Call it the Panda, Inc. phenomenon: Threatened species attract attention, but not in direct proportion to the threat they face. The World Wildlife Fund didn't choose the panda over the Hispaniolan solenodon for its logo by way of scientific method. Pandas are big business, because everyone loves the cuddly black-and-white furballs. Just ask the China National Tourist Office, and closer to home for me, the National Zoo in Washington, DC.
For those of us concerned with biodiversity—which should be everyone, given the stark implications of a worldwide ecosystem collapse—this presents a problem. How can we attract scarce dollars and attention to lower-profile animals like, say, the cave snail, who may not be cute, but is a key player in the global food chain? Here are my top four suggestions:
Rich folks who feel guilty about all the resources being sucked up by their excess will soon have a respite. An exclusive hotel being built in on the East African island of Zanzibar by luxury resort company Per Aquum plans to be the world's first "zero-carbon" 5-star resort. London's Observer explains a few of the enviro-tricks planned, including (perhaps optimistically) harnessing energy from equipment in the hotel gym for electrical power:
The infinity pool in front of each villa will use water that has been naturally filtered by reeds in an adjoining pool.
To create natural air-conditioning, the villa walls will be shaped to draw the sea breeze into the bedroom, after being cooled by passing over the pool. Cold water pipes will run through the inside of the bed to cool it, and each villa's water supply - from rainwater and desalinated seawater - will be stored in its own tank. Hot water comes from pipes which run beneath the solar panels on the roof, and so are naturally warmed. Waste water will be reed filtered and recycled.
The resort will be built from local earth, renewable timber and reclaimed stone; the 100 staff will be given bicycles, and electric cars will transport guests to and from the airport.
Luxury has not been sacrificed to environmental goals.... There will be a spa, a large swimming pool and a solar-powered restaurant, which will use food from its own farm and put waste into a biomass generator to produce energy. When guests use the gym's machines, the energy they produce will feed back into the electricity supply, and any surplus will be sold to the national grid.
Sounds like guilt-free luxury. Just try to ignore the poverty on the nearby continent.
Despite ambitious schemes from Beijing, most of China continues to sink into an environmental abyss. "2006 has been the most grim year for China's environmental situation," laments Pan Yue, a vice minister at China's state environmental agency.
More interesting, however, is the fact that Pan and other ministers are speaking up at all. Initiatives from the central government in China often produce claims of rousing success, regardless of the actual results on the ground. Senior official from President Hu Jintao on down have been making noise about halting environmental degradation for some time, but they have been unable to bring along the provincial and business leaders that could actually do something about the problem. Local bigwigs in China have far more power than is usually understood, and they know they're judged by their success in fostering economic growth and jobs, not by the number of environmental clean-ups and tree-plantings they organize.
Now, however, criticisms of the environmental costs of that approach are appearing in Communist Party newspapers, online discussion posts, and statements by senior leaders like Pan Yue. That the conflict is spilling into the public domain suggests that China has become so environmentally degraded that top Party officials see a threat to their twin obsessions: growth and stability. But it won't be until you can really get ahead in the Communist Party by going green that the central leadership will be able to do much more than complain.
Last week, the Economonitor noted that the European market for CO2 emissions had gone from a high of €31 per tonne in April to just €4.75. These prices are for the emissions trading scheme that allows countries and firms to trade their carbon emission allowances on the free market. Firms will invest to reduce their emissions, the theory goes, not only to avoid penalties for exceeding their allowance, but also to sell credits to others who can't easily afford a reduction. Similar cap and trade schemes have worked brilliantly elsewhere.
So, what's with the price plunge? A glut of credits on the market. Too many credits were allocated when the scheme began in 2005, so countries and firms are easily meeting their allowances with the credits available. Hence they have little need to buy extra credits on the open market, and the price keeps falling. Firms thus can't profit by lowering their emissions, either. With European countries already objecting to plans to cut credits in the next phase of trading slated to begin in 2008, the system looks unlikely to be the silver bullet it was intended to be.
That's why the EU's latest announcement calling for an "industrial revolution" to cut greenhouse gases should be viewed with extreme skepticism. If they can't get the economics right, the reductions in emissions won't follow.
Thousands of Hindu holy men are threatening to boycott the Hindu festival of Purna Kumbh Mela on the grounds that the Ganges, India's holiest river, is too polluted to wash away the sins of the millions of pilgrims who visit during the celebration. The seven-week festival is expected to draw 70 million people to the banks of the Ganges. Indian government officials, under pressure from the holy men, are offering to pump in fresh water.
Humans are often at the mercy of Mother Nature, but, in some cases, we may be unfairly shifting the blame. Christian D. Klose, a researcher at Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory has identified more than 200 earthquakes, most in the last 60 years, that were caused by humans.
Most of the man-made quakes Klose tagged were triggered by coal mining, the construction of reservoirs, and drilling for oil and gas. These aren't tiny tremors, either. The biggest quake in Australia's history - causing 13 deaths and $3.5 billion in damage - was triggered by mining. And a trio of man-made quakes rocked an Uzbekistan gas field in the late 1970s and early 1980s, one of which clocked in at 7.3 on the Richter scale.
What's shocking about Klose's list of quakes is their size. Previously, most quakes attributed to human factors had been relatively small tremors. But these bigger quakes can be especially dangerous because they may occur in inactive areas where people aren't prepared for them. Perhaps everyone should be learning the earthquake drill in grade school.
Even if you missed the WSJ's take this week about the announcement that the big fuzzy white predators will be classified as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act, you can probably guess they weren't so enthusiastic. They borrowed the global warming camp's classic charge that politics wrongly trumps science in the American debate, citing a growing polar bear population over the last few decades as evidence that the threat to the "majestic" carnivore isn't real. It's all political manipulation, they cried, and it could lead us down the dangerous road to (gasp!) federally mandated reductions in greenhouse gases.
It's interesting that the WSJ took such umbrage at the possibility that a species could be considered "threatened" based on future projections of the quality (or existence) of its habitat. We're already seeing evidence that the bears' polar habitat is retreating and breaking up. To back up its claim that the bears are better off than ever, the WSJ notes that some Canadians consider the bears overabundant, a fact the rest of us may "have difficulty grasping." But that sense of overabundance likely stems from the fact that bears are pushing into areas populated by humans in order to forage for food because the ice shelves on which they hunt are rapidly retreating.
I asked Bill Stanley, director of the Global Climate Change Initiative at the Nature Conservancy, if he had any reaction to the WSJ's argument. He had this to say:
There are generally numerous threats to species, some are more immediate and some are more chronic or farther off into the future. Even though some populations may be bouncing back now because of reduction or removal of some immediate threats, the looming threat of climate change is likely to undermine much of that progress.
This debate shouldn't just be about the size of the polar bear population. They're not the only wildlife that will be put at risk by warming temperatures. According to peer-reviewed scientific studies, fully one-fourth of Earth's species may be headed for extinction by 2050 if the emissions and associated warming continues at its current rate. Wouldn't our time and efforts be better spent debating how best to protect them -and us - from the the disastrous consequences of climate change?
In perhaps its most ambitious undertaking since James IV launched the Scottish Royal Navy in the early 1500s, Scotland plans to generate 40 percent of its total energy from renewable sources by 2020, more than double its current percentage.
Scotland already leads the United Kingdom in green power, which, despite a lot of Kyoto-related hot air from Tony Blair, only gets 4 percent of its total energy from renewables as a whole. And Scotland will soon boast the largest wind farm in the U.K., when construction finishes on a massive £300m project south of Glasgow.
But there are many hurdles ahead for the wind business in Scotland: complaints from farmers, rural residents, and the tourist industry about sullied vistas, confusing and ever-changing regulatory requirements, long waits for project approvals, and so on.
For now, it's a good time to be a Scottish wind energy entrepreneur.
Is China getting serious about the environment, albeit out of concern for its continued economic growth? Seed magazine (via AFP) picks up two telling stories: First, China has just released its first official report on global climate change. The report concludes that greenhouse gases from human activity are leading to climate change, and that economic growth could be hindered if global warming continued. The report warns that temperatures could rise in the Middle Kingdom by 1.3-2.1 degrees Celsius by 2020, and by as many as 6 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Given that 2006 was China's hottest year in half a century and thousands died from widespread droughts, the new report no doubt reflects a concerned Beijing.
The government may also be cracking down on false reporting of pollution data. Chinese state media reported last week that although regional governments reported meeting pollution-reduction targets, the country's top environmental watchdog says pollution as increasing.
The figures on pollution control reported by local governments dropped remarkably this year, while the real environmental situation continues to deteriorate," said the unnamed official with the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA).
"The inaccurate figures were caused by insufficient supervision of the local governments and possible fabrication."
Neither story means China is going full-on green anytime soon, but the environment may finally be on the radar. On Monday, the Chinese government announced that it will "preferentially purchase environmentally-friendly products." Whatever that means, it's a start.
Russia may have scored a gas victory over Belarus a few minutes to midnight on New Year's Eve, but its use of similar blackmail tactics in getting its hands on the huge Sakhalin-II gas project in eastern Russia is earning the country a financial slap on the wrist. In mid-December, Russia strong-armed Shell into selling its majority stake in Sakhalin, where two major fields under development are estimated to hold more than 1 billion barrels of crude and 500 billion cubic meters of natural gas, to Gazprom, the state-owned energy giant.
But Russia's fondness for re-nationalization means the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development will likely reject a $300 million loan to the Sakhalin project. From the FT:
[F]ormally walking away from the largest energy project in Russia would be considered a snub to the Kremlin and its policy of taking control over private sector assets.
Still, the FT admits that the loan would have been of mostly "symbolic" value given that much of the development on the project is already complete. So it's not a complete loss for the Russians, even if it is bad for business.
The biggest losers? Environmentalists, who relied on the bank to keep standards on the project in check. Russia cynically played the environmental card when it wanted Shell to hand over its controlling interest last year, threatening the company with a shut-down over alleged environmental damage, which the government had previously ignored. Now, as the Russian saying goes, the goats are guarding the cabbage.
Rising seas, caused by global warming, have for the first time washed an inhabited island off the face of the Earth. The obliteration of Lohachara island, in India's part of the Sundarbans where the Ganges and the Brahmaputra rivers empty into the Bay of Bengal, marks the moment when one of the most apocalyptic predictions of environmentalists and climate scientists has started coming true. [...]
Eight years ago, as exclusively reported in The Independent on Sunday, the first uninhabited islands - in the Pacific atoll nation of Kiribati - vanished beneath the waves. The people of low-lying islands in Vanuatu, also in the Pacific, have been evacuated as a precaution, but the land still juts above the sea. The disappearance of Lohachara, once home to 10,000 people, is unprecedented.
I don’t understand global warming and peak oil skeptics. What is their incentive to disprove global warming? Warming alarmists feel that they’re protecting the future of the planet—a pretty good incentive. But the skeptics don’t really get much payoff, unless they're energy majors, besides the opportunity to make fun of Al Gore. And yet people like Michael Crichton still get more press than Tyrell Owens on Monday Sportscenter.
If I were a scientist, and I knew that global warming and the oil crisis were only flukes, I’d keep my mouth shut. Why? Because there is money to be made when you know something to be true that no one else believes. Here’s my three step plan for getting wealthy fast, if you think that global warming is a hoax.
If global warming and peak oil are not true, but thought to be true:
|World's reaction||->||Financial Opportunity|
|1. Energy prices skyrocket as the world assumes the supply is dwindling||->||Buy oil stock and a make a fortune until the oil runs out. Which according to you, is never.|
|2. Coastal real estate prices drop out of fear that the oceans will soon rise and flood low-lying land||->||First buy up as much arid, high-altitude land as you can afford. Then, sell it at a premium to the throngs evacuating the coasts, convinced that their property is about to get swamped. Then grab that ocean-front villa you’ve always wanted at a government auction for abandoned property.|
|3. Costs of large, inefficient technologies drop as public clamours for eco-friendly products||->||Buy that big luxury SUV for $19,000 and no money down. Pick up a 72” diesel yacht on Ebay for just a little bit more.|
But above all, never reveal the secret that global warming is just a hoax, invented by Al Gore.
While nobody's happy about rising sea levels and temperatures in hotter parts of the world, the warming of the Arctic is a different story. The melting of the sea ice during the summer months has at last made the dream of 15th-century explorers—the Northwest Passage—a reality. The new Arctic passage will dramatically reduce shipping times. But as The Economist points out, the shipping industry is not the only one that will benefit from climate change:
The biggest beneficiary is likely to be Russia itself, which encircles almost half the Arctic Ocean. Currently uninhabitable areas will become more hospitable; currently inaccessible energy resources will become more exploitable.
According to the United States Geological Service, about one-quarter of the world’s undiscovered energy reserves may be in the Arctic. [...]
Russia has claimed half the Arctic Ocean, including the North Pole, as its territory. It submitted the claim under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, but had it rejected. The convention decrees that who owns what is determined partly by the extent of a country’s continental shelf, and Russia did not have enough geological data to back up its claim. Russia is now mapping energetically, as are America, Canada, Denmark and Norway, which also border the Arctic Ocean.
Ironically, major oil producers who have invested thousands of dollars promoting "research" suggesting that global warming is a hoax are also beneficiaries of melting Arctic ice. They may find, however, that the Arctic's treasures aren't quite as rich as originally thought.
For ExxonMobil, the world is rapidly changing, but somehow their business will stay exactly the same. What follows are facts gleaned from ExxonMobil’s The Outlook for Energy, A view to 2030 (PDF)
(Hat tip: Energybulletin.net)
A team of scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research has developed this animated scenario of diminishing Arctic summer ice through 2049. And guess what? If greenhouse gas emissions continue to build up at the current rate, it's likely that the Arctic won't have any summer ice at all in just a few decades. Check it out.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) warns that Asia's greenhouse gas emissions will triple over the next 25 years.
According to a report entitled Energy Efficiency and Climate Change: Considerations for On-Road Transport in Asia, carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles are set to rise 3.4 times for China and 5.8 times for India, primarily due to development and growing urban populations. According to the World Health Organization, this could led to "as many as 537,000 premature deaths each year, as well as a rise in cardiopulmonary and respiratory illnesses."
With the amount of growth and development taking place in Asia, the region will struggle to cope with air quality and climate change. Conferences such as the Better Air Quality Conference highlight the efforts that are taking place in toughening up on emissions, but Asian countries will need to translate talk into action. As Lew Fulton, a transport expert with the UN Environment Programme, explained to conferees, the challenge is immense:
We're not only seeing increases in pollutant emissions. We're seeing huge increases in fuel consumption which is coupled tightly with [carbon dioxide] emissions... It's costing cities and countries ever increasing amounts of foreign exchange with the high oil proces that we've got.
We love to see a guy who's pushing 7' 9" using his powers for good:
The world's tallest man has saved two dolphins by using his long arms to reach into their stomachs and pull out dangerous plastic shards.
Mongolian herdsman Bao Xishun was called in after the dolphins swallowed plastic used around their pool at an aquarium in Fushun, north-east China. [...]
The mammals had lost their appetite and were suffering depression, aquarium officials said.
The heads of the dolphins were held back and towels wrapped around their teeth so Mr Bao could not be bitten.
He then extended his 1.06m-long arm into the mammals' stomachs.
Sadly, the Chinese river dolphin is "functionally extinct" in the wild. It's not clear from the story what species these particular dolphins were, however.
Newsweek Enterprise focuses on energy this week, with contributions from Al Gore and Fareed Zakaria. The premise of Daniel Yergin's cover story is that sustained high oil prices will lead to a renewable energy bonanza that "could rival the Internet boom." (Which raises the question: what's the Pets.com of this new craze?)
The similarities between the two eras go deeper than just spiraling stock prices, if Gore's analysis is right. Long (incorrectly) ridiculed for claiming he "invented the Internet," Gore compares our energy future to our online past:
Taking a page from the early development of ARPANET (the Pentagon's Advanced Research Projects Agency Network)—which ultimately became the Internet—we will rely on new kinds of distribution networks for electricity and liquid fuels. We will be less dependent on large, centralized coal-generating plants and massive oil refineries. Societies of the future will rely on small, diversified and renewable sources of energy, ranging from windmills and solar photovoltaics to second-generation ethanol-and biodiesel-production facilities. Widely dispersed throughout the countryside, these streamlined facilities will make the industrialized world more secure and less dependent on unstable and threatening oil-producing nations. Off-grid applications of renewable power sources can provide energy for the 3 billion people now stuck in poverty.
Apparently humans are not the only ones who have different lifestyles in the city and country. Birds have had to adapt to urban lifestyle, too. According to the BBC,
Dutch researchers found that urban species of birds sing short, fast songs rather than the slower melodies of countryside birds. City birds also sing at a higher pitch and will try out different song types. [...]
The research focused on great tits in ten major European cities, including London, Paris, Amsterdam and Prague, and compared them to forest-dwellers.
The urbanites sing faster and louder in order to assert their territory and attract mates above the sound of city noise. Or as Science Now puts it,
A bird that sang like Barry White in the forest sounded more like Michael Jackson in the big city.
Marine scientists from the University of Plymouth in the U.K. have been researching the effects of plastic waste in the world's seas and oceans. Much of this plastic rubbish is not biodegradable, so it breaks down into small pellets called "mermaids' tears" — and can linger in that form for hundreds of years.
The Plymouth team had first discovered mermaids' tears in European waters in 2002, and they have now come across them on four other continents: the Americas, Australia, Africa and Antarctica. Besides the fact that the tiny pellets are impossible to clean up, the scientists have found that sea creatures at the bottom of the food chain—such as barnacles, lugworms and amphipods—are consuming these plastics on the seabed. According to Dr. Richard Thompson, who is leading the research:
These creatures are eaten by others along the food chain. It seems an inevitable consequence that [the plastic] will pass along the food chain. There is the possibility that chemicals could be transferred from plastics to marine organisms.
And guess who eats those other "marine organisms?" You!
The seriousness of the plastic threat to marine life, and consequently to human consumption, however, remains for other researchers to investigate. But whatever the outcome may be, it seems that plastics in our waters are here to stay.
They don't have bodies, but they do leave footprints.
It was only a matter of time before someone took the avatar world to task for their environmental impact. (In case you think an avatar is a new model of Hyundai, here's a brief primer. Avatars are computer-generated, physical representations of people in virtual online games or social worlds. Think Second Life, Sims, World of Warcraft, etc.)
The virtual world of Second Life, which hit one million residents back in October, is one of the most popular online games of its kind. To even call it a game is perhaps inaccurate. It's a full-fledged virtual world, complete with crime, sex, commodities, and real-world advertising. (Don't miss BusinessWeek's journey into Second Life or its great "Old Fogey's Guide to the Online Universe.") It goes way beyond the traditional online games of old: These days, politicians like former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner hold town meetings and musicians use music streaming to stage "live" concerts in Second Life in order to be heard.
So, it's fascinating to see blogger Nick Carr (also a former exec editor at Harvard Business Review) calculate whether avatars consume more energy than their human counterparts. He found that the thousands of avatars "living" in Second Life at any given moment, given the servers and computers needed to run the virtual world, use about the same amount of electricity as a comparable number of real-life Brazilians. So, here's my question: Has anyone done any research on whether avatars are much more wasteful than their human counterparts? Say, in terms of energy: Do avatars not bother to turn off the lights? Email us.
Diamond industry execs are bracing themselves for the Friday release of the movie Blood Diamond, which promises to remind consumers just before the holiday buying season of the horrors of the industry. Yet while consumers have known about conflict diamonds for years, they may be unwittingly bankrolling warlords, environmental degradation, and child labor when they purchase other common household items. In this week’s List, FP spotlights some of the world’s lesser-known killer products that you didn't know you should feel guilty about buying.
Where do electronics go when they die? Increasingly to Africa, according to a recent article in Environmental Health Perspectives. Every month, exporters contracted by electronics recyclers send about 500 containers filled with used electronic equipment to Lagos, Nigeria, alone. The 40-foot containers can be shipped from the United States for about $5,000 and high tariffs are easily avoided when the contents, up to 75 percent of which are unsalvagable, are classified as "scrap."
Even with so much junk, Nigerian importers are able to make a quick buck because of high local demand for electronic goods—Pentium III computers sell for about $130 and a 27-inch television will set you back around $50. The remainder, equivalent to approximately 100,000 computers per month, ends up in dumps and landfills. That electronic waste (e-waste) is chock-full of pollutants like lead, cadmium and mercury that then seep into the ground and water supply. When the mounds of waste get too high, they are burned, releasing toxins from the plastic casings into the air. (For more about how we're destroying Africa with waste, check out Travis's post, The Global Village's Septic Tank.)
Although both the 1989 Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, which the United States has not signed, and the U.S. Resource and Recovery Act bar the export of e-waste, both have exceptions for "recycling." Thus, they leave room for the less scrupulous. In the United States, the only companies that can be trusted to safely recycle, reuse, and dispose of electronic goods are those listed by the Environmental Protection Agency as Plug-In to eCycling Partners or by the Basel Action Network as E-Stewards. So, before you throw away your electronic goods, it might be a good idea to look into where they are headed.
Lebanese volunteers clean a beach in Beirut this week. Almost three months after the war with Israel, the Lebanese coast is still contaminated by a massive oil slick. More than 10,000 tons of fuel spilled into the Mediterranean when a power station was hit by Israeli airstrikes, fouling three quarters of Lebanon's 120-mile coast.
In Moscow, the blue light special sells for about $20,000 on the black market. What is it? A traffic kit including a flashing blue police light, a siren, a special license plate that exempts the driver from traffic violations, and supporting documents. Its purpose is to help you fight traffic. Why would anyone pay such a high price just to avoid traffic? Well, Moscow streets are a nightmarish clog of some 3 million cars, a 12-fold increase since the end of Communism. Here's a look:
Hat tip: English Russia (Photos by Anton Nossik)
I think E!Online's coverage says it best:
He might have missed out on the White House, but Al Gore is in contention for an even bigger prize: an Oscar.
That's right. Who wants to be the most powerful man in the free world when you can win an Oscar? Gore's climate-change documentary, An Incovenient Truth, has been short-listed for an Academy Award. My guess is that Hollywood types are going to fall all over themselves trying to give Al the golden statuette - partly to show they think climate change is the biggest "It" topic facing the planet, but mostly to thumb their noses at Bush. Laurie David, wife of Seinfeld creator and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" star Larry David, is also a producer on the film, and I imagine she can call in a few votes as well.
My favorite part of this story: Al Gore may be pitted against Ralph Nader. There's a documentary about the man who siphoned away all those crucial 2000 votes that also made the short list of contenders. How hilarious will it be if they both campaign? And no matter who walks away with the Oscar, I hope Al demands a recount.
Yesterday, I put up a post urging Microsoft to force computers worldwide into a higher power savings mode in order to reduce CO2 emissions. The article was featured on Slashdot.org, and the discussion over there is very lively. We've received several great comments on the piece, so we're highlighting a few here.
Ric L., who writes from a Microsoft.com email address, notes, as I did in my post, that Microsoft Vista runs efficiently right out of the box.
This means hundreds of millions of computers will blissfully sleep their unused hours away every day…"
Again, I applaud Microsoft for including this software in their next update, but it will be many years before hundreds of millions of computers are upgraded to Microsoft Vista. More power could be saved by updating today's machines."
Sean F., who develops software for air-traffic controllers, assures me that those systems don't run on Microsoft Windows:
You mentioned that critical systems shouldn't have this hibernation mode go into effect. I thought I'd mention for clarity, that most critical systems do not use Microsoft software. I personally like MS, I'm not bashing the company or its products. I use them all the time, including right now. But they are very buggy, and most critical systems require more reliable software and hardware.
I don't run any Unix or Unix-variant software at home, but that is what most critical systems run on. I should know, I develop software for the FAA for air traffic control centers, your prime example of a system that shouldn't go into hibernation. Just a friendly email to give you some information. I completely support your idea for MS to do some code changes, just wanted you to have more accurate data.
Reading CNN's website this morning, I came across an article about how "unseasonably warm" weather in Siberia is disrupting bears' hibernation cycles. It was in the "Offbeat News" section, which contains such headlines as "Suit: Burger King served pot burgers to cops" and "Viking ship to ply North Sea; no invasion planned." So, apparently the lesser-seen effects of global warming are just another quirky story to give you a morning chuckle. I don't know what's more disturbing: This or when the U.S. Geological Survey got excited about the hydrocarbons that will become available as the artic ice caps melt.
In other signs of the decline of civilization: Answers written in "text-speak" by New Zealand's high school students taking this year's national exams will be treated as if they were written in proper English. Isn't that gr8? Lol!
It is estimated there are 660 million computers in use worldwide, the majority of which run some iteration of a Microsoft operating system. Generating the electricity needed to power those computers requires hundreds of power plants that produce billions of tons of CO2 emissions. Many of those machines sit idle for 12 to 16 hours per day, burning electricity, but not doing any work, because businesses habitually leave their computers running overnight.
Microsoft has already announced that they will build aggressive, energy-saving technology into their next operating system, Vista. But that's not enough. These days, most computers are networked and can accept software upgrades over the Internet. Also, most machines already possess software that allows them to run more efficiently—to "sleep" in a low-power mode when not in use—but few people enable this feature.
So, Microsoft should issue a software upgrade to every computer running Microsoft Windows worldwide. The upgrade would adjust the machine's energy-saving settings for maximum efficiency. Of course, this upgrade would have to allow critical systems to opt out. Nobody wants air traffic control computers to suddenly go into deep hibernation. But correcting for critical systems should be very simple for a company that churns out millions of lines of code every year.
It's conservative to estimate that 100 million computers worldwide are running Microsoft software, currently running inefficiently, being used in non-critical applications, and ready to accept an upgrade. The savings in energy, outlay and emissions generated by a hypothetical software update would be staggering. Microsoft estimates that it costs $55 to $70 per year for an average business to allow one computer to sit idle. Multiply that times 100 million computers and you realize that the world spends $5 to $7 billion* dollars every year powering inactive computers. Shifting 100 million computers into low-power sleep mode for 12 hours per day could easily cut worldwide C02 production by 45 million tons per year. That is equivalent to wiping away a year's worth of CO2 produced by every household and industry in a country the size of Ireland. Dozens of power plants would no longer be needed.
After the BREAK: The numbers behind the savings.
In last week's edition of The Economist, "Stuck in a Tunnel" makes a uniquely British assumption: That London transport is terrible. This is a common starting point for any article on London's transport system, but it is far from deserved. London's transport system is one of the most comprehensive and dependable in the world.
The Tube shuttles all classes of workers back and forth every day in cars that remain astonishingly clean despite legal permission to eat and drink on the trains. The 24-hour bus system is safe deep into the night and runs surprisingly on-time. Furthermore, the system runs in five to ten minute intervals - a far cry from the 19 minute waits for the DC metro outside of rush hour, and the endless wait for any sort of DC bus. Despite a lack of air conditioning in London's mostly moderate climate, and the most expensive transport ticket in the world (the cheapest cash fare for the tube is $7.45), the system provides a stellar example of integrated public transport that fully alleviates any justification for driving a car - even to far-flung destinations. With the exception of New York, no American city can claim such a network. As threats of pollution and global warming become ever more real, a more appropriate starting point would be to acknowledge how effective London's transport system is in attracting users, which makes overcrowding something to be applauded rather than hated.
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.