcity is a myth, a temporary affliction, inevitably doomed by the promise of technology; desalination, drip irrigation, advanced water recycling, urbanization, population stablization, clean fossil fuel, clean nuclear power, as well as alternative energy where and when it is competitive. Will humanity seize this bright and prosperous future, or will we succumb to the propaganda of extreme environmentalists who feed on panic and fear? Because the environment won’t benefit from a socialist, backwards march into the past; the industrial filth of the USSR is testimony to that. But politics of fear will enable environmentalist nonprofits to collect more tax-exempt donations from the terrified multitudes (as well as legislated set-asides), and enable unionized public employees to pay themselves outrageous wages and ridiculously inflated pensions, instead of earning market rate compensation and working hard to build new utility infrastructure that creates abundance, and competes for energy and water customers on the free market.

Scarcity is not inevitable. Often it is a political choice, the result of concessions to powerful special interests who have a pecuniary interest in high prices, artificial scarcity, and fomenting fear. The precious bird of environmentalism has been flying for too long with only one wing, the left one. Read on, and learn a little more about how easy it might be to know abundance. – Ed “Redwood” Ring

Desalination – A Technology Whose Time Has Come
by Laura Shenkar, June 16th, 2008
Industrial Workers at Desalination Plant
Industrial workers at a desalination plant.

The global desalination industry has been one of the first to benefit from the impact of the triple threat to water supply. Desalination offers a means for increasing the supply of fresh water from a source independent of existing ground and surface water supplies.

It can form an important supplement to existing water supplies during droughts or periodic water supply shortfalls. Worldwide, desalination operations are set to grow from a capacity of 39.9 million cubic meters per day (m3/d) at the beginning of 2006 to 64.3 million m3/d in 2010, and to 97.5 million m3/d in 2015. This represents a 61 percent increase in capacity over a five-year period, and a 140 percent increase in capacity over a ten-year period, according to the latest estimates for the desalination market.

The compound annual growth rate of installed capacity is roughly 9 percent. The compound annual growth rate of the market for new capacity hovers around 13 percent. This expansion of capacity will entail capital investment totaling $25 billion by the end of 2010, or $56.4 billion by the end of 2015.

Dramatic improvements through innovation have brought the cost of desalted water closer to that of other water sources than ever before. Improved membranes and pumping systems have sharply reduced electricity costs. For example, the Carlsbad, California, desalination plant expects to pay $1.10 in electricity to produce 1,000 gallons of water, down from $2.10 per 1,000 gallons at the mothballed Santa Barbara plant. Costs have been as low as $0.50 per 1,000 gallons in the large-scale plant in Ashkelon, Israel. Here are two companies on the forefront of desalination technology:

Energy Recovery Incorporated

Location: San Leandro, California, United States

Funding: $9.5 million from private individuals, S-1 registered for an IPO

Value proposition: Energy Recovery, Inc. (ERI) invented, patented, and commercialized an energy recovery solution: the PX Pressure Exchanger® (PX), which saves energy in high pressure hydraulic operations, such as reverse osmosis for desalination. The PX energy recovery device uses the principle of positive displacement and isobaric chambers to achieve extremely efficient transfer of energy from a high-pressure waste stream, such as the brine stream from a reverse osmosis desalination unit, to a low-pressure incoming feed stream. According to ERI, the PX is 98 percent efficient, losing little energy in the transfer.

ERI states that it has 10 times more operating experience than competing manufacturers of isobaric energy recovery devices, including 10 million unit hours of proven experience and over 6,000 units installed or contracted worldwide. This install base is estimated to account for more than 5.2 million m3/day of capacity installed or under construction, and more than 450 independent reference plants.

Take away: ERI has established a dominant position for energy recovery in the desalination market. Given that leadership and the revenue and profitability (9.6 percent net) that position affords the company, it should be able to enter a host of other water and energy markets that use high-pressure pumps, such as the considerable market for cooling energy generation facilities.

Israeli Desalination Enterprises (IDE)

Location: Petah Tikva, Israel

Funding: IDE is equally owned by ICL (Israel Chemical Ltd.) and the Delek Group. Both holding companies are multinational and multidisciplinary groups, with an annual turnover of approximately US$2 billion (2003) each.

Value proposition: Established in 1965, IDE Technologies Ltd. is internationally recognized as a pioneer and leader in the delivery of sophisticated water management solutions. IDE specializes in research and development of saline water desalination processes, concentration and purification of industrial streams, wastewater treatment, heat pumps, and ice/snow machines. The company develops, designs, manufactures, and installs sophisticated equipment for industrial and domestic applications throughout the world.

While IDE lacks the market presence that the larger desalination providers such as Veolia and Suez possess, it continues to win portions of key projects based on its innovative approaches to various processes such as pre-treatment reverse osmosis, energy recovery, and input water uptake.

Take away: Look for spinoffs from IDE that provide breakthrough technology and are able to work with IDE competition in their niche markets.

Laura Shenkar

Laura Shenkar is an international water expert on water investments and water technology, and a Principal of The Artemis Project, a consultancy that specializes in supporting innovative technology companies achieve their potential in the global market. As a member of the leadership team of three successful startups, she has learned how to employ the unique capabilities of a company’s technology and its team to target the best opportunities in an emerging market. Laura is an active member of several national and international water industry associations and participates in governmental water management initiatives as well as venture investment conferences. This combination of activities enables her to share with The Artemis Project clients a wide view of emerging opportunities and new product trends. This report was excerpted from a recently released study by the Artemis Project entitled “Water Matters: Venture Investment Opportunities in Innovative Water Technology,” which can be obtained by contacting Ms. Shenkar at

Additional EcoWorld reports on water and desalination:

- India’s Hydropower

- India’s Water Consciousness

- Our Endangered Oceans

- India’s Water Future

- Arctic to Aral

- Mangroves Stop Tsunami

- Clean the Ganges

- Seawater Farms

- Affordable Desalination

- California’s Water System

- Sverdrups & Brine

- Revisiting Desalination

- Photovoltaic Desalination

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