Friday, August 03, 2007

Friday Hope Blogging

Subtopia reports on joint Israeli-Palestinian efforts to clean up a river on their border.

[T]wo mayors on opposite sides of the Israel/Palestinian border who have signed a joint agreement to clean up the heavily polluted Wadi Abu Naar river that runs through both of their towns....

[T]his seems like a perfect example of using environmental justice as a launching pad for greater political change and conflict zone resolution.
I've blogged on similar projects here.

In response to this week's tragic bridge collapse in Minnesota, BLDGBLOG observes that "infrastructure is patriotic":
Perhaps the best way to be "pro-American" these days is to lobby for modern, safe, and trustworthy infrastructure – and the economic efficiencies to which that domestic investment would lead.

At the risk of promoting a kind of isolationist infrastructural nationalism, I'd say that urban design and engineering is a sadly under-appreciated – yet incredibly exciting – way to serve your country.
As a small but encouraging step in that direction, Chris Dodd and Chuck Hagel are proposing a "federal infrastructure bank":
The legislation would create a national infrastructure bank charged with evaluating and financing publicly owned mass transit, housing, roads, bridges, and water systems that would entail potential federal funding of at least $75 million per project.
Meanwhile, California state senator Darrell Steinberg is making the logical connection between land use and greenhouse gas emissions:
The bill provides incentives for regions to consider the impact of land use on climate change. Under the provisions of the bill, the regions must engage in a process to develop scenarios that show a contribution to climate change, and if they do so but are unable to actually achieve the goal, the state is going to require the region to submit reports demonstrating the strategies they may need to meet the goals. If they don’t choose to engage in the process of developing better planning scenarios, then we’re going to tie transportation funding to that refusal.
Stockton, California, has pulled out of a massive water-privatization deal:
Last November, a San Joaquin County judge ruled that the privatization deal violated the California Environmental Quality Act. Two weeks ago, the city council voted unanimously not to appeal the decision, and to terminate the contract. Even its main proponent at the time, former Mayor Gary Podesto, voted to end the deal. Control of the plant will revert to the city next March.
Inhabitat discusses the possibility of powering airplanes with biofuel from pond scum.
The process, created by Aquaflow, involves the harvesting of algae directly from any nutrient-rich settling ponds. This process is usable in many types of waste streams such as the ones created by the transport, dairy, meat and paper industries. The process works by exploiting the capacity of algae to absorb the nutrients available in the settling ponds, cleaning up the water which can then be used on other areas. The algae is then harvested and transformed into an alternative fuel source. So not only can biofuel created from this process, but is possible to clean up and reuse the waste water streams from major industries.
Sounds a bit too good to be true, but you never know. In related news, I'm obliged to mention Lawrence Berkeley's ultralow-emissions combustion technology, which "has been tested successfully using pure hydrogen as a fuel." And this ammonia-powered car.

Fifty-five percent of the world's photovoltaic power is generated in Germany, of all places. That being the case, you'd expect that country's population to be shivering in caves, eating bark and bracken. Amazingly, though, the solar boom seems to be helping their economy.
It is a thriving industry with booming exports that has created tens of thousands of jobs in recent years, posting growth rates that surpassed the optimistic forecasts made by the fathers of a pioneering 2000 renewable energy law.
What's even more counterintuitive is that Europe is taking steps towards creating a direct current power grid:
J├╝rgen Schmid, the head of ISET, an alternative-energy institute at the University of Kassel, in Germany proposes a DC grid that would allow wind energy to provide up to 30% of Europe’s power supply. And because it is almost always windy at some place in Europe, this grid setup would allow wind to be used as “base load power.” Countries like the Scandinavia, the Netherlands and Germany are already building DC transmission lines.
WorldChanging has a fascinating article on the doings in Rizhao, China:
Solar water heaters are currently installed in 99 percent of all buildings in Rizhao’s urban area, and in more than 30 percent of residences in rural areas. Additionally, more than 6,000 families in Rizhao use solar cookers in their kitchens. During the fallow months, a transparent, biodegradable film is used to cover approximately 470 million square meters of the city’s farmland to allow for an increase in the land temperature and faster maturation of crops in the spring. The city is also home to more than 560,000 square meters of solar photovoltaic panels, which have effectively reduced conventional electricity usage by 348 million kilowatthours per year.

More than 15,000 residential units in Rizhao use technologies that allow them to generate marsh gas from agricultural waste water, with the units capable of generating up to 230,000 cubic meters daily. Currently, the city’s annual marsh gas production is 4.5 million cubic meters, which replaces the use of some 3,100 tons of coal annually. Installed marsh gas power generators have a total production capacity of 13,500 kilowatthours, which would reduce the use of coal this year by 36,000 tons.
Mexico City's mayor is trying some innovative tactics to make the city more livable and healthy:
The mayor's goal is transforming the city into Latin America's latest model of urban renewal. The big idea behind these relatively inexpensive measures is that by encouraging happiness, rather than solely economic growth, he just might change residents' image of their city — and themselves.
Tom Philpott's Maverick Farms gets a long write-up in the Winston-Salem Journal:
The partners at Maverick also offer community workdays, soliciting volunteers from the community to help out with plantings and other chores. They have even arranged for students from Appalachian State University’s sustainable-agriculture program to get credit for working on the farm.

All told...they’ve had 19 interns or “work exchangers,” 12 of whom have gone to work on other farms or in jobs that involve sustainable agriculture.
Bills in the House and Senate would block imports of illegally harvested timber:
The bill would extend the Lacey Act -- which prohibits importation of wildlife taken in violation of conservation laws -- so it would apply to wood and timber products.

The measure would ban the import, export, purchase or sale of timber products made in violation of any domestic, foreign law or international treaty related to natural resources.
A federal judge has issued an injunction against logging in spotted owl habitat:
The injunction from logging covers spotted owl habitat within 2.7 miles of the center of four circles of land in southwestern Washington that are owned by Weyerhaeuser.

"It really shows the Endangered Species Act still has some teeth in it," said Kenan Block, a spokesman for the Washington Forest Law Center.
Meanwhile, in China, conservation efforts appear to be helping the giant panda.

Indian tribes and firefighters are working together to protect archaeological sites:
Tribe members now attend fire safety classes in hopes of helping bulldozers avoid sacred sites. Fire officials and archeologists say the cooperation has allowed them to protect artifacts on almost every major wildfire in the last few years.
UPS has agreed to provide health benefits to same-sex partners:
The company had previously said civil-union partners were legally different from spouses and therefore were not entitled to the same benefits that spouses of the company's hourly workers receive.

"We have received clear guidance that at least in New Jersey the state truly views civil-union partners as married," said Allen Hill, UPS's senior vice president for human resources. "We've heard that loud and clear from state officials, and we're happy to make this change."
A simple screening test could reduce the incidence of cervical cancer in the developing world:
The women who got the screening method turned out to be 25 percent less likely to develop cervical cancer and 35 percent less likely to die from the disease compared with women who did not have the benefit of the screening method. The researchers reported their results after seven years of study rather than the planned 10 years because the benefit was better than expected.
A severely brain-damaged man has regained his abilty to speak, thanks to a fairly amazing medical treatment:
[R]esearchers chose him for an experimental attempt to rev up his brain by placing electrodes in it. And here's how his mother describes the change in her son, now 38:

"My son can now eat, speak, watch a movie without falling asleep," she said Wednesday while choking back tears during a telephone news conference. "He can drink from a cup. He can express pain. He can cry and he can laugh."
In other medical news, the House has approved prescription drug imports. Here's the interesting part:
A move supported by drug companies to strike the drug importation provisions from the bill was defeated 283-146.
Dubious Views is an online exhibit dedicated to "questioning institutional representations in tourism and cartography" through psychogeography and allied disciplines. The rather quaint post-Situationist jargon gets a bit thick in spots, but how could I not recommend a site featuring audio explorations of the intersection of Spadina and Bloor?

Alles ist Spiel! surveys mathematical recreations, puzzles, and board games of the last few centuries. The text's in German, but the graphics are worth a look even if your German's a bit rusty.

You'll find more puzzles at Agence Eureka, as thus:

Ancient Gardens from Babylon to Rome is an interesting exhibit with plenty of nice illustrations and photos.

You should also visit its sister site, The Line of the Sun, which will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about Florentine gnomonics (and is the source for the photo at the top of this post, which shows a detail of the dome of the Church of Santa Maria delle Carceri).

There's something charming about underachievement (at least, I'd like you to think there is). Therefore, with no fanfare whatsoever, I'm vaguely pleased to present A Little Brick Plant in the Middle of Nowhere.

Last, from 1895, the Dickson Experimental Sound Film.


four legs good said...

Your weekly "hope" blogging is always one of the best parts of my week. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Phila, good job! I don't see how you pick up so much good stuff.

That said, let me turn to my Friday Hope Blogging curmudgeon role.

That ammonia car: yes, ammonia is NH3, just as natural gas is CH4, just waiting for those hydrogens to be thermodynamically liberated to water and the larger atom to, er, oxide?

So one of the outputs has to be nitrogen oxides, which contribute to smog and acid rain. I'm wondering how they deal with those.


Anonymous said...

Not to mention that ammonia doesn't occur in underground deposits, like natural gas does, and has to be manufactured. So, as a fuel, it's more like hydrogen, an energy transfer agent. Except hydrogen's only product is water.


Phila said...

So one of the outputs has to be nitrogen oxides, which contribute to smog and acid rain. I'm wondering how they deal with those.

Good question! It sounded dubious to me, which is why I lumped it under the "sounds too good to be true" section. Perhaps they'll astonish us all, though...

Your brand of carmudgeonhood is always welcome here.

olvlzl said...

Oh, great. Now they do it. I haven't had a UPS man flirt with me for two decades. I could have had full benefits but now its too late.

Am I the only one shocked at how young those guys are? They didnt' seem it before.