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By David Klayton, Environment Issue Analyst

You’ve probably heard the phrase “resource wars,” and you probably usually think of wars over oil that dominated the 20th century. But have you ever stopped to take the time to think about what the phrase really means, and how it pertains to the future of the planet?

As much as we may like to think they are, resources on this planet are not infinite. In fact, we will start to run low on many elements and minerals like copper and aluminum within the next century. Expect a skyrocket in the cost of living by the turn of the 22nd century. But there is one resource being depleted that will affect humanity beyond an increase in the cost of living. People can live without copper, without aluminum, without oil even, but people cannot live without water.

Many say that wars of the 20th century were fought over oil. And many say that wars of the 21st century will be fought over water. It’s pretty simple: when people need something they don’t have, they fight for it. People need water, and more and more people are losing access to it. The evidence is not lacking. Consider this report on the problems that recent water shortages in China have caused. Or consider this article on the relationships between increasing urban zones in Africa and the limited water sources available there. Or considerthis report predicting problems with food insecurity due to decreasing water supplies in nations across the entire globe.

I don’t know how to say it any better than this: The world is running out of water. Large-scale conflict has not yet begun over the depletion of water. Yet. What can be done to prevent any such conflict? Awareness isn’t enough. National leaders need to be more proactive in their understanding of this issue, need to communicate with one another on possible solutions to such a global problem. Right now we live in a world divided. We need to live in a world unified in transnational understanding of such inevitable problems like water depletion.

 

By Moustafa Hassab-Allah, Environment Issue Analyst

There is no wonder that solar energy is the biggest available energy for earth’s needs; it has about 1280 times our electrical energy needs in (2005) (http://www.eia.doe.gov/iea/elec.html), more over it is abundant in more than 60 % of the world lands. The challenge for us is how to get it.

Over the past million years, plants used sunlight to obtain energy for their survival, photosynthesis process is considered a low efficiency process that needs water and soil to emerge.  Solar energy is typically used by humans to provide direct heating of fluids for human use; it is also used to generate electricity directly through photovoltaic cells.

Companies like GE, and Siemens are taking solar energy so seriously that they pumped funds of billions of dollars on solar energy projects.  Big companies have realized the importance of solar, now it is time to spread the idea among people.

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By Kyle Fluegge, Environment Issue Analyst

Imagine giving $100 to a charity that helps people in poverty better their lives regardless of their background circumstances.  A noble gesture on your part.  Then you find out that only $7.00 of your gift actually went to help who it was intended to help. That’s only 7%.  Outraged?  It would have me asking “Why…?”, but not for the reasons you think.

That’s the situation in Haiti right now – 10 months after the devastating earthquake ripped apart the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.  Only $686 million of $8.75 billion promised for reconstruction has reached Haiti so far.  After the natural disaster, my initial thought was “Pick on somebody your own size.”  After all, isn’t that like a 12th grader bullying a 5th or 6th grader?  The little one doesn’t stand a chance, and neither did Haiti.  And the country is continuing to suffer the consequences.

An outbreak of cholera was confirmed in Haiti on Thursday, October 21. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 5,000 cases of cholera have been documented, and 300 people have died.  Cholera, you ask?  Significant breaches in the water, sanitation, and hygiene infrastructure used by groups of people have allowed large-scale exposure to food or water contaminated with Vibrio cholerae organisms.  In this case, it doesn’t take a well-reasoned fellow like John Snow to capture the essence of the problem…or does it?

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A new transmission project—the Atlantic Wind Connection— 

has the potential to transform offshore wind power along the Mid-Atlantic States in the United States. Google and Good Energies, a New York financial and investment firm, have agreed to heavily invest in a $5 billion transmission backbone along the Atlantic seaboard.

Basically, the project involves building a 350-mile undersea water cable system that will carry electricity generated from offshore wind farms to shore. A slightly more technical examination reveals that underwater electricity transmission is different than onshore transmission, notably because it uses direct-current in place of alternating current (what we use when we plug our phone chargers into the wall). Alternating current doesn’t do well in long enclosed cables so the project necessarily has to use direct-current, which makes things slightly more difficult. Direct-current runs point-to-point—or one way only—meaning that the 350-mile cable system is really a series of links between substations build on platforms that sit in the ocean. These substations will need to be hurricane proof and will need to be large enough to moor a boat for technicians arriving to make repairs.

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By David Klayton, Environment Issue Analyst for Water

In today’s rapidly globalizing world, a common debate persists as to whether water should be considered a human right or a commodity. Personally, I firmly believe that water is a human right, as it is necessary for humans to live. However, I will not deny that there is legitimate reason to argue the opposite, that water is a commodity. Instead of putting my opinion up against others’ in this difficult debate, I’d like to take a brief look at how the privatization, and thus the commodification of water goes against its ultimate theoretical goals.

The dominant economic model for the past three decades has been neoliberalism, and the dominant ideal of neoliberalism is privatization. Within the context of neoliberalism, privatization takes on several different goals, from the shrinking of the state’s role in society to the expansion of the free market. While many argue that neoliberal economics support only the upper class and big business, a major tenet of neoliberal theory is that state-shrinking will lead to a significant decrease in taxation, and this decrease in taxation enables the lower class to have more money to spend in the free market as consumers.

However, with such a strong emphasis on the free market under neoliberal economic theory, privatization leads to large corporations owning the rights to utilities and natural resources—water, for one. A major goal of the free market economy is to increase competition, which in turn should decrease costs, but it is not uncommon in a neoliberal economy for single corporations to obtain monopolies on resources. And when a monopoly is reached, the profit-oriented corporations are free to jack up their prices, as their consumers have no other method available to attain the resource in question.

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By Moustafa Hassab-Allah, Environment Issue Analysts on Fossil Fuels/Oil Dependency

The use of renewable energy is not an option for next generations; it is rather a commitment. One prominent energy source is wind, historically wind mills have been used in several aspects in early agriculture in rural areas. Now, it is turning to be a tool for power generation.

Wind turbines are used to serve small and medium electric loads for many deserted and isolated areas in northern Europe and Middle East Sahara like the wind Park located next to the city of Tetouan, Morocco, and Egypt is currently generating 400 MW of power from wind in its eastern desert. Wind turbines provide the advantage of smallest land footprint among other alternative resources; that is why it is vastly used in Texas, Indiana, and California, the 3 largest states in USA using wind power. Some concerns about the effect of the wind turbines on vegetation if installed on shore especially in agricultural areas aroused lately. Calls for offshore wind energy started to spread.

A major trend in the EU is bringing wind turbines offshore, Wind Energy abundance in European seas was confirmed by the European Environment Agency’s studies; that stated that offshore wind power has an economically competitive potential, and can provide between six and seven times greater than projected electricity demand for the EU till 2030.

The attraction of the offshore wind goes beyond this for consumers, they provide a ‘’ not in my backyard’’ advantage rather than other inland energy projects, they do not provide any foot print known of for people. Norway and Denmark are taking the lead to install wind turbines in the North Sea, up to 10 MW capacities per turbine were designed in Norway. In Denmark, 209 MW Horns Rev 2 offshore wind farm was inaugurated in September 2009; increasing the countries capacity through offshore wind energy. Also, in Sept 2010, a Swedish power company started operation of the 300 MW world’s biggest offshore wind park currently in operation in Britain.

Offshore Wind energy still faces challenge in R&D funding, design challenges and market competitiveness, but the good news is that offshore wind turbine market seen nearly doubling in 2010 and expected to account for 8 % of market in 2015 according to MAKE Consulting in Denmark.

Over the past two weeks I’ve written blog posts on a new proposed fuel economy standard and on the importance of dynamic national transportation policy. Both blogs briefly touched on the need for alternative forms of transportation—from increasingly relying on electric and hybrid cars to reduce emissions (and increase fuel economy) to strengthening non-highway forms of moving people and capital. But how can it be accomplished?

This video describes the efforts of the municipal government of Malmo, Sweden to increase bike ridership in their city. Malmo is the third largest city in Sweden (population 290,000) and for the past four years has been working to get its population away from their cars and on to their bikes. Their campaign “No Ridiculous Car Trips” aims to point out the ridiculousness of using a car for trips under 5 kilometers.

I’m curious if such a campaign would work in my own city of Washington DC, which has been putting in more bike lanes on busy roads. Of course, Malmo has over 250 miles of dedicated bike paths which makes it easier for the campaign to point out the convenience of biking. Is this a chicken or the egg question? To encourage more biking, do cities have to add bike lanes? Or do more people have to bike to push cities into creating bike lanes?

If bicycling doesn’t seem quiet an alternative enough a mode of transportation to driving, then check out the Human Monorail. It’s a recumbent bicycle encased in plastic tube that would allow people to bicycle along a track high above the traffic. The idea comes from an adventure ride in New Zealand, where two people inside the tubes race against each other along parallel tracks. However, Google has recently invested one million dollars with Schweeb, the company that owns the ride, as a part of its Project 10^100. The project began two years ago when Google asked for submissions for ideas and projects that would change the world by helping as many people as possible. One of the final ideas selected was to “drive innovation in public transportation.” Other winning ideas include “make educational content available online for free”, “enhance science and engineering education”, “make government more transparent”, and “provide quality education to African students”.  The following is a short video announcing the winning ideas and institutions, which includes some great video of the human monorail so make sure to check it out.

There are, of course, questions about how the human monorail would work in the urban environment it’s designed to serve. How would people get up hills without causing a traffic jam? What happens if there’s a slow person in front of you? What kind of capacity could the system really handle? Is it safe? Can the pod derail and fall down onto the street (and into traffic)? Schweeb answers all these questions and more on their FAQ page and seems to have really through their system through.

The only question that remains for me is when can I ride one?

This past Sunday was 10/10/10.  Not only is this date celebrated by people who think the date is cool, by numerologists who think the date holds universal significance, and environmentalists who choose the date for a world wide day of climate action.

7347 events in 188 countries took place on Sunday to take community actions like planting community gardens, installing solar panels, and cleaning up parks.  This year’s event beat 350.org’s record of 5200 events in 181 countries, making it the biggest day of action in history.  Some sites have called the global climate movement the biggest social movement in history.  This comes as a contrast to the heads of state response to climate change, which is tepid at best. Climate change is a unifying theme that affects the entire globe, and this past Sunday showed that.

Bill McKibbon, renowned author and founder of 350.org said of the event “Politicians may still be debating climate change, but citizens are getting to work solving it.” With the upcoming elections in the US, it is more important than ever to recognize the reality of climate change and to demand action from our public officials that matches the commitment of the global community.

Check out some of the amazing photos from all around the world at 350.org!

Here is a clip of Ray from Power of One discussing why joining together for action is important for everyone and youth in particular: 

 

Last week a bipartisan panel of transportation experts, co-chaired by two formed Secretaries of Transportation—Norman Y. Mineta and Samuel K. Skinner—released a report that warned that the United States’ current transportation system is woefully underfunded, which undermines its status in the global economy. The report, issued on behalf of over 80 transportation experts, continued to argue that unless Congress and a the public embrace innovation and increased spending, the United States will continue to lag further and further behind China, Russia, and European nations leading to “a steady erosion of the social and economic foundations for American prosperity in the long run.”

The report followed from a 2009 conference titled “Beyond Stimulus: Toward a New Transportation Agenda for America.” The conference, also co-chaired by Secretaries Mineta and Skinner, gathered to facilitate original and necessary thinking about the financing, governance, and management of the United States’ transportation infrastructure. The authors of the report point to the recent celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Interstate Highway System, an achievement that revolutionized the nation, as a stark contrast to the current state of the nation’s ability to support economic growth. Without a vital and fully functioning transportation system, moving goods—a necessary part of economic activity—cannot occur.

The authors argue that before the recession, bottlenecks in all transportation modes were beginning to compromise America’s global competitiveness. This problem has not be solved in the intervening years and can only hinder recovery efforts. However, these problems cannot be solved with traditional methods of transportation funding. While revenue from federal and state gas taxes mostly paid for the construction and expansion of the Interstate Highway System, new methods are required. To truly create an efficient, scalable, and state-of-the-art transportation system, a fundamental overhaul of America’s transportation policies and programs is needed.

In a Washington Post article, Secretary Skinner argued new funding for infrastructure should be looked at as “an investment, not an expense.”

The makes several recommendations for policies and programs to improve infrastructure:

  • Increasing the federal gas tax, which has remained at 18.3 cents per gallon since 1993 (revenues have decreased as fuel efficiency has increased).
  • Taxing Americans per mile they drive
  • Empower state and local governments with the authority to make more decisions
  • Continue the development of high-speed rail systems and better integrate them with freight rail
  • Expand alternative transportation policies rather than rely on highways alone for the transportation of people and goods
  • Encourage “livable communities” by encouraging good land-use practices that discourage single-occupant commuters. These “livable communities” would be conductive to walking and other forms of transportation, such as biking and public transportation, to reduce congestion and other traffic problems.

However, the report notes that good transportation policy does not have high priority in Congress or in local politics. The most recent authorization for the Department of Transportation’s surface transportation programs was signed into law two years late. Congress is currently a year and a half late in reauthorizing aviation programs. And efforts to move a new six-year federal transportation plan stalled recently after the previous one expired last year.

What do you think—for something so important to our everyday lives, why hasn’t transportation policy taken front and center in the political arena?

 By José Reymondez
José is one of AIDemocracy’s 2010-2011 Issue Analysts. Find out more about José below or take a look at the  Student Issue Analysts.

Climate change is everyone’s problem. Natural disasters or subtle shifts in season can ruin lives. Even for those whose lives aren’t ruined, the domino effect of globalization can bring harm into their lives too. Young people should care more; they have the most chance of seeing its harmful effects. Of course some still distance themselves from the issue. Apathy and denial are easy.
 
The student is a young person with an advantage. They’re rational adults who don’t have to work yet. They can educate themselves about and then dedicate their time to climate change where perhaps others their age don’t understand, have time or care. Students have the time and knowledge to transcend self-interest and find the nobility in working on a cause that the randomness of life may not have brought in to their personal lives.
 
People in power can deny climate change, be wrong and then get away with it because they will be dead before a rise in sea level or slew of hurricanes razes their vacation homes. Students need to pressure their governments. Climate change needs to be dealt with multilaterally. States, especially the US, have the most leverage to push carbon emissions standards or encourage alternate energy sources. If the US feels the will of their youth from within, that an active voting block wants regulation, then they will be more willing to lobby the rest of the world.
 
At more of a grassroots level, young people can normalize energy-saving behavior in to their culture. Shutting off lights when they’re not being used can be made as taboo as not washing one’s hands was made when modern sanitation was introduced.
 
Most of all students can tell the truth, join the debate and tell people climate change is real, don’t let the deniers win.

José Reymóndez is a candidate for, an M.A. candidate for a degree in International Affairs with a concentration in development. He is fascinated by the political economic issues surrounding and hopefully solutions to climate change. He often wonders why something as simple as maintaining the one thing every living thing needs, the earth and its environment, somehow doesn’t seem to be going as well as it could. He is a native New Yorker and pack leader of two adopted dogs, one black and one brown.

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