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Signs of Life

Small Stories about Big Change.

Live Earth

Climate Change

Image of Sun

Solar Power Surge

The solar industry is poised for rapid growth and cost reductions that will make it a mainstream power option in the next few years, according to a new assessment by the WorldWatch Institute in Washington, DC, and the Prometheus Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

People around the world are installing solar cells on the roofs of their homes and businesses. Communities and companies are creating solar parks—connected arrays of solar panels, sometimes installed along parking lots or in polluted “brown fields” that cannot otherwise be used.

Solar cell manufacturers are now able to produce enough photovoltaic (PV) cells each year to generate 5,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity. That's 10 times the manufacturing
capacity of 2002. Some analysts say this number will triple by 2010. A typical coal or nuclear power plant has a capacity of about 1,000”2,000 MW.

After growing at 20”25% per year in the 1980s and ‘90s, the solar PV industry has grown 40”45% per year over the last six years, says Mark Farber, founder of Evergreen Solar, a Marlboro, Massachusetts, company.

With the new generation of plug-in hybrid vehicles, this new abundance could mean solar will spread its reach to include the transportation as well as the electricity sector.

“At these growth rates, solar will hit a home run for addressing the climate crisis,” said Todd Larsen, Co-op America's climate action director in Washington, DC.

Climate scientists estimate that we need to reduce carbon emissions globally by at least 80% by 2050 to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

“If we want to do this without coal or nuclear power,” Larsen says, “this means that after implementing all available energy efficiency measures, and installing wind and geothermal generation, the world will still need an additional 17 terawatts of low-carbon energy by 2050.” A terawatt is 1 million megawatts. “Growing at just 25% per year, solar can do this by 2042.”

In addition to solar PV, other types of solar power are also growing rapidly. These include solar thermal for hot water and industrial applications, and concentrating solar power (CSP), for utility scale applications. In China, an estimated 30 million households now use solar power to heat their water. And California alone may have more than 8,000 MW of CSP by 2020.

Small and large companies alike are getting into the business. First Solar of Phoenix, Arizona, plans to provide 685 MW of solar power to five big projects over the next few years. PPM Energy, a Portland, Oregon, company specializing in wind power, announced plans to invest over $1 billion in solar in coming years.

“The conventional energy industry will be surprised by how quickly solar becomes mainstream—cheap enough to provide carbon-free electricity on rooftops while also meeting the energy needs of hundreds of millions of people in poverty who currently lack electricity,” said Janet Sawin, senior researcher at Worldwatch Institute.

- Alisa Gravitz is executive director of Co-op America, www.coopamerica.org

Also ...
Oil industry officials are acknowledging for the first time that petroleum production will not keep up with growing demand. The National Petroleum Council report “Facing the Hard Truths about Energy” says “the global supply of oil and natural gas ... is unlikely to meet projected 50% to 60% growth in demand over the next 25 years.”


Live Earth Concerts

Jack Johnson performs at the July 7 Live Earth concert in Sydney, Australia. Intended to raise awareness of climate change, Live Earth concerts were staged in Sydney, Tokyo, Shanghai, Johannesburg, London, Rio de Janeiro, and New York. Organizers predicted the event, which was also broadcast on the Internet, would reach more than 2 billion people with 24 hours of live music across seven continents. Johnson's guitar reads: climatecounts.org.

Visit www.YesMagazine.org/liveearth to see Jack Johnson's performance


Ancient Amazonia's Answer for Global Warming

The black earth developed by the people of ancient Amazonia to enhance soil fertility may provide a key to sequestering carbon in the soil where it won't contribute to climate change. Terra preta, made from smouldered organic material, holds extra carbon in its “biochar” and in the microorganism populations that it sustains. Today's proponents of terra preta advocate the charring of agricultural waste to create a soil that holds up to 9% carbon, as compared to plain soil, which holds only 0.5%. A hectare of meter-deep terra preta can store 250 metric tons of carbon.

—Justine Simon

Source: Nature, Vol 442, 10 August 2006


Second Life

Large companies such as IBM are holding meetings in Second Life, an online world where your avatar (your virtual alter ego) interacts in real time with other avatars. Some executives find holding meetings in Second Life more effective than conference calls or video link-ups, and they can reduce their carbon footprint by meeting virtually rather than traveling for face time.
Also in Second Life is One Climate Island, a place where you can learn about renewable energy, listen to presentations about climate change, and meet like-minded people to discuss climate issues—without using any carbon to get there.

—Melissa Anderson

Interested? See www.oneclimate.net and www.secondlife.com


College Climate Commitment

More than 280 colleges have signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, an agreement to cut campus greenhouse emissions 2% each year and 50% by 2050. The agreement was organized by campus environmental groups Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education and Eco-America, and was also encouraged by the Campus Climate Challenge, a coalition of 37 student environmental advocacy groups. Universities plan to achieve emission cuts by limiting waste and increasing efficiency of electricity, heating, commuting, and travel.

—Zach Kyle


Bald Eagle Recovery

According to Michael Daulton, director of conservation policy for the National Audubon Society, the recovery of the bald eagle is “one of the greatest achievements for conservation in American history.” In June the bird was removed from the endangered species list. Vast habitat protections and a ban on the insecticide DDT are primarily responsible for the eagle population boom, which has brought the bird's numbers from 417 nesting pairs in 1963 to nearly 10,000 today.


Democracy

Maine Quarter

Maine Leads on Net Neutrality

In June, Maine's Legislature became the first in the nation to express strong support for preserving net neutrality.

Network Neutrality means no discrimination on the Internet. Internet providers are prevented from speeding up or slowing down Web content based on its source, ownership, or destination. The big telecom firms want to eliminate net neutrality so they can charge content providers additional fees for preferred access.

The legislature's declaration states, “Full, fair, and nondiscriminatory access to the Internet is critical to the ability of Maine citizens to participate in the information economy and is an important element of citizens' access to information necessary to their roles as informed participants in our nation's democracy.”

It directs the Office of the Public Advocate to determine whether Maine can enact its own net neutrality protections or if the state must defer to the federal government.

The measure was supported by Common Cause Maine, the Maine Civil Liberties Union, the League of Young Voters, other citizens' groups, and many small businesses including GWI.net, Rentageek.com, and Mainecoastdesign.com.

Telecom lobbyists representing Verizon, AT&T, and Time Warner actively opposed the measure.

—Jon Bartholomew is a resident of Maine and the National Media and Democracy Organizer for Common Cause.

Also...
From October 12 to 19, not-for-profit organizations interested in operating a full-power, noncommercial radio station will have a rare opportunity to apply to the FCC for a license.
Interested? http://getradio.org


IRAQ WAR

Image of Money

All Sides Prep for War Funding Showdown

As the members of Congress enjoy their summer recesses, anti-war groups are gearing up. Their goal: to convince lawmakers to use the power of the purse to end the occupation in Iraq.

Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, a national coalition, is planning protests outside of lawmakers' offices in 15 states.

Another powerful group, The Occupation Project, will camp out in the offices of representatives and senators who voted in step with the Bush plan in May.

Before that vote, the project occupied 39 offices in 25 states, resulting in the arrest of 320 nonviolent protesters.

— Zach Kyle


Darfur

Courtesy of Mark Knobil
Courtesy of Mark Knobil

Sudan Divestment Gains Momentum

The states of Texas and Hawaii have joined the Sudan divestment movement. Since April 2005, when Harvard University sold off its stock in companies doing business in Sudan, 55 universities, 18 states, and eight cities have divested from Sudan, along with seven international and religious organizations. Divestment legislation is pending in another seven states and in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The divestment movement is a reaction to the genocidal campaign waged by Sudan's government-backed militia against rebel groups. The conflict has resulted in the deaths of at least 400,000 men, women, and children, and millions have been turned into refugees.

The divestment campaign appears to be paying off. According to the Sudan Divestment Task Force, several companies with the strongest ties to the Sudanese government have left Sudan due to investor pressure. These include the Canadian firm CHC Helicopter, which provides helicopters to the offshore oil and gas industry, and Rolls Royce PLC, which sells oil-
engineering equipment.

After intense pressure from investors, Fidelity Investments, the country's largest mutual fund company, sold 91% of its Petrochina shares and 99% of its Sinopec shares that trade on the New York Stock Exchange. Both companies have strong business ties to Sudan.

Fidelity still owns stock in Petrochina and Sinopec on the Hong Kong stock exchange, and the Fidelity Out of Sudan campaign has vowed to keep the pressure on. (www.fidelityoutofsudan.net)

“Divestment helped end the apartheid regime in South Africa,” says Alisa Gravitz, Co-op America's executive director. “It's our hope that by refusing to invest in companies doing business with Sudan, we can help end the genocide there.”

Sarah Tarver-Wahlquist is associate editor at Co-op America , www.coopamerica.org.

Interested? www.SudanDivestment.org


Activism

G8 bike protests

Bicyclists Rally Against G8

Over 30,000 protesters at the G8 Summit in Heiligendamm, Germany on June 6”8, 2007 demanded action, not just words, on global poverty, war, and environmental degradation.

The leaders of the world's eight most industrialized nations convene annually, and protesters often target the event.

Bicycle caravans from Hungary, Sweden, and Germany came to Heiligendamm, holding events along the way aimed at raising awareness of G8 issues—such as AIDS in Africa and debt relief—and at relating the effects of global capitalism to the everyday lives of local inhabitants.

Simultaneous bicycle caravans sprang up in Korea, England, and San Francisco. Participating in the caravan shows a dedication to reducing carbon emissions, one of the San Francisco activists told Indybay media. And it's a “symbol of commitment to take action from the bottom up.”

— Justine Simon


Public Opinion

Progressive Majority Report

Americans are Liberals. Who Knew?

On a series of key domestic issues, Americans are much more progressive than one might think given today's political debates. Here are some of the polling results compiled by the Campaign for America's Future and Media Matters:

• In 2006, even before the release of Sicko, 69% of Americans said the federal government should provide health care for its citizens, up from 59% in 2000.
• When asked in February 2007 if they would pay an extra $500 a year so that all Americans could have health care, 82% said yes.
• Of those surveyed early this year, 79% want caps on carbon emissions, 84% favor higher environmental standards for business, and 86% would like more investment in solar and wind power.
• Support for energy conservation rose to 64% in 2007, up from 56% in 2001, while only 26% favor expanded energy production, down from 33%.
• Since 1972, belief that women should be equal to men in the workplace has risen from 47% to 78%.
• The belief that homosexuals should have equal job rights has risen from 55% to 89% since 1977.

The report covers a wide range of issues, including national defense, unions, immigration, and criminal justice. On issue after issue, the study shows that a majority of Americans are liberals.

—Catherine Bailey

Interested? Download the report at www.yesmagazine.org/cafmm


Sicko Paves the Way

"SICKO has opened the door to organizing in hundreds of communities. People are now realizing that single-payer health care is not just a dream but a real possibility." Marilyn Clement, national coordinator for Healthcare-NOW, says activists are organizing sicko-related events in Gainesville, Boca Raton, Atlanta, Louisville, Indianapolis, Chicago, Pittsburgh, New York, Jamestown, Ithaca, Denver, Sacramento, and Boston.

See www.healthcare-now.org.


Voting Symbol

Voting

Attorney Firings & Election Fraud

Congressional hearings into the firings of eight U.S. Attorneys are bringing to light evidence that the firings were related to efforts to suppress minority votes during the 2004 election cycle.

Former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias testified that, shortly before he was fired, he was pressured by Senator Pete Domenici and Representative Heather Wilson to pursue allegations of voter fraud. Iglesias was unable to find any evidence of prosecutable fraud among more than 100 cases referred by state Republicans. Most of the alleged fraud related to new voter registrations, mostly of poor and minority voters, according to John Boyd, an Albuquerque attorney who represented Democrats in a resulting court case.

Tim Griffin, who was chief of communications for the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2004, was appointed U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

According to 2006 reports by BBC reporter Greg Palast, now being followed up by Representative John Conyers in hearings, Griffin was involved in a “vote caging” scheme during the 2004 elections.

Vote caging involves sending letters marked “do not forward” to targeted voters. If the mail is returned, the vote of the addressee is challenged as illegitimate.
According to Palast, this resulted in the disenfranchisement of U.S. military personnel stationed overseas, homeless people, minorities, and other likely Democratic voters. The mailing lists used in the caging scheme targeted areas with large minority populations, Palast says.

Griffin resigned the post following reports that Conyers was requesting the BBC's records on the caging allegations.

The Republican Party had signed court-enforceable consent decrees agreeing to discontinue vote caging activities following vote caging incidents in the 1980s, according to a June 18 letter from Senators Edward Kennedy and Sheldon Whitehouse to the Department of Justice.

Although the details vary, the U.S. Attorney firings appear to be related to voting issues. “In all cases that I have reviewed,” Palast says, “the firings were tied to failure to bring voter fraud cases.”

Both houses are investigating. One former Department of Justice aide, testifying under a grant of immunity from criminal prosecution, indicated that prior witnesses had misstated facts. The House Judiciary Committee voted to recommend contempt citations for two former White House staffers who failed to appear after being subpoenaed. A vote on the citations is expected after the August recess.

—Doug Pibel


Popular Vote Rules in Maryland

Maryland has become the leader in a nationwide movement that aims to abolish the Electoral College—without amending the U.S. Constitution. By enacting the National Popular Vote bill, the state promised its 10 electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. The law, adopted in April, will not go into effect unless more states sign on. A presidential candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win, so until enough states pledge to defer their votes to the people's choice, the system will remain as it is. However, similar bills are sponsored by 305 legislators in 47 states, and have passed both houses in Hawaii and Illinois.

—Catherine Bailey

Interested? Check out www.nationalpopularvote.com.


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