International Society for Industrial Ecology

In the News

  • 16 Jun 2010 2:48 PM | Anonymous
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    By Anna Austin

    Posted June 16, 2010, at 4:45 p.m. CST

    Mainstream media outlets have largely misinterpreted a biomass sustainability and carbon policy report released last week by the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, according to study contributor Pinchot Institute for Conservation.

    In fact, the rapidly spreading assertion that woody biomass is dirtier than coal “couldn’t be farther from the truth,” Pinchot President Al Sample told reporters during a media advisory call held June 16, held to clear up erroneous news stories regarding the report’s indications of woody biomass power plant environmental consequences in comparison with coal power plants.

    The six-month study, titled “Biomass Sustainability and Carbon Policy Study,” was performed to address a wide array of social, scientific, economic and technical issues related to the use of forest biomass for generating energy in Massachusetts, after citizen and activist opposition to three proposed biomass power projects in the state prompted the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources to commission the study. Pinchot’s main role in the study was to provide a review of regulations and standards needed to ensure the sustainability of forest resources in light of potential increases in wood consumption for bioenergy.

    Sample said initially, an Associated Press story mischaracterized the study, and then countless other news outlets continued to repeat the same inaccuracies. “It was a gross simplification that resulted in a misinterpretation of the study’s overall conclusions,” Sample said.

    As far as the data that influenced the misconstrued assumptions, Sample said when narrowly interpreted, the study suggests that when looking at the smokestack emissions, woody biomass emits slightly more CO2 emissions per unit of energy produced. That does not at all mean it is more polluting or inferior to coal plants, however, because it doesn’t take into consideration any type of life-cycle analysis or other harmful emissions that coal emits and biomass does not. “That [wrong] impression surprised a number of us who contributed to the study,” he said.

    Sample emphasized that the reason Pinchot felt it should provide clarification on the matter was because the organization is a nonprofit research institution that serves to provide accurate and comprehensive information to policymakers; he also noted that some groups may benefit unfairly from the widely circulated misreading. “We need to ensure that [policymakers] decisions, particular on wood biomass energy in the U.S., are based on fully comprehensive and accurate data, as we have the American Power Act and a number of other things in play,” Sample said.

    He added that the institution still feels that it is a strong study, though, and provides good analyses and information that was not previously available.

    Adding insult to injury, the Environmental Working Group released a report June 16 that associates biomass power with “clear-cutting trees,” wrongly claiming that state and federal incentive policies would soon support such activities.

    In the report, EWG states it calculates that the current recommended goal of generating 25 percent of U.S. electricity from renewable sources by 2025 would require the equivalent of clear-cutting between 18 million and 30 million acres of forest. The claim significantly contrasts with studies performed by other renewable energy technology-neutral groups, such as the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, that have calculated the goal as achievable using only wood waste materials that the biomass power industry actually uses.

    Biomass Power Association President Bob Cleaves said prior to the report he had not been aware of the organization, and that its assertions have no relevance to how power is generated from biomass today in the U.S. or to how it will be in the foreseeable future. “The study is flatly wrong that federal tax incentives are used to harvest trees; both the production tax credit and investment tax credit are only available for waste wood products, and the law has been clear on this point for about six years,” he said. “The assumption that biomass electricity uses or will use harvested, merchantable trees to make power and will do so increasingly if Congress passes aggressive renewable energy laws is based on a premise without any economic analysis that suggests it’s even viable to use whole trees.” If that were the case, Cleaves pointed out, the many biomass power plants that are currently idle in the country, most located in heavily forested areas, would be running. “Right now they can’t afford even waste wood at current fuel and power prices, let alone whole trees at twice the cost,” he said.

    Referring to President Obama’s recent call for a constructive dialogue on changing the U.S.’s energy policies in light of the BP Gulf oil spill, Cleaves pointed out that it will never be accomplished by engaging in tired rhetoric or environmental scare tactics. “We (the biomass power industry] welcome the debate,” he said. “But let’s get the facts right … we are going to make every effort we can to protect the truth.”

  • 16 Jun 2010 2:26 PM | Anonymous
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    By Michelle Andujar
    from WillametteLive, Section News

    The City of Salem has been selected by the University of Oregon's Sustainable Cities Initiative as the site for students in different fields to engage in real world projects and help city council reach its goals. The students will travel to Salem frequently and are expected to present their research findings concerning fourteen projects in Salem at the end of the program in September 2011.

    Salem was chosen among thirty-five cities that wanted to participate the Sustainable Cities Initiative. "Salem had the best application. It had a lot of staff commitment, time and the projects had real world components," said Nick Fleury, UO's program coordinator.

    The City of Salem will invest up to with over $345,000 for the project. That is broken into three parts: $125,000 from urban renewal agency, $60,000 from Salem Housing Authority, and $160,000 from the City of Salem.

    "The money will be used to assist students commuting to Salem, and to invite expert speakers [for example]," said Fleury.

    Among other projects, the City expects the participating UO students to present their vision for the North Downtown waterfront area. "It's just outside a historic district. It's prime for development," said Fleury. A plan for the connection of downtown parks with urban trails and bike routes, as well as one for the restoration of Minto Brown park are also envisioned.

    The UO departments of architecture, landscape architecture, arts and administration, planning, public policy and management, business management, journalism and law will be in charge of carrying out the initiative's proposals.

    Jennifer Howard, a professor of industrial ecology will focus her class on the reusing of waste byproducts in Salem's industries. "One farm could use the byproducts of another, like using food scraps for animal feed," she said. The waste recycling program between industries will center around Salem's dairy, metal and food processing companies. "We're looking at existing exchanges and opportunities to have more," said Howard.

    There will also be a market analysis aspect, where students will determine the potential growth of existing industries and examine Salem's demographics and other qualities in order to designate potential new ones. Other students will look at ways to improve civic engagement, representation and participation.

    City of Salem's Project Manager Courtney Knox said, "Projects will begin when classes start in September, but there may be some meetings this summer for the community of Salem to get involved."

  • 15 Jun 2010 2:34 PM | Anonymous
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    Michael Vaughan

    Globe and Mail Update

    The gigantic ecological tragedy of the deep-sea oil well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico grows worse and worse. So far, this disaster has caused some rethinking about how deep-sea drilling for petroleum can be better regulated as it goes ahead in the United States and Canada. It has also unleashed the lawyers to argue about which petroleum company or petroleum contractor is legally liable.

    But the fact that has been almost ignored in the highly charged debate is this: anything you can make from petroleum (including fuel), you can make from alcohol. Had 80 million litres of alcohol been spilled into the Gulf it would have been harmless as it dissolved. Alright, if it had been ethanol (grain alcohol) a lot of fish might have hangovers. The point is there has never been an event like this one to emphatically point away from petroleum and toward bio-based energy.

    Some opposition to ethanol is fierce. One of my distinguished colleagues in this section has told me repeatedly, “Ethanol is a scam.” The argument is that the ethanol industry is “heavily subsidized” and that “ethanol increases greenhouse gas emissions.” The big moral objection is the “Food for Fuel” issue – that using corn for ethanol drives up food prices for the world’s poor. Well, if biofuels are that bad, then Drill Baby, Drill.

    Subsidies for What

    But let’s look at the issues one by one beginning with “heavily subsidized” first. Every energy source has subsidies including, of course, the oil sands.

    The federal and Alberta governments recently put up $1.5-billion for research and development on carbon capture. The petroleum industry also has depletion allowances, royalty tax credits, off-shore drilling credits and the ability to finance development with flow-through shares.

    On the ethanol side, the federal government has a 10 cent per litre excise tax on gasoline and gave the ethanol industry an exemption on that tax. The Ontario government has a program that kicks in if corn prices are high and oil prices are low. In that event, the ethanol industry can draw up to 11 cents a litre. When oil was at $80 a barrel recently, the ethanol industry received nothing from the Ontario government.

    Greenhouse Gas Emissions

    The objection that “ethanol increases greenhouse gas emissions” should be off the table by now.

    Last year, The Journal of Industrial Ecology at Yale University published a study titled Improvements in Life Cycle Energy Efficiency and Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Corn-Ethanol. This is an all-in accounting from farmer’s field to gas tank. The conclusion: “Direct-effect GHG emissions were estimated to be equivalent to a 48 to 59 per cent reduction compared to gasoline, a twofold to threefold greater reduction than reported in previous studies.” The report said that even more improvements are on the way. “These results suggest that corn-ethanol systems have substantially greater potential to mitigate GHG emissions and reduce dependence on imported petroleum for transportation fuels than reported previously.”

    In Canada, a little-noticed independent analysis of Canadian renewable fuel production reached an almost identical conclusion last November. The study used the Natural Resources Canada GHGenius lifecycle assessment model for transportation fuels and concluded, “On an energy basis, the results show that the reduction in fuel cycle GHG emissions from one megajoule (MJ) of ethanol (when used in an E10 fuel blend) is 62 per cent of the fuel cycle GHG emissions for one megajoule (MJ) of gasoline.”

    The report’s author, chemical engineer Bill Palmer of Cheminfo Services Inc., told me, “This is big news. I’m surprised it didn’t receive more coverage.” In other words, definitive proof supported by proper research is out there to show ethanol is effective in reducing GHG.

    Food for Fuel

    Last year, there was a record corn crop in North America with 14 billion bushels grown. From that 47 billion litres of ethanol was produced, which is roughly the same quantity of gasoline used in Canada in a year. However, the corn crop also produced millions of tonnes of high fructose corn syrup – which goes into soft drinks and other obesity related goodies – plus it fed all the cattle and chickens and pigs, which would be better off eating grass.

    After feeding all that there was still 1.9 billion bushels of corn exported, half of it as foreign aid. The United Nations has objected to our corn exports because farmers in Africa who are trying to grow corn to make a living are going broke because governments are giving away too much of the stuff. And after doing all of this, there’s still two billion bushels of surplus corn in bins.

    “What would you do with all this corn if you didn’t make ethanol,” asks Ken Field, founder and CEO of Canada’s largest ethanol producer, Greenfield Ethanol. “You plant a seed in the spring and you can have gasoline in the fall that’s local. That’s a wonderful advantage to a local economy.”

    Bio-based versus Deep-water

    Close to half the world’s oil production and 25 per cent of U.S. production is expected to come from deep-water wells by the end of the decade. Regulation will become more stringent while insurance premiums for offshore drilling will rise steeply as costs mount for the damage caused by the almost unstoppable blowout.

    “We should be making as much ethanol as we can and producing it from energy crops and from stover (leaves and stalks) and from wood waste and municipal waste – all this is coming,” says Field. “This is where the world is going. It’s a lot smarter than drilling two miles down in the Gulf of Mexico or off our own coasts.”

    To get to The Green Highway we need technology that is coming from the auto industry but also a greater reliance on renewable energy. This column will follow both.

    Michael Vaughan is co-host with Jeremy Cato of Car/Business, which appears Fridays at 8 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 2 p.m. on CTV.

  • 04 Jun 2010 11:22 AM | Anonymous
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    Felicity Carus,

    A global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change, a UN report said today.

    As the global population surges towards a predicted 9.1 billion people by 2050, western tastes for diets rich in meat and dairy products are unsustainable, says the report from United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) international panel of sustainable resource management.

    It says: "Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products."

    Professor Edgar Hertwich, the lead author of the report, said: "Animal products cause more damage than [producing] construction minerals such as sand or cement, plastics or metals. Biomass and crops for animals are as damaging as [burning] fossil fuels."

    The recommendation follows advice last year that a vegetarian diet was better for the planet from Lord Nicholas Stern, former adviser to the Labour government on the economics of climate change. Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has also urged people to observe one meat-free day a week to curb carbon emissions.

    The panel of experts ranked products, resources, economic activities and transport according to their environmental impacts. Agriculture was on a par with fossil fuel consumption because both rise rapidly with increased economic growth, they said.

    Ernst von Weizsaecker, an environmental scientist who co-chaired the panel, said: "Rising affluence is triggering a shift in diets towards meat and dairy products - livestock now consumes much of the world's crops and by inference a great deal of freshwater, fertilisers and pesticides."

    Both energy and agriculture need to be "decoupled" from economic growth because environmental impacts rise roughly 80% with a doubling of income, the report found.

    Achim Steiner, the UN under-secretary general and executive director of the UNEP, said: "Decoupling growth from environmental degradation is the number one challenge facing governments in a world of rising numbers of people, rising incomes, rising consumption demands and the persistent challenge of poverty alleviation."

    The panel, which drew on numerous studies including the Millennium ecosystem assessment, cites the following pressures on the environment as priorities for governments around the world: climate change, habitat change, wasteful use of nitrogen and phosphorus in fertilisers, over-exploitation of fisheries, forests and other resources, invasive species, unsafe drinking water and sanitation, lead exposure, urban air pollution and occupational exposure to particulate matter.

    Agriculture, particularly meat and dairy products, accounts for 70% of global freshwater consumption, 38% of the total land use and 19% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, says the report, which has been launched to coincide with UN World Environment day on Saturday.

    Last year the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation said that food production would have to increase globally by 70% by 2050 to feed the world's surging population. The panel says that efficiency gains in agriculture will be overwhelmed by the expected population growth.

    Prof Hertwich, who is also the director of the industrial ecology programme at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, said that developing countries – where much of this population growth will take place – must not follow the western world's pattern of increasing consumption: "Developing countries should not follow our model. But it's up to us to develop the technologies in, say, renewable energy or irrigation methods."

  • 25 May 2010 2:30 PM | Anonymous
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    Unless recycling of special rare metals such as lithium are increased there will not be material available to make clean technologies such as wind turbines, fuel cells and energy efficient lighting systems, a report by the United Nations Environment Programme has found.

    The report Metals Recycling Rates, to be published by the International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management later this year, found that only one per cent of these metals are recycled. Currently, 99% is thrown away at the end of the product’s life, causing concern among experts that they could become unavailable for us to use in modern technology.

    Metals such as lithium, neodymium and gallium are needed to make key components for wind turbines, photovoltaics (which convert solar energy into electricity), the battery packs of hybrid cars, fuel cells and energy efficient lighting systems.

    UN under-secretary general and UNEP executive director Achim Steiner said: “Urgent action is now needed to sustainably manage the supplies and flows of these specialty metals given their crucial role in the future health, penetration and competitiveness of a modern high-tech, resource efficient green economy.”

    Preliminary results in the report found a lack of recycling infrastructure for waste electronic and electrical equipment in most parts of the world causes total losses of copper and other valuable metals like gold, silver and palladium.

    Professor of Industrial Ecology at Yale University and chair of the UN’s working group on metals Thomas Graedel added: “One of the phenomena of our modern, industrial age is that increasingly metal stocks are above ground in structures such as buildings and ships and products from cell phones to personal computers…Yet these above ground supplies represent an extraordinary resource for sustainable development not only in terms of supplies but also the opportunity for reducing energy demand while curbing pollution, including rising greenhouse gases.”

    The report also found that secondary steel uses 75% less greenhouse gas emissions in comparison to virgin steel, while emissions from recycled aluminium are around 12 times lower than primary aluminium production.

  • 22 May 2010 11:50 PM | Anonymous
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    Business Spectator
    Nicholas Aberle

    Concerns about exactly how much stuff the human race accumulates have started getting louder and more persistent. At issue here is the fact that we live on a planet of finite resources and, therefore, we cannot continue to make such large numbers of things that are treated, ultimately, as completely disposable.

    Annie Leonard, author of “The Story of Stuff”, contends that we humans only engage with the consumption phase of a product’s life cycle, despite the fact that this is preceded by phases of extraction, production and distribution and then followed by the disposal phase – thus blinding us to the true cost of our consumerism; environmental degradation, the emission of greenhouse gases as well as a range of toxic chemicals into our water and air, diminishing levels of natural resources, and so on.

    The significance of these side effects of consumerism cannot be overstated. For example, chemicals released into our environment have been implicated in increasing incidences of autism and declining fertility rates (anyone who has seen or read “Children of Men” can imagine the potential long-term consequences of this); and the threats of dangerous climate change are obvious.

    But does it need to be this way? Obviously, humans will not simply quit being citizens of the 21st Century and return to basic agrarian societies – ultimately, we want stuff. Phones, computers, furniture, bicycles, coffee mugs, soft drinks, toothpaste, baby toys, houses – it is all a celebration of how civilisation has advanced and it is, for better or worse, fundamental to our self expression and identity.

    So how do we continue to enjoy the fruits of advancement without leaving a legacy of environmental ruin for future generations?

    The emerging field of industrial ecology tells us that this can be achieved through design. Better design. Smarter design. The title of a 2002 book provides the best summary of how this smarter design works: cradle to cradle. The current paradigm is cradle-to-grave: we take raw materials, make it into something, then we ultimately throw it into landfill. The cradle-to-cradle design concept – which can theoretically be applied to anything from a pen to a car to a factory – proscribes that everything should be made of biological nutrients (ie. things that will decompose and safely re-enter the biological life cycle) or technical nutrients (ie. materials that maintain their value through repeated product cycles). Basically, every element that makes up any one item should, at the end of its life, seamlessly re-integrate into the production of a new item.

    The authors of a 2002 book called "Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things", German chemist Michael Braungart and US architect William McDonough, cite numerous instances where their firm, MBDC, has helped clients develop products using this new paradigm: the new products save their clients money, they’re better for the environment, and waste from one process provides the input for the next cycle of production. While this “design for environment” should not be used to justify rampant consumerism, it can certainly minimise the impact of modern lifestyles.

    An early success story from MBDC was a textile mill in Europe that wanted to develop an upholstery fabric that could be ultimately discarded in a compost heap. Once the new design and manufacturing process was implemented, the company no longer had to pay to ship their waste to an external site for treatment; they reduced their regulatory burden because the water coming out of the factory was now cleaner than the water going in; workers no longer needed to wear masks and gloves to protect themselves from toxic chemicals used previously; and, critically, the new product was cheaper to produce and proved to be extremely popular and successful.

    On a larger scale, the Kwinana Industrial Area outside Perth has been a world leader in regional resources synergies, or industrial symbiosis, wherein waste can flow out of one factory into an adjoining factory as required raw materials.

    This type of thing may not be achievable for all manufacturers, though. Perhaps not every product will be amenable to having certain chemicals removed or to incorporating a greater degree of re-usability of its components; even if a cradle-to-cradle design can be achieved, perhaps it will be too expensive to implement. In some cases, the cost of investigating a new design process might be prohibitive. But there is certainly potential for both financial and environmental savings. Policy measures could be used to provide some incentive to companies who are interested in the concept but uncertain about the rewards. For example, a logo, like the Heart Foundation tick, displayed on a product that incorporates cradle-to-cradle features might spur the increasing numbers of environmentally concerned consumers to purchase that product instead of a competitor’s.

    So here is a challenge to industrial designers and the CEOs who employ them: Can you re-design your products and their packaging with a cradle-to-cradle view? Can you replace the toxic chemicals with innocuous alternatives? Can you maximise the re-usability of your components? And can you make money by doing this? This can be a way of improving environmental credentials, and it could just as easily be an excellent business opportunity: to derive profits from waste streams, to minimise costs, to be at the forefront of a new generation of industrial design and to reap the associated rewards.

    Nicholas Aberle is a research scientist at the University of Melbourne
  • 17 May 2010 11:54 PM | Anonymous
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    Yale University released a preliminary report over the weekend in conjunction with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) that said industries will have to significantly impact recycling rates for enough rare metals to be recovered so that alternative energy technologies can move forward.

    According to the report, dramatic boosts in recycling rates will be required to enable the supply of adequate amounts of raw materials for production of alternative energy equipment to move forward. Equipment such as solar cells, wind turbines, and other types of renewable energy items need raw materials for assembly.

    The report forecasts that unless there is a jump in recycling rates of rare metals, there will not be enough to continue mass production of alternative energy technology. Currently, it is estimated that under one per cent of the globe’s indium, tellurium, neodymium, and other such uncommon metals are being recycled. The remainder ends up in waste heaps in landfills.

    Thomas Graedel of Yale University, and the lead author on the report, said that the document was in no way trying to forecast that these rare metals would be exhausted, but rather that these materials will be in short supply in two or more decades if not recycled making it difficult to produce industry level equipment using them. He also urged countries committed to a greener economy to focus on increasing recycling rates.

    The UNEP-Yale team plan to continue their research partnership by expanding on the report with supply details, industrial applications, and ways to recycle over 60 rare metals. According to the team, the secondary report should be published by October.

  • 13 May 2010 1:17 AM | Anonymous
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    UNITED NATIONS, May 13 -- Metal recycling was promoted Thursday by the UN Environment Program. Inner City Press asked about the conflict metals and minerals like coltan mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and if the UN is doing anything about the working conditions of those who work in recycling.

    UNEP's Achim Steiner, who until this final question in the press conference had presented recycling as an unmitigated good, now described waste dumps as "killer sites," and said that the International Labor Organization is on the case.

    Achim Steiner previously at UN, coltan and worker safety, where?

    U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Riefsnyder acknowledged safety as a problem, but said that in the U.S. it is a matter of local (state) rather than federal law.

    Professor Thomas Graedel said that coltan is made up of cobalt and tantalum. The former, he said, is 24 to 30 percent recycled. But tantalum is not. One third of global supply comes from Africa, he said. Cassiterite is a form of tin. He added, "we are not locked into the Africa situation there." Video here, from Minute 40:12.

    The UN system has disparate goals, which are rarely reconciled or working together. If the UN is concerned about conflict metals being mined, perhaps it should focus its call for recycling there. And if it cares about worker safety, this should be worked into the campaign from the beginning, and not be an afterthought. We'll see.

    As UN's Ban Partners with Statoil Despite Oil Sands and Angola, Indigenous and Weaver Hit Brazil on Dams

    By Matthew Russell Lee

    UNITED NATIONS, April 28 -- The UN picked Statoil as its poster child to Wednesday launch the report of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change. Inner City Press asked Statoil CEO Helge Lund about his company's move to oil sands -- being criticized this week by the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues -- to drilling Marcellus shale, criticized for pollution, and financial criticism for projects in Angola, Libya and Nigeria. Video here, from Minute 30:13.

      Mr. Lund's response to these specifics was to claim that Statoil is "transparent, open," then to speak about carbon emissions. But the critique of oil sands is not only about emissions, but the destruction of the land and driving indigenous people off.

      Likewise, the criticism of Statoil in for example Angola was a lack of transparency and openness, working with local firms connected to government officials.

    Mr. Ban left his press conference before any questions could be asked. But Inner City Press asked Achim Steiner, recently re-appointed by Mr. Ban to head UNEP, to explain what standards the UN applies and how it selects companies to be on its podium.

      Steiner replied that people are on the Advisory Committee in their personal capacities. But Lars Josefsson the CEO of Vattenfall, a company moving ever more into fossil fuel development, bragged that his membership on the UN Committee reflects on Vattenfall's practices. Inner City Press has raised this to a number of UN officials, including Ban's "global goods" aide Bob Orr, but nothing has been done.

    Statoil's Lund, at right, looks down as UN's Ban smiles

      Steiner referred to the UN Global Compact, telling Inner City Press "you are more familiar with it than most." But that has been without the assistance or even consent of Compact leadership. Outside the most recent Compact board meeting in New York, Compact director Georg Kell told Inner City Press "you can't quote anyone here," or even ask them questions.

      Only because Ban's Group of Friends on Myanmar was meeting next door was Inner City Press able to ask if there would be a Compact press availability. No, was the answer. What was that, about openness and transparency?

    Later on Wednesday, indigenous people and the actress Signourey Weaver protected outside Brazil's mission to the UN, against the Belo Monte dam. Fox News was there -- incongruous, some said, until they remembered that Lulu is thought to be a left leaning president -- as well as a slew of photographers and paparazzi waiting for Ms. Weaver.

    She arrived an hour late, but then spoke with conviction, how after the film Avatar indigenous groups had contacted Avatar director James Cameron. On Saturday Cameron told the Press that in preparing the movie, he had "read books" on indigenous beliefs. Now, he and Ms. Weaver seem to be listening to the indigenous. Oh that this were true of Statoil. Or of the Executive Office of the Secretary General of the UN, at least on oil sands, for that matter.

    * * *

    Avatar Shown to UN Forum by Cameron, White Messiah Alleged, "We're All Indigenous"

    By Matthew Russell Lee

    UNITED NATIONS, April 24 -- Avatar was screened by its director James Cameron for the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues on Saturday night in Manhattan. Afterwards Cameron was asked why the hero had to be a white male, in the tradition of Dances with Wolves and before that Little Big Man.

       Cameron replied that he was trying to "wake up Caucasians." He said both that "we are all indigenous" and that he wants "everyone to be a white Messiah." While unclear it was heartfelt. At the end an indigenous legislator from Peru stepped forward to give him her business card. It's 2010 and networking is everything.

      In fact in the film, networking is central. The enormous trees which the U.S. corporate invaders are seeking to fell have "roots which interconnect," Signourey Weaver informs us, making up a network. The invaders are not impressed. Echoing Iraq, pointing at a book about the Na'vi, it is said that "when people are sitting on [stuff] that you want, you make them your enemy."

      In another echo of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and post 9/11/01 war, the military villain vows "we'll fight terror with terror." He has looked at the protagonist's file - "I see you were in Venezuela." One wonders, is Cameron predicting a US assault on Hugo Chavez, before the time frame of the film?

      While the movie was being screened, Cameron did fast one on one interviews with reporters. Inner City Press didn't ask for one, but heard about at least two. The "we are all White Messiahs" line was said both in private and in public: it is a talking point, for better or worse.

     Inner City Press asked the UN how the screening came about and was told

    "Matthew - The idea for the screening came about as the Secretariat for the Permanent Forum had heard many positive reactions from indigenous representatives on the film and how it was echoing their own stories. Through personal contacts of the Secretariat and the NGO co-sponsors, they contacted James Cameron re the possibility of a screening and it went from there."

    Cameron (per Broddi) at UNPFII screening: White Messiah?

       Since, as Cameron put it, the movie made "$2.7 billion for Rupert Murdoch," clearly he doesn't need the publicity. It seems he consented to the event in order to put to rest the residual criticism of the movie as racist -- although the "White Messiah" critique has been raised mostly by, well, white Messiahs -- and to show that his motives weren't commercial.

      Witness Cameron's support to a protest of a project in Brazil. One wonders what Cameron thinks of President Lula's policies on the indigenous. Or of Evo Morales' recent comment that Western food, genetically engineers, leads to "baldness and homosexuality."

      Cameron disclosed that he opposed the invasion of Iraq -- very courageous, at this point -- and that corporate interests are "plundering if you will." Yes, they will, including the financiers of the studios distributing Avatar. But if enough business cards are passed, perhaps there will be justice. At least, there will be a sequel. Watch this site.

    UN footnote -- and the United Nations is increasingly often only a footnote -- one wanted to ask Cameron where he thought the UN would be in the conflict he depicted. But the public Q&A session was too short and smacked of pre-determined. If reality's any guide, the UN would be offering humanitarian assistance on behalf of the invaders, after the invasion.

  • 13 May 2010 1:00 AM | Anonymous
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    * Panel urges increasing use of existing metals stocks

    By Patrick Worsnip

    UNITED NATIONS, May 13 (Reuters) - Recycling rates for many specialty metals used in high-tech devices are so low -- often less than 1 percent -- that they may become unavailable in two to three decades, a U.N.-appointed panel said on Thursday.

    The figure was disclosed as the U.N. Environmental Program (UNEP) began issuing a series of reports on metals, designed to encourage more recycling of existing metal stocks rather than depending on fresh mining for ores.

    Thomas Graedel, a member of the International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management set up by UNEP, said that without recycling the increasing use of specialty metals by the electronics industry would strain their availability.

    At a U.N. news conference, he cited the case of indium, used in liquid crystal display glass, semiconductors, photovoltaic cells and other products. Demand for the metal is set to grow from 1,200 tons this year to 2,600 tons in 2020.

    "Currently we think that recycling rates for indium are below one percent. We think that's the case for almost all the specialty metals," said Graedel, a professor of industrial ecology at Yale University.

    He said that while he was not predicting the materials would run out altogether, "we do think there is a reasonable prospect that over the next two or three decades some materials may be in short enough supply so that they will become essentially unavailable as routine materials for industry.

    Prices for such metals could in turn rise, changing the way they were typically used, said Graedel in releasing preliminary findings of a report the panel plans to publish in full in October.

    Other metals whose recycling rates the panel said needed to be improved included neodymium, used in wind turbine magnets, and gallium, used for light emitting diodes in indicator lamps and lighting.


    Graedel cited information from microchip maker Intel Corp. (INTC.O) that the number of elements it used for computers rose from 11 in the 1980s to around 60 now, indicating that it would be hard to maintain current levels of computer performance if newer specialty metals became unavailable.

    He suggested that one reason for the poor recycling rates was the very small quantities of the metals used in each device, making recovery uneconomic. But better design could make the metals easier to recycle, he said.

    In a separate report, the U.N. panel detailed what it said was a substantial shift in metals stocks from underground ores to existing products. "These 'mines above ground' have growing potential for future metals supply," it said.

    Above-ground copper amounts to about 50 kg (112 pounds) for every person on earth, compared with more than two tons of iron, the panel said. The recycling rate for steel is about 75 percent but for copper between 25 and 50 percent, it found.

    UNEP chief Achim Steiner told the news conference the rising cost of polluting could force companies to recycle more metals. Greenhouse gas emissions from recycling aluminum, for instance, are 12 times lower than primary production, the panel said.

    (Editing by Paul Simao)

  • 12 May 2010 10:01 AM | Anonymous
    Click here for full article.

    Metropolis Magazine

    Brick built the ancient citadels and hypocausts of the Indus Valley and ornamented the Chrysler Building, that great monument to the machine age. But in recent years, it has had a more sinister legacy: environmental menace. Tossing a clay brick into a coal-powered kiln, then firing it up to 2,000˚F, emits about 1.3 pounds of carbon dioxide. Multiply that by the 1.23 trillion bricks manufactured each year, and you’re talking about more pollution than what’s produced by all the airplanes in the world. The winner of the 2010 Metropolis Next Generation Design Competition proposes a radical alternative: don’t bake the brick; grow it.

    In a lab at the American University of Sharjah, in the United Arab Emirates, Ginger Krieg Dosier, an assistant architecture professor, sprouts building blocks from sand, common bacteria, calcium chloride, and urea (yes, the stuff in your pee). The process, known as microbial-induced calcite precipitation, or MICP, uses the microbes on sand to bind the grains together like glue with a chain of chemical reactions. The resulting mass resembles sandstone but, depending on how it’s made, can reproduce the strength of fired-clay brick or even marble. If Dosier’s biomanufactured masonry replaced each new brick on the planet, it would reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by at least 800 million tons a year. “We’re running out of all of our energy sources,” she said in March in a phone interview from the United Arab Emirates. “Four hundred trees are burned to make 25,000 bricks. It’s a consumption issue, and honestly, it’s starting to scare me.”

    This year’s Next Generation competition asked entrants to invent a “small (but brilliant and elegant) ‘fix’” for the designed environment. Jurors saw space-saving clothes hangers and solar-powered window shades and souped-up planters. Dosier’s bricks are certainly small—in lab tests so far, about the size of a Lego—but with further research, their impact could resonate all over the world. Consider the prospects in countries like China and India, where outdated kilns put brick production among the top coal consumers. “There was a strong feeling among the judges that the award should go to someone dealing with an issue on a global scale,” says Chris Sharples, a juror and a principal of SHoP Architects. “Here was a very simple concept defined by scientific method and an example of how you can come up with some very innovative ways to solve basic problems.” Choosing it as the winner was, he adds, a “no-brainer.” It was also a testament to the value of an architect who knows her way around a microscope.

    Dosier, 32 years old, isn’t the first to dabble at the crossroads of microbiology and chemistry. In Precambrian times, bacteria created geological formations through a process that scientists would only begin simulating 3.45 billion years later, growing ground-firming minerals in oil patches and contaminated soil. Nor is she alone in trying to green the humble brick. Intrepid entrepreneurs have tamped everything from fly ash and plant refuse to car tires and plastic bottles into a neat little block and called it a brick (thoroughly peeving the brick industry, which will tell you that anything short of clay and shale is just a cheap imitation). Dosier’s act of alchemy was to apply science to design. “There are thousands of examples of microbial mineral precipitation in the scientific literature, but few if any of them have been explored for use in fabrication of construction or design materials,” Grant Ferris, a geology professor at the University of Toronto, who conducted early MICP studies, writes in an e-mail. “This is what makes Professor Dosier’s work so compelling. Bioremediation and industrial applications look out!”

    The first lines of Dosier’s résumé would hardly peg her for a chemistry nerd: an undergraduate degree in interior architecture from Auburn; a semester at Rural Studio under Sam Mockbee, who sermonized, Messiah-like, about “architecture as kindness”; a master’s in architecture at Cranbrook, the free-flowing essence of everything hard science isn’t. Just before graduate school, Dosier threw away her worldly possessions—her clothes, her typewriting tables, her precious antique glassware. In retrospect, it’s when much of her thinking about materials in design took shape. “I was questioning this idea of ownership, and I got really interested in chemical processes, researching what materials are made of, what you can add to them to change how they grow and die,” she says. Soon, she was building furniture out of salt and calcium carbonate (a compound found in shells), then watching it evaporate in the forest like an Andy Goldsworthy sculpture. Her master’s thesis, a salt-composite handrail, cleaned germs off anyone who touched it, before wearing away to a flimsy scaffold. “I wanted to show,” she says, “that architecture can do more than just exist.”

    To develop her ideas further, she needed a firmer grasp of the technology. So she did what any aspiring scientist would have done: she headed to the toy store and bought crystal-growing kits. Lots of them. “My favorite was a crystal-geode kit, where you seeded plaster of Paris with crystals and placed it in an aqueous solution of crystal-growth media,” she says. The kits taught her invaluable chemistry basics: keep your solution wet (otherwise nothing will grow) but not too wet (otherwise nothing will grow), and keep the room cool (otherwise nothing will grow) but not too cool (otherwise nothing will grow). And so on.

    This informal education continued apace at North Carolina State University, where she landed a visiting professorship in 2005. She audited classes on materials science and pored over books like Bio-mineralization: Progress in Biology, Molecular Biology and Application. By then, she had familiarized herself with research on growing solids for industrial uses and knew she wanted to adapt it for architecture. She sought out mentors, including the microbiologist José Bruno-Bárcena, who became, in matters of scientific inquiry, the Anne Sullivan to her Helen Keller. “From an architecture–interior design background, I always wanted to go big, and my experiments would fail 98 percent of the time,” Dosier says. “I felt like I needed to buy Chemistry for Dummies.

    He started opening the door of my mind on how to think.” Bruno-Bárcena encouraged her to narrow her focus. When she announced she wanted to grow brick via microbes in either waste mineral water or a porous skeleton, he suggested she limit herself to the latter. Another mentor, James Patrick Rand, an NCSU architecture professor, convinced her to train her attention on developing basic bricks instead of more complex building forms. Like Bruno-Bárcena, he saw value in simplicity.

    All the while, she read: Introduction to Industrial Minerals; Microbial Sediments; Biomineralization: Cell Biology and Mineral Deposition. “Ginger is not at all fearful of the science of construction materials,” Rand says. “She readily engages chemical processes—things many architecture students and practitioners are afraid of.”

    It’s true: architects don’t do this sort of thing. In a great disservice to themselves and their profession, they avoid science the way poets avoid calculators. “Typically, architects are not involved in the development of building products and sustainable technologies,” SHoP’s Sharples says. “We rely on experts outside the field, so often these green products are just applied directly to our designs.” Put another way, when architects have a hand in producing new materials, they exert more control over how buildings perform. That is Dosier’s coup.

    Yet for all her toil, her first successful experiment was somewhat accidental. At the University of Sharjah, where she moved in 2007 to teach full-time, she spent two years trying to develop a brick with different microbes, material proportions, and pH levels. Everything failed.

    (It didn’t help matters that the first bacteria cultures she bought from India and the U.S. Department of Agriculture were duds.) Then one afternoon, she threw together a bunch of scraps from some old, ill-fated tests, for kicks. Practically forgetting about it, she revisited experiment No. 112 a week later, only to discover that the medium had transformed into a “baby brick,” as she tells it, a four-by-two-by-one-centimeter proof of concept. “I was shocked to find that it had worked,” she says, “and glad that I took detailed lab notes.” The magic formula was in allowing the right concentration of bacteria to fester just long enough.

    The months since have been an exhaustive exercise in reproducing and strengthening the results. She has repeated the combination more than 30 times, experimenting with assorted sand grains and aggregates, like recycled glass. She has also explored various manufacturing techniques. Traditional casting is the most obvious method, since it requires few resources—formwork, sand, bacteria, and the calcium chloride–urea solution, almost all of which is available locally, both in New York and in the UAE. Rapid prototyping is another, decidedly less democratic option. In the future, Dosier says, she’ll be able to program the brick’s precise composition, then fabricate it layer by layer on a 3-D printer. The technology poses countless design possibilities. Ball-shaped bricks: Why not?

    The future poses countless obstacles, too. She’ll have to figure out how to create a strong brick without squandering raw materials, and how to scale up for mass production given that the chemical process is inherently slow. (Dosier’s blocks take a week to grow; clay bricks can be made in two days.) But the most pressing hurdle is that the biobrick pollutes. Microbial-induced calcite precipitation spews tremendous amounts of ammonia, as scientists affiliated with Delft University of Technology, in the Netherlands, discovered recently when they tried the chemical process on contaminated sand and soil. “High ammonia concentrations result in environmental eutrophication and eventually, via microbial conversion to nitrate, the poisoning of groundwater,” the Delft researcher Henk Jonkers writes in an e-mail. If the bacteria continues to convert ammonia to nitrous oxide, he adds, it can produce a greenhouse gas 320 times more powerful than CO2. “The results show that working with natural processes is not necessarily equivalent to sustainable practices!”

    Dosier plans to capture emissions before they transform into noxious gases. A closed-loop system would recycle waste back into the brick-production cycle using organic buffers (carbon filters, for example), though she acknowledges that it would require “collaborations with additional researchers and scientists in various fields of environmental study and industrial ecology.” (Crystal-growing kits can’t do everything.) A regular designer would’ve bowed out of the game by now. But Dosier, versed as she is in the methods of both science and design, welcomes—and is perhaps ideally suited to overcome—the challenge.

    In the meantime, she dreams about actually putting the bricks to use. She wants to field-test them on a large expanse of desert north of the UAE–Saudi Arabia border, where Bedouins, the seminomadic tribes who populate the Middle East’s sandy wilds, hitch their camels seasonally. And a friend from Cranbrook, who works in humanitarian aid, invited Dosier to join him in Ethiopia this summer to “get this material going.” A rash of violence ahead of this month’s elections postponed the trip indefinitely, but Dosier remains optimistic.

    “Even if [Ethiopia] doesn’t work out, I can think of plenty of regions here where I would like to work,” she says. “The lab is fun to work in. But seeing if it could really happen? That for me is the whole deal.” Maybe then, brick buildings will no longer be villains of the green age but monuments to it.

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