Saturday, May 14, 2011

Sustainability news linkspam for the week ending 5/14/11, Part 1

All of this edition is concerned with the economic part of sustainability, either because the articles are from commercial sources except for the headliner, which is from an economics blog. Just the same, one can see the overlap between economics and environment (read as technology) on one hand, and economics and society (mostly culture) on the other. As for a linkspam with less of a bleed-through of economics into other categories, with clearer environmental and social sections, stay tuned for part 2, which will be from university press releases--no "Maybe" about it!

Zero Hedge: Slow Relief at the Pump As Gasoline Decouples From Crude Oil
By EconMatters
In the two weeks ending Friday, May 13, Brent dropped about 10% to close at $113.83 a barrel on ICE, while WTI plunged 12% to $99.65 a barrel at Nymex, and RBOB gasolne futures for June also lost 8% to around $3.0766 a gallon.
The price tumble was big enough to trigger a five-minute halt in trading of crude oil, heating oil and gasoline for the first time in over two years on Wednesday. May 11 at CME electronic trading platform.

With the record retreat in crude oil prices, many consumers are expecting ‘some big retail price drops’ in time for Memorial Day weekend. After all, crude oil accounts for more than two thirds (68.3%) of the price in a gallon of gasoline as of March 2011, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

Crude oil and gasoline prices typically trend in tandem on the same set of market fundamentals, but this time around, the decoupling of gasoline and crude oil would mean gasoline prices may be harder to drop.
More news after the jump.

General Sustainability

L.A. Times: Southern California's great migration
Amid shifting demographics, Southern California has another chance to master the art of planning for sustainable growth.
May 2, 2011

With the housing market's sharp downturn and the flailing economy, things haven't worked out for many of us as we'd planned. But it's safe to say that this is especially true of the people who took their American dreams to the Inland Empire. Real estate prices there fell more sharply — by half — and the jobless rate, at 14.8%, is higher than in neighboring counties.

Those two trends were even more closely related than in most areas of California: Many of the Inland Empire's jobs, and by far the biggest portion of its job losses, were related to the construction industry. Many families were unable to afford their mortgages. Several of the newer housing developments became foreclosure ghost towns.

The quick rise and fall of the Inland Empire — which already shows the first signs of recovery — has thrown into sharp relief a longstanding truth about Southern California's growth pattern: Its dependence on cars, its sprawl and the general lack of regional planning create an unwieldy hodgepodge of housing and jobs that make its residents too vulnerable to shifts in the economy.

Mother Nature Network: Are reusable bags doing the good we think they are?
As we accumulate more reusable bags, many of them go unused. Reusable bags are creating their own environmental problems. What’s the answer?
By Robin Shreeves

Although the reusable bag market has grown, there isn’t any hard evidence that suggests the plastic bag market has decreased. In fact, “indirect measures suggest that plastic bag production has remained relatively steady.”

Reusable bags are supposed to help us consume less, specifically fewer plastic and paper bags. The number of reusable bags being given away at Earth Day events, sporting events, town festivals, banks, grocery stores and more ends up in the millions each year, and not everyone who is given a bag uses it. (Target gave away a million reusable bags just this month.)
With all of these bags going unused, a new environmental problem is developing — bags that end up getting thrown away without having been used. When the Chicago Bears gave away 40,000 bags at a 2009 game, many of them ended up in the stadium trash. I wonder about the bags that I took to Goodwill over the weekend. Is anyone ever going to use them?

Economy and Technology

N.Y. Times: Ford Says There’s Wealth in Weeds

Petroleum is found throughout passenger vehicles, not only in the gas tank. But Ford announced on Tuesday a project intended to minimize its reliance on petroleum-based vehicle components, and it chose an unlikely standard bearer: the dandelion.

Developed in collaboration with Ohio State University, the project harnesses the scourge of lawn tenders worldwide, Taraxacum kok-saghyz, commonly called the Russian dandelion, to produce a versatile, milky-white substance that can be used as a plastics modifier. The substance, Ford said, could find application in cup holders, floor mats and interior trim pieces, replacing synthetic rubber commonly used in these applications.

While rubber does literally grow on trees, synthetic rubber is a petroleum product, and even if all the rubber Ford used were sustainably grown, it still would be cleaner to produce plastic from locally sourced dandelions because shipping would be minimized.

The dandelion-based plastic has not reached Ford vehicles yet. Company engineers are still testing the substance to ensure its durability.

N.Y. Times: Oakland Airport Builds E.V. Chargers and Awaits the E.V.'s

If every electric car in the United States suddenly descended on Oakland International Airport, only 15 of them would be able to charge their batteries. But for E.V. drivers in the Bay Area, that is plenty of capacity, for now.

As it makes preparations to accommodate E.V.-driving travelers, Oakland Airport officials will formally inaugurate 15 charging stations next week.

“We’re definitely trendsetters in terms of providing these for our customers,” said Rosemary Barnes, a spokeswoman for the airport. “E.V.’s are coming on line more here than in other parts of the country,” she said.

N.Y. Times: Wheelies: The Pipeline Edition
By New York Times Staff

Toyota, in collaboration with Shell and the Energy Department, inaugurated a hydrogen filling station in Torrance, Calif., this week, which is fed directly by an industrial pipeline. Automakers including Mercedes-Benz, Kia, Honda and General Motors have leased hydrogen vehicles to drivers near the station. For now, lessees can fill up there for free.
On Thursday, Volkswagen announced it had signed a letter of intent with the city of Hamburg, Germany, to start a car-sharing program this fall. The fleet would be comprised of the brand’s BlueMotion turbodiesel cars, with 200 Golf models expected to inaugurate the program. VW Group representatives said that the redesigned Beetle could also join the fleet, which will be spread across 50 pick-up locations throughout the city at introduction.

N.Y. Times: With Financing in Flux, Saab’s First E.V. Program Awaits Its Fate

Saab’s partnership with the Chinese manufacturer Hawtai Motor Group, announced on May 3, would have brought 120 million euros ($171 million) to the ailing Swedish automaker. The deal, however, fell apart, leaving Saab’s future as murky as it was when it first halted vehicle production more than a month ago. Also left in flux is Saab’s ePower electric vehicle program.

The transatlantic partnership paired Saab with Boston-Power, a Massachusetts-based battery developer that supplies the Asian market for electric scooters and bicycles, as well as the computer industry. In a bit of incidental symmetry, Boston-Power is headed by a Swedish woman, Christina Lampe-Onnerud.

“Saab’s financial situation hasn’t affected the electric car program at all,” said Dr. Lampe-Onnerud in a telephone interview conducted before the Hawtai deal dissolved. “Both companies are determined to bring a really great E.V., with high-performance batteries to the market, as soon as possible.” Through a spokeswoman, she declined to comment on the collapse of the Hawtai partnership.

N.Y. Times: From the Cloud, Google Pulls Down an Energy Saver

Engineers have long been trying to adapt the automobile to drivers’ preferences. In partnership with Google, Ford is hoping to create cars that could receive data in real time and predict driver behavior and probable destinations. Such information could then be applied to improve fuel economy and reduce emissions.

The tool is called Google Prediction API, and in optimized form, it can help enable a Ford of the future to ask questions of the car’s drivers based on routes regularly traveled, time of day and current location. Picture a voice inquiring, “Good morning, are you going to work?” If you reply in the affirmative, it may then say, “Your vehicle performance has been optimized for your trip.”

The system as currently imagined would interact best with a plug-in hybrid like the prototype Ford Escape that Ryan McGee, a Ford technical expert, said his team was developing. Early research is being shown off at the Google I/O conference in San Francisco this week.

N.Y. Times: Amp Delivers Its First Electric Mercedes-Benz ML Conversion

As Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla Motors, learned during filming of "Revenge of the Electric Car," developing an E.V. from the ground up is a prohibitively expensive exercise. Amp Electric Vehicles, an Ohio company that removes the guts of internal-combustion passenger cars and replaces them with electric powertrains, says it has a more viable way to get E.V.’s on the road, even if those roads are almost an ocean away.
On Wednesday morning at its showroom and production complex in Cincinnati, Amp executives handed over the keys of an electric Mercedes-Benz ML 350 to the company’s newest and biggest client, Gisli Gislason, the chairman and chief executive of Northern Lights Energy, a utility in Iceland. The luxury S.U.V. is the first vehicle to be produced in a five-year contract between the two companies, during which Amp expects to ship 1,000 E.V.’s to the island nation.

N.Y. Times: Robert Stempel, a Voice for Alternative-Energy Sources, Dies at 77

Robert C. Stempel, the former General Motors chairman and chief executive who died on Saturday at 77, spent a turbulent two years atop the country’s largest automaker, during which he cut jobs and closed plants to minimize company losses. However, for every automaker that deepens its experimentation in alternative-energy sources, Mr. Stempel’s legacy as an auto-industry seer is bolstered.

Mr. Stempel was an early advocate of alternative energy within G.M. and championed the EV1 electric-vehicle program. The G.M. board, however, lost confidence in his leadership before the EV1 was ready for production, and Mr. Stempel, who was also experiencing health problems, resigned in October 1992.
But while sourcing batteries for the proposed EV1, Mr. Stempel befriended Stanford Ovshinsky, the noted scientist credited with the invention of nickel-metal hydride batteries, thin-film solar panels and a long list of other technologies.

Economy and Society

N.Y. Times: Chrysler Exports "Imported From Detroit" to New York

After viewing Chrysler's two-minute Super Bowl XLV advertisement, during which the rapper Eminem emerged not from the all-new Chrysler 300, but from a 200 sedan, some Monday-morning quarterbacks felt that the brand missed an opportunity to showcase a superior product, one deserving of the spot's emotional impact.
Well, it is now time for the 300's "Imported From Detroit" turn. Following a spot in which Ndamukong Suh, the Detriot Lions defensive tackle, drives a 300 home to Portland, Or., to visit his mother, Chrysler's new flagship, which was reviewed recently in the Automobiles section, faces the most feckless, image-conscious gridiron of them all: Manhattan.

Mother Nature Network: Alton Brown ends 'Good Eats'
The cooking show host and author announced on Twitter that he's ending the show after 249 episodes.
By Robin Shreeves

According to Serious Eats, Brown made an announcement today on Twitter that "Good Eats has come to its end."

G.E. fans, I've decided to cut the half hour series at 249 eps. There will be 3 new 1 hour eps this year and that's it. But mourn not. New things brew on the horizon..."good" things.
"Good Eats" has been part of Food Network's lineup since 1999, and in my opinion it's one of the best shows that has ever run on the network. He explains the science behind what he does in the kitchen in an entertaining and approachable way. When he did a show on chocolate chip cookies, for instance, he didn't simply show viewers how to bake one recipe. He explained how different amounts of sugar in a recipe can create a cake-like cookie, a moist cookie, or a flat, crispy cookie.
Ironically, Alton Brown just won the James Beard Foundation Award for Best TV Food Personality/Host.

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