Friday, March 05, 2010

Friday Hope Blogging

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has ruled that a recent anti-choice law is unconstitutional. Even more gratifying, it issued this rebuke to the bill's supporters:

"We are growing weary of admonishing the Legislature for so flagrantly violating the terms of the Oklahoma Constitution. It is a waste of time for the Legislature and the Court, and a waste of the taxpayers’ money.”
Utah has withdrawn its proposal to criminalize miscarriage, which I discussed in last week's FHB.
A sweeping anti-abortion statute in Utah that would have allowed up to life in prison for a woman whose fetus died from her intentional or reckless behavior was withdrawn by its sponsor on Thursday and will be revised to be narrower in scope.
In Mexico City and Washington DC this week, same-sex couples are getting married:
In Mexico City gay couples registered to marry today and may be able to begin wedding next week after paperwork processing is complete....

Here in the U.S., a three-page decision issued Tuesday night by Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts denied a petition seeking to prevent same-sex marriage from going forward in the District of Columbia. The first marriage licenses were issued to gay couples yesterday....
Progress Energy, one of the nation's largest utilities, is no longer funding the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE).
Progress Energy — “a Fortune 500 energy company with more than 21,000 megawatts of generation capacity and $9 billion in annual revenues,” serving 3.1 million customers in the Carolinas and Florida — quietly quit the group last year, following Duke Energy, Alstom, Alcoa, and First Energy in the exodus. Its move away from coal propaganda mirrors its recent decision to shut down coal plants and move to cleaner power.
Meanwhile, BP and Shell are facing a shareholder revolt over their involvement with Albertan tar sands:
‘Since the resolution was announced, BP has been forced out of their bunker to comment on the carbon intensity of the projects, the oil price they need to make the projects economically viable and whether they are factoring in a carbon price,’ said Niall O’Shea, Head of Responsible Investing at the Co-operative Asset Management.

‘Realistically there is no chance that we will get enough votes for the resolution to be passed, but it’s what happens around the resolution that is important,’ he added.
California is taking steps to limit emissions of sulfur hexafluoride (SF6):
Sulfur hexafluoride is the most potent greenhouse gas in existence. With a global warming potential 23,900 times greater than carbon dioxide, one pound of SF6 has the same global warming impact of 11 tons of carbon dioxide. It is also very persistent in the atmosphere with a lifetime of 3,200 years.

The new Air Resources Board regulation, approved Thursday, is designed to achieve a 70 percent reduction of SF6 emissions in electrical utility applications in 2020.
At long last, the California tiger salamader will receive ESA protections.
The California Fish and Game Commission today voted 3-2 to designate the California tiger salamander as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act, providing state protected status to the salamander six years after a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity. The decision comes as a result of that petition and lawsuit and a 2008 court of appeals ruling that struck down the Commission’s earlier rejection of the Center’s petition to list the salamander.

“After six years of misguided denial and delay by the California Fish and Game Commission, the tiger salamander is finally getting the protection it deserves and sorely needs,” said Brian Nowicki of the Center for Biological Diversity. “This amazing creature and the highly threatened vernal pools it calls home are precious parts of California’s natural heritage.”
An Australian frog that was thought to be extinct has reappeared:
The yellow-spotted bell frog (Litoria castanea), last observed in 1970s, has long been thought to be extinct in the wild. Scientists believed it was probably a victim of the deadly chytrid fungus that has devastated amphibian populations around the world.

But last year, Luke Pearce, a fisheries conservation officer in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW), thought he saw a yellow-spotted bell frog in an isolated stream where he was looking for another endangered species. He returned a year later with herpetologist David Hunter of the NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water. Together, they found a population of around 100 adult frogs....

Interestingly, despite the amount of time since the frog had been seen in the wild, the Australian government never gave up on it. A formal recovery plan for the species has been in place since 2001.

IBM is developing computer chips that use light pulses to transmit information:
At the moment, electrical signals transfer information between computer chips using copper wires – a process that sucks up a lot of energy. But now researchers from IBM have developed a process that scraps the copper wires completely and instead uses pulses of light to communicate. The “nanophotonic avalanche photodetector” uses a whopping 20 times less energy than previous devices.

Instead of transferring information over copper wires, the light pulses are transmitted via silicon circuits–a process that can transmit data at up to 40G bits per second with a 1.5 volt power supply, or the equivalent of a AA battery.
IBM is also the first company to phase out the use of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA):
The two compounds are toxic to both humans and wildlife, building up in human bodies. Eliminating them from chips helps just that much more in the persistent problem of toxic e-waste....

"Developing alternatives for these chemicals was an ambitious technological challenge," Michael Cadigan, IBM's general manager of microelectronics, said in a statement. "The transition to the new formulations had to be implemented and qualified across a large array of processes without impacting customer product delivery commitments. In addition, several companies in at least five countries have had access to this leadership solution through their technology development alliances with IBM."
A new study suggests that most US states could meet their energy needs with renewable power:
Using data from the recent National Renewable Energy Laboratory report, the New Rules Project put together this map, showing the percentage of its own electricity needs that each state could generate with onshore and offshore wind power, hydroelectric and geothermal power, and rooftop photovoltaics.

The DoE is allocating $100 million to clean tech research:
The three main areas that are getting funded are: 1) Grid-Scale Rampable Intermittent Dispatchable Storage (GRIDS -- The DOE really loves acronyms), or ways to store energy on a very large scale, 2) Agile Delivery of Electrical Power Technology (ADEPT), or better ways to convert and switch power around, and 3) Building Energy Efficiency Through Innovative Thermodevices (BEET-IT), which is mostly about "energy efficient cooling technologies and air conditioners for buildings."
In the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake, attempts are being made to promote the use of pyrolytic stoves:
In Haiti, the use of wood for charcoal for home cooking needs is widespread, which has led to a continuing cycle of deforestation and soil degredation. This problem isn't confined to areas affected by the quake, of course, but fuel needs have been exacerbated in the aftermath....

What makes the Lucia stove so magic is that a Haitian woman or man could cook for a five-person family using just about 300 grams of twigs, groundnut shells, rice husk or dung. On the ground in Haiti even such wastes as the rinds from the local chadeck (grapefruit-like) fruit have been used - three big rinds yielded 37 minutes of flame!

In Indonesia, a new government program is trying to turn former separatist rebels into forest rangers:
Hundreds of former rebels, who know the Ulu Masen jungle perhaps better than anyone, are being trained and recast as forest rangers by Fauna and Flora International, one of the oldest international environmental groups in Aceh, which began the training in response to Aceh Green. The new rangers trek through the woods, this time armed with a compass and climbing rope, on the lookout for illegal loggers and poachers.
Companies are beginning to provide information on the water footprint of their products:
Accountants are already studying up, and even huge companies like IBM are putting the importance of water management on par with electricity management. This could mean that a water footprint label is soon to be as prominent on product packaging as an Energy Star label, and with an equal amount of clout among consumers....

[T]he nonprofit Water Footprint Network (WFN) is working with more corporations to measure and label their products. National Geographic reports that Beer giant SABMiller is one of the first to sign on with WFN and has already unveiled the first detailed corporate water footprint at this year's World Water Week conference in Stockholm, Sweden.
Buffalo, NY is investigating options for redesigning an ill-conceived expressway that cuts through a park designed by Frederick Law Olmstead.
The New York State Department of Transportation, armed with $2 million in federal funds, is currently shopping for a consultant to evaluate possible ways to restore Humboldt Parkway. “This is a chance to undo something that never should have happened,” says Stephanie Barber of Restoring Our Community Coalition, a group of neighborhood stakeholders who have been advocating for restoration of Humboldt Parkway and helping NYSDOT to define the goals of the project, from scope and design issues to health impacts and community benefit agreements.
I advise you to read the whole article. The description of how and why this expressway was built is timely.

In related news, St. Louis is talking about removing a section of I-70:
The new bridge is the key to the single best way to improve access to the Arch: Removing the depressed and elevated lanes of Interstate 70 that sever downtown from the riverfront....

The 1.5-mile stretch of steel and concrete is one of the most heedless examples of highway planning in the age of urban renewal. It forms a forbidding and confusing barrier along the park’s western boundary — a dismal counterpoint to Eero Saarinen’s transcendent symbol of westward migration.
The FDA continues to crack down on false advertising claims:
In an unusually broad crackdown, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has notified 17 food companies, including major brands such as Gerber and Nestle, that they have violated federal laws by making false or misleading claims on their product packaging....

"This is a shot across the industry bow," said Gary L. Yingling, a partner at K&L Gates, who represents food manufacturers in matters before the FDA. "Instead of picking out one company and trying to make an example, they're going after them with a shotgun."
Don McLeroy has been ousted from Texas Board of Education.
Don McLeroy, the controversial member of the State Board of Education (SBOE), failed to defend his seat, losing to primary challenger, Thomas Ratliff.

[T]he Texas SBOE exerts significant influence on the rest of the country— in terms of things like textbook selection—because of the large number of students it serves. And having McLeroy on the board definitely made a lot of people nervous. The Houston Chronicle didn't mince words, describing him as a "Darwin-bashing, McCarthy-defending Bryan dentist and young-Earth creationist who served as proud ringleader of the social conservative voting bloc on the most influential school board in the country."
An innovative micro-insurance plan has been launched in Kenya:

The program, called "Kilimo Salama," which in Kiswahili means "safe farming," is a partnership between the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, UAP Insurance, and telecoms operator Safaricom. The project will offer farmers who plant on as little as one acre insurance policies to shield them from significant financial losses when drought or excess rain are expected to wreak havoc on their harvests.

"Extreme weather, particularly drought, traps many African farmers in poverty because it robs them of the means to recover," said Marco Ferroni, Executive Director of the Syngenta Foundation. "We have in Kilimo Salama a micro-insurance strategy that will work. By utilizing state-of-the-art risk management tools, revolutionary mobile phone technologies, and the knowledge and expertise of farmers and rural business men and women, we have developed for the first time a model for providing farmers with reliable, low-cost cover from the vagaries of extreme weather."

A stamp-sized piece of paper can allegedly diagnose several common diseases for about a penny per test:
One Harvard University chemist has developed an ultraportable “paper” chip that can diagnose killer diseases like malaria, HIV, hepatitis, and tuberculosis for just a penny at a time. A finger prick’s worth of blood on one side of the paper, according to inventor George Whitesides, produces a colorful, tree-like pattern on the other that indicates what ails you. The surprisingly low-tech secret? Water-repellant comic-book ink.

In Afghanistan, members of an MIT lab have created a wireless network out of garbage:
Called FabFi, the network uses reflectors made from discarded pieces of board, wire, plastic tubs and some cans!

FabFi currently has 25 live nodes up in Jalalabad, and people are able to reap the benefits of having a stable connection throughout the city. Taking the knowledge that was imparted to them from the MIT crew, residents are still adding to the network by creating more reflectors and routers too.
Here's yet another interesting iPhone app:

With NOAH, you can photograph an interesting plant, bug or animal that you want to learn about, send in the photo along with a little info about where you found it, and store it in the species database. You can sort through the database to find out more about the flora and fauna around you, and your uploaded data will be added upon by local experts.

Infographics galore: Earth's oldest trees. Earth's satellites, visualized by nation. The human body as a subway map. The relative effectiveness of health supplements. The impact of food waste on climate change. Also, 22 model cities:

Ten Japanese ghost towns (via Coudal). Silent film journals online. Hudson River ice. Birthday greetings from Mark Twain to Walt Whitman. The Journal of Urban Typography (see also The Pornography of old Times Square). And via wood s lot, photos by Josef Hoflehner and P├ętur Thomsen.

Everyday Structures, photos by Kuba Ryniewicz, and a manifesto on informal repair culture (all via things). The game of Marseille. The new blue marble (via Cheryl). The Okavango Delta (ditto). The Shuvalov Bell Factory. Photos by Tata Vislevskaya. And photos by Phyllis Galembo.

Here's a movie, too.

(Photo at top: "Archaeologists have unearthed 270 pieces of engraved ostrich eggshell dated to around 60,000 years ago from a site called Diepkloof in South Africa’s Western Cape province. The fragments constitute what the researchers say is the 'earliest evidence of a graphic tradition among prehistoric hunter-gatherer populations.' As such, the finds help to illuminate the emergence of symbolic representation—a hallmark of modern human behavior." Via Scientific American.)


Rmj said...

I have not chased this down yet, but the local NPR station was reporting that a Texas trial judge has ruled the state's death penalty unconstitutional. Don't even know on what factual grounds, yet.

The Texas AG calls it a blatant case of judicial activism. Which, really, is about all he can do.

And it was interesting that McLeroy was too right-wing and outrageously conservative for even the Texas GOP. Wonders never cease, huh?

Phila said...

I have not chased this down yet, but the local NPR station was reporting that a Texas trial judge has ruled the state's death penalty unconstitutional. Don't even know on what factual grounds, yet.

Really? That's...interesting. First I've heard of it. Thanks for the tip!

And it was interesting that McLeroy was too right-wing and outrageously conservative for even the Texas GOP. Wonders never cease, huh?

Yeah, that surprised me. I would've thought they'd keep him, if for no other reason than to annoy people.

The guy who's replacing him seems pretty good, too.

Rmj said...

In other news, I've just learned that consumerism is not going to solve all of the problems created by our consumption (i.e., consuming "green" will not be the final solution to consuming "not green").

And how do I know this? By buying another book.

Well, not yet; it isn't out yet. But once it is, buying it will be the solution to my problem of not knowing if consumerism will solve the problems of consumerism.

Isn't technology wonderful?

Phila said...

In other news, I've just learned that consumerism is not going to solve all of the problems created by our consumption (i.e., consuming "green" will not be the final solution to consuming "not green").

You mean I just spent $125 on a solar nose-hair trimmer for nothing?

charley said...

wow, i just really come for the pics.

you pack each post with so much.

Josef Hoflehner. i don't even know why i come for the pics. that's a lot of talent.