Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Good News

After a busy trip to Durban, on South Africa's Indian Ocean shore last week, I am taking stock of some of the news in the world. The story I was pursuing is about alternative energy, for a Global Post series called Energy Entrepreneurs.

It's a fascinating world-wide look at incredible possibilities for the future of energy production that any consumer or energy producer would do well to read. Utilizing Global Post's unrivaled group of videographers, the news site has profiled solar energy projects in Guatemala, household geothermal systems in Palenstine, and many other surprising projects that create a sense of how humanity will power itself in the post-oil period. Coming at a time of deep disillusionment with oil in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, these are profiles we should all be inspired by.

Pollution Oversight:
The New York Times reports that the Environmental Protection Agency in the US is investigating chemical fracturing's impact on ground water quality throughout the country. In Colorado, beautiful valleys like the Grand have been besmirched with thousands of gas wells, and one of the country's most important waterways, the Colorado River has had millions of tons of waste water from this process dumped into it. Hard questions have not been answered by gas companies like Haliburton and others about the ingredients in their hydraulic fracturing solutions, and from this perspective of a Colorado native, this is clearly unacceptable. Unlikely coalitions between environmentalists and farmers are driving a rethink on the wholesale drilling on our private and public lands, and the federal government should take heed. Anything that gets former adversaries like farmers and environmentalists into bed together should worry gas drilling companies that have again and again chosen profit and secrecy over disclosure and open discussion. Under the Bush administration these companies had free reign, but it seems those days may over. Groundwater belongs to everyone, and if these companies have endangered our future heath and that of our children, no amount of domestic gas production will make up for that.

The Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf both go on sale this year. Almost the first fully electric cars that are available to all Americans, they represent the future of motoring throughout the world and the end of the cosy relationship between oil companies and automakers. They also represent a sea-change in attitude that will drive innovation and creation of new options that will move the United States towards greater reliance on all sorts of different types of energy. The cars are the rallying cry of the legions who have been held prisoner by oil. The Volt cares not if it is charged from a solar array, a nuclear power station, or methane power generation from rubbish.

This brings me back to my trip to Durban. This coastal city is a world leader in landfill waste. They create specially designed landfills that take advantage of the fact that landfills generate thousands of tons of the global warming gas Methane. Methane is 21 times more powerful a greenhouse gas as Carbon Dioxide. Every landfill in the world produces methane as a by-product of the breakdown of waste. In Durban they collect this waste gas, pipe it into massive engines and generate enough power to run more than five thousand city homes. In a city of millions, this is a pittance, but the technology is cheap enough to implement anywhere and by preventing noxious gases from escaping, and using them to supplant the dirty coal power that South Africa relies upon, the project is highly successful and self-supporting. In their final coup, Durban turns the old landfills into indigenous gardens and parks that beautify this hilly city by the sea.

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