Solar Power of the People, by the People and for the People

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Tired of playing the stock market? Wish you were in a position to invest in things that really matter, instead of just another bloated corporation? That alternative may finally be here.

Mosaic first made waves a few years ago with a platform to help communities crowdfund their own renewable energy projects. The idea, which we reported on here, was a solid one. The only problem was a limited number of projects and the fact that contributors didn’t see any return on their investment, besides a sense of community and personal satisfaction. It was kind of like when you donate to a Kickstarter campaign and just get a thank you note in return.

Just last week, the company made headlines again. This time, Mosaic announced that they were taking their crowdfunding investment scheme public. Anyone living in New York or California, or “accredited investors” living in other states, is invited to contribute what money they can, just like a typical crowdfunding campaign. The difference is, every cent contributed will be used to construct large scale solar projects across the nation, and the revenues are used to pay investors a handsome rate of interest.

“We see a massive transition coming from fossil fuels to clean energy, and we think people should be able to profit from that transition,” said Billy Parish, Mosaic’s President. “Mosaic is creating the architecture for mass participation in the clean energy economy.”

It’s hard to disagree with him. Why should venture capitalists and energy companies be the only ones to benefit from the efficiencies of solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy? Also, why should we wait for them to decide it’s time to invest? Solar Mosaic’s public investment program puts the power to move forward on commercial scale solar into the hands of ordinary people like you and me.

The new online platform for investors opened on January 7th. Within 24 hours the first four projects were completely sold out, i.e. funded. Can you imagine getting funding from a bank or private investor that quickly? Over 400 investors took advantage of the opportunity, putting in between $25 and $30,000. In total, investors put in over $313,000 with an average investment of nearly $700. Unfortunately, I’m not a resident of the two qualifying states. If I were, it’d be no problem to scrape together $25 to help build a solar farm. And if I kept reinvesting it, that $25 could grow into much more with out a lot of effort on my part.

Mosaic’s first investment offerings for New York and California residents are in solar projects on affordable housing apartments for low-income residents in California and offer a 4.5 percent annual return, net of servicing fees, with terms of approximately nine years. With 10 year Treasuries at near historic lows, Mosaic’s expected yields are competitive with the best investment products on the market. And there’s no scary investment firm or high priced broker involved. It’s just you, your laptop and a few easy clicks.



3 Victories in Fighting the Illegal Wildlife Trade

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Illegal trade in wildlife is a billion-dollar black market costing the world untold losses as animals, many from endangered and/or threatened species, are hunted and killed. Tigers are hunted for their genitals and rhinoceroses for their horns for use in traditional Asian medicine; rare monkeys, bears, parrots and many other valuable and beautiful creatures are captured, drugged and smuggled around the world. Conservation organizations have sought to work with governments to increase law enforcement and criminal penalties for poaching wildlife but to say progress is slow is an understatement.

Certainly it is depressing, and can leave us with a sense of hopelessness, to hear one account after another about endangered wildlife cruelly killed. But three recent reports show that, while it is certainly an uphill battle, the fight to preserve wildlife is resulting in some small victories.

1) A narwhal tusk smuggling ring is busted in Maine.

Two Americans have been charged with smuggling narwhal tusks from the Canadian Arctic into Maine in what seems to be a “decades-long racket,” says the Smithsonian. Two Canadians have apparently been smuggling the tusks (which are actually an enlarged canine tooth found only in male narwhals) to two Americans, Andrew Zarauskas and Jay Conrad, who have allegedly sent some 150 narwhal tusks off via FedEx. Zarauskas and Conrad are to be arraigned this week.

While it not illegal to hunt narwhals in Canada (which lists them as “near-threatened”), it is against the law to ship their tusks to the U.S. and sell them.

Narwhals dwell “in the cracks of dense pack ice for much of the year,” says the Smithsonian. They are difficult for researchers to track and study as they hurry quickly away from motorboats and helicopters. All the more reason, says Grist, that it is “sort of infuriating that horn-smugglers managed to catch them when legitimate scientists can’t.”

2. Hong Kong makes the third mass seizure of ivory in three months.

At then end of last week, Hong Kong officials seized a $1.4 million cache of ivory. Authorities discovered 779 pieces of ivory weighing a total of 2,916 pounds in a shipping container that had passed through Malaysia after leaving Kenya. It’s a supply chain that has become all too common as the seemingly insatiable demand for ivory in China and Thailand (for sculptures and adornments) has led to the poaching of elephants at record levels including the recent killing of an entire family of eleven elephants in Kenya.

Hong Kong police have not yet arrested anyone after forty sacks of ivory were found inside five wooden crates in a container that was said to be carrying architectural stones.

A single pound of ivory can fetch prices of $1,000. In both October and November of last year, a total of three illegal shipments of ivory totaling in the millions were seized in Hong Kong.

3) Thousands of shark fins found drying on an industrial building roof in Hong Kong.

Gary Stokes, the coordinator for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in Hong Kong and a photographer, was recently able to take photographs of thousands and thousands of shark fins drying on the roof of an industrial building in Hong Kong over the course of three days. You can see more photos via Stokes’s blog, a truly sickening sight when you think about how many sharks were bloodoed and killed for their fins.

Soup made with shark fins is a traditional delicacy in Chinese cuisine and has been much in demand as the country’s middle class has grown. Serving bowls of shark fin soup at weddings and other events is a status symbol, though one that has fallen increasingly out of favor in Hong Kong and certainly among those of Chinese descent in the U.S.

Indeed, China itself announced last year that shark fin soup would no longer be served at state banquets. But this remains a window-dressing move so long as the Chinese and Hong Kong governments shy away from implementing aggressive policies to stop the eating, hunting and selling of shark fins.

It is probably too much to ask. But let’s work in this new year so that conservation effort victories can not only be about seizing animal parts bound for the black market but about saving the animals themselves.

Only 86 of These Orcas Still Exist, But They Don’t Deserve Our Protection

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Only 86 of These Orcas Still Exist, But They Dont Deserve Our Protection

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will be reviewing a petition from the California-based Pacific Legal Foundation seeking to remove a group of orca whales from the endangered species list.

The petition, which was filed on behalf of two California farms — the Empresa de Bosque and Coburn Ranch — and the Center for Environmental Science Accuracy, argues that this group of whales does not need to be protected because they’re part of a larger population. The groups contend that because the population is technically a subspecies, it is illegal for them to be listed.

The real problem the petitioners have is that protecting these whales means protecting their habitat and the fish they eat, which has led to cutbacks in irrigation, which they claim has caused problems getting loans and an inability to expand their businesses.

The orcas in question, known as the southern resident killer whales, include three distinct pods who live in Puget Sound, the Strait of Georgia and the Strait of Juan de Fuca during the summer months and migrate to the open ocean in the winter. Their route includes traveling through the San Francisco Bay area where they feed on Chinook salmon.

NOAA initially decided that the southern resident whales in the J, K and L pods were not a distinct population, but their findings were overruled by a U.S. District Court judge in 2003 and further study led to the conclusion that they are a distinct population. They were subsequently listed in 2005, reports the Seattle Times.

As a result of the findings, a recovery plan was developed and they were given 2,560 square miles of Puget Sound as critical habitat. As of now, there are only an estimated 86 living in the wild, down from 89 in 2006.

“Nothing has changed in the science to show that orcas are faring any better or are somehow suddenly undeserving of endangered species protections. Although the agency’s decision to consider the delisting petition is unfortunate, the species’ status is unlikely to change as a result of the agency’s review, and these irreplaceable killer whales will almost certainly keep their protections,”  said Sarah Uhlemann, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Further study conducted by NOAA in 2009 found that water projects in California threatened endangered species and the salmon that the orcas rely on which led to more water restrictions the groups are complaining about.

“If there was ever a poster child for this type of subspecies, it’s the killer whales,” he said. “It’s not just their genetics, it’s culture. These clearly are the tribes of the sea, and if you extirpate that population not only do you lose the genetic code, you lose a unique brain trust,” Fred Felleman, an advocate for the original listing, told the Seattle Times.

According to NOAA, accepting the petition doesn’t necessarily mean that they will propose delisting. The agency will be reviewing information and has a year to make a decision.

TAKE ACTION!

Please sign the petition asking NOAA to protect Puget Sound’s orcas.

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Global tourism is a massive industry. But while it can bring enormous benefits to communities, people and animals, it can do great harm when it comes at the expense of wildlife and the environment.

IFAW promotes responsible tourism, but travellers themselves make the…

Green Gift Guide 2012

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Oh the perfect gift! It’s easy to find right? (Insert record screech here). Well no, not exactly. So let us do that job for you. For several months, we’ve scoured the interweb for our 2012 holiday gift guide with one major goal: These gifts won’t earn that shaky turned up corner of the mouth, polite cough, and long drawn out, “oh, ah, um, thanks…” Translation: This sweater that looks mauled by a dog is heading right to an already overflowing landfill.

So whether your shopping for the hard-to-please boyfriend (enter cuff links made from recycled skate boards), the mother-in-law with a passion for cooking (a DIY micro greens kit or an award-winning bottle of organic olive oil), Fluffy the cat (watch him curl up in a recycled iMac), the design junkie (the perfect home office chair or a gorgeous wall-mounted terrarium), and just about everyone else on your list, the search stops here.

Here at TreeHugger, we think a lot about living with less, for more happiness — a principal that really gets tested around the holidays. All of these gifts — over 100 in 10 categories — are carefully curated for thoughtfulness, usefulness, durability, and longevity. Many don’t take up space at all (saving adorable lion cubs on a volunteer trip).

And need we mention — we are TreeHugger after all — all have minimum impact on our earth. Now that’s the gift that keeps on giving. — Produced by Mairi Beautyman

Don’t forget to check back for more green gift guides as we approach Christmas!

California’s New Cap-and-Trade Emissions Trading Program is Second Largest in World

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California’s cap-and-trade program, six years in the making, starts today, with auctions for permits to pollute starting this morning and the results announced next Monday.

The basic details are as follows:

It’s the second largest carbon trading program in the world, after the EU’s—which probably isn’t surprising to learn if you remember that California’s economy is alone in the world’s top 10.

The auction part isn’t to see who wants the right to pollute more next year—nearly all of the pollution allowances in the program for 2013 have already been given to utilities and industry in the state—rather the auction is to determine what price the market will bear for the carbon.

Auctions will be held four times a year through 2020, with the total amount of carbon pollution allowed to be emitted declining over time—and as such, should drive up the cost of polluting, thereby encouraging industry and utilities to choose non-carbon emitting ways of doing business.

The money from the auctions will go towards state-level investments (though the details of that are TBD), with 25% of proceeds used in ways that target disadvantaged communities.

Right now only large polluters are included in the program, but that will expand in years to come.

One looming question: Will the California program be able to avoid the price volatility that has plagued the EU experience with carbon trading? There’s a price floor of $10/ton established, intended to ensure that even when prices fluctuate polluting is still more expensive than not polluting.

Help Leonardo DiCaprio and protect Antarctic marine habitat

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Leonardo DiCaprio is pushing for the creation of a marine sanctuary in the Antarctic Ocean and needs your signature. Take a minute and help out.

Please take a moment to click over and sign a petition on Avaaz.org asking that a portion of the Antarctic Ocean be turned into what would be the world’s largest marine sanctuary. Antarctica is governed by the Convention for Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (also known as CCAMLR), a unique organization made up of 50 nations that have agreed on a 14-article treaty laying out how things are run on the world’s only continent without permanent human population.
 
The petition on Avaaz.org asks that CCAMLR designate a large swath of the Antarctic Ocean as a protected marine sanctuary. These waters are the feeding, breeding, and living grounds of innumerable species of fish, whales, penguins, and other marine animals and they need to be protected.
 
There are more than a million signatures right now with a goal of 1,250,000. Please take the time and help get one signature closer.
 
Thanks!
 
And thanks to MNN editor-at-large Karl Burkart for tipping me off on this one.
 
You can find Leonardo DiCaprio on Twitter and read more about the battle for the world’s oceans here on MNN.
 

Antarctic seas in the balance

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Rich in fish, minerals and scientific potential, the seas around Antarctica are among the planet’s most pristine waters — but fishing vessels are already moving in. Next week, negotiators at a meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR, pronounced ‘cam-lar’) may try to contain the accelerating rush to access the region’s natural resources. At stake is one of the planet’s last great wildernesses — as well as the credibility of the international body set up to protect Antarctica’s marine life.

CCAMLR will consider four proposals to create vast marine protected areas (MPAs) that would tightly restrict fishing activities in the region. But protection will require unanimous agreement by CCAMLR’s members (24 countries and the European Union), and some, including Japan and China, have a record of scepticism about any kind of Antarctic MPA. “This is a particularly important meeting,” says Alex Rogers, a conservation biologist at the University of Oxford, UK. “If the proposals were blocked, it would be a very serious situation, and it would set back the whole process probably by a decade or more.”

Only one large section of Antarctic waters is currently designated an MPA, a zone of about 94,000 square kilometres near the South Orkney Islands. The United States and New Zealand are now advancing two rival proposals to turn Antarctica’s Ross Sea, which is home to seals, whales, fish, penguins and other birds, into one of the world’s largest reserves (see ‘Polar protection’). Commercial fishing in the Ross Sea, especially for the lucrative Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni), has been a sore point for environmentalists (see Nature 467, 15; 2010). The US proposal would protect 1.8 million square kilometres, with 800,000 square kilometres totally off-limits to fishing and set aside as a ‘scientific reference area’ for studying the effects of climate change. New Zealand’s proposal would cover roughly 2.5 million square kilometres, with fishing allowed in some areas. The two countries had once hoped to bring a joint MPA proposal to the table, but could not reach agreement. The Antarctic Ocean Alliance, a coalition of environmental groups, has criticized both plans: New Zealand’s for compromising conservation in favour of allowing access for the country’s fishing fleets, and the United States’ for not covering enough ecologically valuable areas. Having two rival proposals for the same region could also stymie agreement and leave the Ross Sea without an MPA at all, the alliance warns.

Meanwhile, a UK-led effort is seeking protection for areas exposed by collapsing ice shelves around the Antarctic Peninsula. Newly exposed waters can quickly become populated with animals, making them highly attractive to fishing fleets, says Phil Trathan, head of conservation biology at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, UK, who helped to develop the proposal. Protecting these areas would allow researchers to study how the marine ecosystem changes after the ice collapses — something that is expected to happen more frequently as the planet warms. “We understand a lot of the physical issues related to climate change,” says Trathan. But “one of the really key issues is, what are the ecological consequences?”.

Australia has submitted the fourth proposal, which would create a network of reserves around eastern Antarctica. “All four are very scientifically sound,” says Andrew Wright, executive secretary of CCAMLR, based in North Hobart, Australia. But success is far from assured: “It has come down to a political decision now,” says Susie Grant, a conservation scientist at the British Antarctic Survey.

If the proposals do not gain consensus by the end of the annual meeting on 1 November, they could in principle be considered at next year’s meeting. But the need for all members to agree means that rejection would effectively kill these and any similar plans until there is a major shift in political ideology. Without an agreement this year, says Grant, “CCAMLR will have to consider very carefully what that means for the commitments it has made to conservation”.

Australia Okays Hunting of the Great White Shark

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Australia Okays Hunting of the Great White Shark

Great white sharks are an endangered and protected species.

So why is the Western Australian government planning to hunt and kill them?

On September 27, Western Australia state premier Colin Barnett announced a new “shark mitigation plan to protect beach goers.” There have been 12 shark fatalities in the region over the past century; five of these happened this year and have prompted the government to take action. As Barnett said to reporters, “We will always put the lives and safety of beachgoers ahead of the shark. This is, after all, a fish — let’s keep it in perspective.”

The government’s plan provides $6.85 million in funding for the tracking, catching and “if necessary, destroy[ing of] sharks identified in close proximity to beachgoers, including setting drum lines if a danger is posed.” Additional funds are to provide for a trial shark enclosure, a research fund, a shark tagging program that would involve real-time GPS tracking, more jet skis for rescuers and more helicopter patrols of beaches.

Why the Big Change in Policy About Great White Sharks?

For the past ten years, great white sharks have been protected in Australia so the new plan is, in the words of the Guardian, a “sharp reversal.” Under the current policy, sharks can only be killed if they have already attacked someone. Killing them is legal despite their protected status due to an exemption in Australia’s federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act; sharks can be killed “if a human life is in danger,” says Perth Now.

Conservationists are up in arms about Australia’s new policy. Indeed Sam McCombie, whose sharkalarm.com.au website reports shark sightings, tells Perth Now that the new policy could even lead to more people being killed. Noting that “many people love and respect the Great White shark,” McCombie argues that “these may not report a shark they spot because they fear it will get hunted down and killed” with the result that there could be even more unreported sharks near the shore than ever. Tagging, he says, is a preferable option to prevent attacks and Australia should devote more resources to this.

In the Guardian, the Conservation Council of Western Australia praised the government’s new policy for devoting funds to research and more patrols, but sharply criticized the plan to kill sharks. The council’s marine coordinator Tim Nicol stated that

“We are concerned that plans to kill sharks that approach beaches applies a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ approach to sharks and is a knee-jerk reaction to public concern that will harm the environment without protecting swimmers.”

Indeed, killing sharks could have a host of unintended consequence, including upsetting the balance of the marine ecosystem in which sharks were at the top of the food chain until, that is, humans came around.

The Australian government’s new policy to hunt and kill sharks is a short-term plan that could have long-term consequences for, yes, an endangered species and for the wildlife in our oceans.

Top 10 Most Important Items To Recycle

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Top 10 Most Important Items To Recycle

Get to know the Top 10!

Recycling is one of the most important things we can do to preserve our planet. On a daily basis, more than 100 million Americans participate in recycling used and old materials in their household and offices.

Are you one of them? Or are you trying to sort which items you can recycle and which ones belong in the compost or the garbage?

To help you out, the National Recycling Coalition has put together a list the top ten most important items to recycle.

#1: Aluminum. This is because aluminum cans are 100 percent recyclable and can also be recycled over and over again. Even better, turning recycled cans into new cans takes 95 percent less energy than making brand-new ones. So how about starting with all those soda and juice cans?

#2: PET Plastic Bottles. Americans will buy about 25 billion single-serving bottles of water this year, according to the Container Recycling Institute. Worse yet, nearly 80 percent of those bottles will end up in a landfill. Let’s put a stop to that. Making plastic out of recycled resources uses about two-thirds less energy than making new plastic. And because plastic bottles, more than any other type of plastic, are the most commonly used type, they are usually the easiest to recycle.

#3: Newspaper. This is a pretty obvious one, right? It seems like a no-brainer to set up a recycling bin next to your garbage can for newspaper and any other scrap paper. So why should we recycle paper? According to the Environmental Protection Agency, paper makes up about one-third of the all the municipal waste stream in the U.S. That’s a whole lot of paper, and since we know that recycling all that paper conserves resources, saves energy, and doesn’t clog up the landfills, there’s no reason not to do it.

Once you have those in place, let’s move on to the rest of our list.

#4: Corrugated Cardboard. Old corrugated cardboard (OCC) represents a significant percentage of the commercial solid waste stream. In 1996, the U.S. generated 29 million tons of OCC, or 13.8% of our municipal waste stream. Approximately 90% of that comes from the commercial or non-residential sector, the places where we work. So next time UPS delivers a big box to your office, be sure to break it down and recycle it. (After you’ve emptied it, of course.)

#5: Steel cans. Just like aluminum, steel products can be recycled over again without compromising the quality of the steel. We’re talking about steel cans, but maybe you have some steel auto parts or appliances ready for recycling too? More than 80 million tons of steel are recycled each year in North America, and recycling steel saves the equivalent energy to power 18 million households a year. You can learn more about steel recycling by visiting the Steel Recycling Institute website.

#6: HDPE plastic bottles (HDPE stands for high-density polyethylene, a common and more dense plastic, which is used for detergents, bleach, shampoo, milk jugs.) HDPE plastics are identified by the logo on the bottom of the container. (Three arrows in the shape of a triangle.) Check the number inside that logo: numbers 1 and 2 are recyclable almost everywhere, but 3 through 7 are only recyclable in limited areas. And don’t forget to rinse and clean all of your HDPE containers in the sink. Any remaining dirt or food particles can contaminate the recycling process.

#7: Glass containers. Recycled glass saves 50 percent energy versus virgin glass, and recycling just one glass container saves enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for four hours. Recycled glass generates 20 percent less air pollution and 50 percent less water pollution, and one ton of glass made from 50 percent recycled materials saves 250 pounds of mining waste. Wow!

#8: Magazines and #9: Mixed paper. There are so many reasons to recycle all kinds of paper that it makes no sense not to. First, recycled paper saves 60 percent of energy versus virgin paper, and also generates 95 percent less air pollution. Recycling one ton of paper saves 17 trees and 7,000 gallons of water. Sadly, though, every year Americans throw away enough paper to make a 12-foot wall from New York to California. Let’s work on changing that!

#10: Computers. Computers can be recycled in a couple of ways, depending on the state of the machine. Giving old, working computers to friends and family members or donating them to nonprofit organizations not only keeps the computer entirely out of the waste stream, but it presents computer access to someone who might not otherwise be able to afford it. Non-working computers can be sent to recycling centers where they are dismantled and valuable components are recovered.

Of course, there’s also reducing and reusing, and if you choose those, you will have even less to recycle!