Immaculate Conception Theory of Your Neighborhood's Origins

I've long maintained that just about all (sub)urban development is at one point pejorative from someone's view point. The work of time, history, and change makes older neighborhoods appear more authentic, just, valued, and/or sustainable. Yet, all (sub)urban development under capitalism was produced for its exchange value and profit, not just its pretty use values and authentic qualities (in the eye of the beholder of course). Moreover, population shifts and exchange value shift can make a neighborhood once deemed "bad" (i.e., black, immigrant, working class, etc) into the prized authentic sustainable neighborhood of a gentrifying population. The reverse works too (white flight from some suburbs has left areas of poverty and spatial inequality). 

Many people in the central or older areas of towns and cities often feel secure in their idea that their neighborhood wasn't created within the conditions of class and racial inequality. Yet, most were. The old looking houses and the mature trees hide the fact that when the neighborhood was build, say 100 years ago, it looked just as brand new as the shiniest new suburb today. Daniel Hertz pokes a hole in these representations of space and calls these ideas the "immaculate conception theory" of neighborhood creation. He writes:

These assumptions mostly revolve around the idea that older housing was built the right way: ethically, modestly, with an eye to community rather than profit. These older values, in turn, highlight the faults of modern buildings: gaudy and wasteful, disruptive to existing communities, and motivated only by money.

US solar power is still growing fast — but it's about to hit a speed bump

Solar only accounts for a small 0.6% of U.S. electricity but since the mid-2000s, thanks mostly to Federal tax credits and cheaper (Chinese) panels, solar instillation radically increased (mostly in California). In 2017, the Federal tax credits expire and as Brad Plumer explains, U.S. solar photovoltaic growth might hit a serious speed bump, particularly for residential installation. 

Image via

Image via

Will the solar boom be another false start–like the 1970s–or will the Federal government reinstate the subsidies before they expire in 2017? Will panels prices continue to fall, making unsubsidized or lower subsidies panels affordable? Will Obama's Clean Power Plan make the States pick up the slack? Question to be determined in the coming years.

Apple's Real Carbon Footprint Is In Manufacturing and It's Dirty

Apple Inc. released its 2015 Environmental Responsibility Report this week. In the report, Apple proudly claims that their data centers are running on 100% renewable energy and that their new headquarters in Cupertino will run entirely on renewables (solar plant in nearby Monterey County). Apple is proud to claim that building operations in the USA are moving to 100% renewable. That's great. However, Apple's real carbon footprint is in the vast, vast amount of energy used and CO2 released in manufacturing all of its physical products, mostly in China. 

For example, of the 34 million metric tons of CO2 Apple claims responsibility for in fiscal year 2014, 24.8 million metric tons are in manufacturing and only 0.4 million tons are in facilities. Put another way, 73% of Apple's carbon footprint is in manufacturing, whereas only 1.1% is in facilities. Sorry Apple, switching facilities to renewables is great optics (and still worthwhile) but it is a drop in the bucket of their CO2 footprint. For Apple to meaningfully contribute to reducing global warming they will need to begin to transition their manufacturing partners to renewables. It seems they are now just taking small steps in that direction.

For now, Apple and other manufacturers, and consumers, are contributing both to the localized pollution crisis in China as well as global CO2 emissions. If Apple wants to be a leading corporate environmental steward, as statements by CEO Tim Cook and Lisa Jackson, Vice President of Environmental Initiatives indicate, then it needs to more fully and quickly address the source of their real carbon footprint: the manufacturing of physical products.

Portland Now Generating Hydro Power in Its Water Pipes

A cool new way to get hydro power right under our cities, and they don't require dams.

The Lucid system taps the power of gravity in the city’s water system. Water flowing through the Portland Water Bureau pipe at 147th and Powell will now flow through four small turbines as well, generating enough electricity to power 150 homes along the way. The turbines are 3.5 feet wide – just big enough to span the diameter of the city’s water pipe.

Can Louisiana Hold Oil Companies Accountable for its Vanishing Coastline?

A great photo essay series would be "The Political Ecologies of the Age of Oil." A great place to start would be coastal Louisiana. The next place to go would be the tar sands of Alberta, Canada.

Image via

Image via

Most Disaster Prone Places in the United States

Below are some great maps with types of crises. It appears simply geographical, but we must also remember the social factors that produce different and unequal experiences before, during, and after socio-natural crisis. The full article has a mouse over feature so you can look up each county of the United States for more fine grain detail.

Image via Washington Post

Image via Washington Post

CSU Chico Commits to Full Divestment of Fossil Fuel Holdings

Right before the Fall 2014 semester ended big news on the fight against fossil fuels came out of CSU Chico, where I teach: 

Chico State University showed immense leadership as one of the first public universities in the nation to commit to fully divesting from the top 200 coal, oil and gas companies within four years. The resolution, authored by members of Fossil Free California State University, was passed 8 – 4 by the CSU Chico University Foundation.

United States and China Enter Into Bilateral Energy Transition Agreement

An historic deal. We'll have to monitor closely to see what actually happens. Here is the gist as reported by Jeff Spross at ThinkProgress:

The pledge commits the U.S. to cut its emissions 26 to 28 percent below their 2005 levels by 2025. This builds on the current target of a 17 percent reduction below that baseline by 2020, and could actually double the pace of emission cuts set by that initial goal — from 1.2 percent a year to as high as 2.8 percent per year. The White House has actually been looking into the possibility of expanding beyond the 2020 target since 2013, and has been involved in occasional interagency meetings to that effect.

For its part, China is committing to get 20 percent of its energy from non-fossil-fuel sources by 2030, and to peak its overall carbon dioxide emissions that same year. China’s construction of renewable energy capacity is already proceeding at a furious pace, and this deal will require the country to deploy an additional 800 to 1,000 gigawatts of zero-carbon energy by 2030. For comparison, 800 to 1,000 gigawatts is close to the amount of electricity the U.S. current generates from all sources combined.

In the US, with virtually no solid Congressional support, it will be interesting to see how such a commitment will fair in the short-term, let alone spanning multiple Congressional and Presidential terms. China, on the other hand, with a centralized one-party rule might be able to enable a more consistent and coherent energy transition strategy. It's also important to remember that most of the carbon in the atmosphere now was put there by Europe and the United States over the past 150 years or so. 

Is This Truly a Wild Life? Emma Marris on the Grand Canyon "wolf"

Emma Marris, writing on her Beacon wolf project, about the recently spotted "wolf like animal" in the Grand Canyon. What is the animal's potential fate? 

The first is that his or her fate will entirely depend on human values, human categories and human laws. Whether it is allowed to roam free, moved to a refuge or shipped south will depend on its genome—not whether it attacks livestock or not or any other fact about its actual behavior. This is despite the fact that it neither knows nor cares which category it falls into, and that it is highly likely that its individual personality is more predictive of its behavior than its species assignment. The only thing it can count on is being darted and tranquilized, because even if it is determined to be a gray wolf, agency officials will want to re-collar it. Is this truly a wild life?

Consider pledging and following Marris' wolf project. It's great stuff.

Sun and Wind Alter Global Landscape, Leaving Utilities Behind

This is a great overview of the energy transition thesis (energiewende, in German). It focuses on the German example and highlights the major disruption renewables will have on utilities markets and business models. Many drastic changes and challenges lie ahead. 

Electric utility executives all over the world are watching nervously as technologies they once dismissed as irrelevant begin to threaten their long-established business plans. Fights are erupting across the United States over the future rules for renewable power. Many poor countries, once intent on building coal-fired power plants to bring electricity to their people, are discussing whether they might leapfrog the fossil age and build clean grids from the outset.

See also "While Critics Debate Energiewende, Germany is Gaining a Global advantage."  


Climate Fair Share

Interesting new website (in beta) that gives a visual story of each countries emissions reduction targets. It includes both domestic fair share as well as embedded export emissions. I like how it begins with equity considerations. This quote caught my eye:

We demand action from everyone, but we don’t believe that everyone is equally responsible for the crisis.

Powering The World's Poorer Economies

This a good overview of the debate between fossil fuel macro grid models and distributed renewables in addressing energy poverty in the developing world. The author makes the case for distributed solar, which is both a cheaper and more socially and ecological just path. 

Plummeting costs for solar and wind (and battery storage) paralleled by increasingly expensive long-distance coal and gas mean that for most developing nations, the time for grid parity has come and gone -- renewables are cheaper even on grid.

Endangered Species Get Boost from U.S. War Games in Germany

An artillery explodes behind a large deer at the US training facility in Grafenwoerh, Germany. Via NBC News.

An artillery explodes behind a large deer at the US training facility in Grafenwoerh, Germany. Via NBC News.

Animals and plants have way more resilience than we give them. No doubt there is some greenwashing here by the military, but this looks like a fascinating case in which animals adapt to extreme circumstances. Just look at the picture above.

The Grafenwoehr installation is now home to more than 3,000 plant and animal species, 800 of which are threatened, endangered or legally protected. These include the rare kingfisher, sea eagles, wildcats, a large beaver population, green woodpeckers and even lynx.
Still, biodiversity overall can benefit from the landscapes created by military training, officials say. Tank tracks or grenade craters from war games, for example, have become new breeding grounds and habitats for some endangered species.


Booming Rooftop Solar Power Suffers Growing Pains

No doubt there will be pains (all energy  and economic transitions experience "pains") but this is poor reporting. Nearly the entire example rests on one case, one guy and his (minor) misfortune.

Pollution Killed 7 Million People Worldwide in 2012

A World Health Organization report found that the fossil fuel economy and industrial civilization is already leading to 1 out of 8 deaths among humans each year (the number would be high for non-humans too). That is an immediate danger, more immediate than what climate change may be contributing to now. In the developing world, the main culprit is burring biomass for cooking and heating, with women being at greater risk than men. In the developed world, the main culprit are fossil fuel automobiles and industrial production.

Elegy for a Country's Seasons

A beautiful, moving essay by Zadie Smith on climate change and mourning a world we lost: 

Oh, what have we done! It’s a biblical question, and we do not seem able to pull ourselves out of its familiar—essentially religious—cycle of shame, denial, and self-flagellation. This is why (I shall tell my granddaughter) the apocalyptic scenarios did not help—the terrible truth is that we had a profound, historical attraction to apocalypse. In the end, the only thing that could create the necessary traction in our minds was the intimate loss of the things we loved.