June 2013 Archives

Details on 'Power Africa,' the White House's new plan for electrification across sub-Saharan Africa

From the White House:

Today the President announced Power Africa, a new initiative to double access to power in sub-Saharan Africa. More than two-thirds of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is without electricity, and more than 85 percent of those living in rural areas lack access. Power Africa will build on Africa’s enormous power potential, including new discoveries of vast reserves of oil and gas, and the potential to develop clean geothermal, hydro, wind and solar energy. It will help countries develop newly-discovered resources responsibly, build out power generation and transmission, and expand the reach of mini-grid and off-grid solutions.

According to the International Energy Agency, sub-Saharan Africa will require more than $300 billion in investment to achieve universal electricity access by 2030. Only with greater private sector investment can the promise of Power Africa be realized. With an initial set of six partner countries in its first phase, Power Africa will add more than 10,000 megawatts of cleaner, more efficient electricity generation capacity. It will increase electricity access by at least 20 million new households and commercial entities with on-grid, mini-grid, and off-grid solutions. And it will enhance energy resource management capabilities, allowing partner countries to meet their critical energy needs and achieve greater energy security.

As that first paragraph points out, this is inherently an issue of rural energy — and of household energy. The following bit seems a bit… optimistic:

Power Africa will work in collaboration with partner countries to ensure the path forward on oil and gas development maximizes the benefits to the people of Africa, while also ensuring that development proceeds in a timely, financially sound, inclusive, transparent and environmentally sustainable manner.

Replicating Soi Four's Miang Kum at home

Soi Four, a Thai place on College in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland, makes a lot of delicious stuff. One of our favorites (and something we order every time we visit) is the Miang Kum, which is described as follows on their menu:

miang kum Fresh cut mustard leaf wrap of roasted coconut, prawns, pomelo, herbs, & sweet palm

It’s awesome. Crunchy, salty, sweet, bitter, and hot. We decided to try to make it home a few days ago, bought the requisite ingredients, and gave it a whirl. It turned out magnificently. A bit of prep work, but nothing exorbitant. Without further ado, here’s the recipe (adapted from justasdelish.com and found via the google-bot).

Mieng Kum
Ingredients
1/3 lb peeled, deveined shrimp
Toasted peanuts, crushed
Mustard leaves, cut or torn into 2” by 2” pieces
1 grapefruit (oro blanco) or 0.5 pomelo, sectioned and chopped
0.25 cup + 1 tablespoon sliced shallots
3-4 green/red thai chilies, sliced into small coins
0.5 cups + 2 tablespoons grated, dried coconut
0.25 cup diced young ginger
0.25 tablespoon finely sliced Galangal
0.5 cups water
0.5 cups palm sugar
0.5 tablespoon fish sauce (red boat!)

Instructions
Step 0. Roast the coconut over medium heat, stirring constantly to avoid burning. Remove from heat when it starts to brown. Separate 2 tablespoons and save for later.

Step 1. In a mortar and pestle, smash the shallots and galangal into a paste.

Step 2. In a small sauce pan, add the 0.5 cups water, 0.5 cups palm sugar, and 0.5 tablespoons of fish sauce. Add the shallot and galangal paste. Heat over medium low heat until reduced to about half the liquid volume. Add the two tablespoons of reserved toasted coconut and remove from heat.

Step 3. Boil or stir-fry your shrimp until cooked. Crudely slice into small pieces.

Step 4. Assemble. Take a 2” by 2” square of mustard leaf. Throw a little piece of shrimp on there. Top with roasted coconut, a piece or two of shallot, a pinch of peanuts, some grapefruit, a single chili coin, and a little ginger. Drip some sauce over the top.

Step 5. Enjoy. Repeat.

Sweet, sweet 90s nostalgia! A new track from the Pixies released!

Google Street View of Hashima, the abandoned island base featured in Skyfall

Hashima, commonly known as battleship island, served as a model for a set piece in Skyfall, the recent James Bond movie. Remember the creepy ruins where Javier Bardem’s character is introduced? That was based on Hashima. Google recently mapped the real island, using their trekker backpack camera.

PRI’s The World recorded and wrote a short piece on Hashima after the release of Skyfall.

The island is known as Hashima, or alternatively as Gunkanjima (“Battleship”) Island, and it sits about nine miles off the Japanese coast in the East China Sea.

In the late 1880s, coal was found on the sea floor beneath the island. In the early days, Japan’s Mitsubishi company, which was mining the coal, would ferry miners to and from the work site from Nagasaki.

Then, the company decided it would be easier to just build houses for the workers, and their families, on Hashima itself.

Giant, multi-storey concrete apartment blocks went up. Schools, bath houses, temples, restaurants, markets, even a graveyard, were built, all on a space the size of a football field.

“Once they reached 5,000 people or more out there, it was recognized as the most densely populated place on earth…ever,” says Thomas Nordanstad, a Swedish filmmaker.

EPA's thoughts on Keystone XL

Obama, yesterday:

Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward. It’s relevant.

The EPA, reviewing the State Department’s environmental impact assessment of the Keyspan proposal:

As recognized by the DSEIS (Department of State’s draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement), oil sands crude is significantly more GHG intensive than other crudes, and therefore has potentially large climate impacts. The DSEIS reports that lifecycle GHG emissions from oil sands crude could be 81% greater than emissions from the average crude reformed in the U.S. in 2005 on a well-to-tank basis, and 17% greater on a well-to-wheels basis. This difference may be even greater depending on the assumptions made. The incremental emissions from oil sands crude transported by the Project would therefore be 18.7 million metric tons C02-e (carbon dioxide equivalent) per year when compared to an equal amount of U.S. average crudes, based on the Project’s full capacity of 830,000 barrels of oil sands crude per day. To place this difference in context, we recommend using monetized estimates of the social cost of the GHG emissions from a barrel of oil sands crude compared to average U.S. crude. If GHG intensity of oil sands crude is not reduced, over a 50 year period the additional C02-e from oil sands crude transported by the pipeline could be as much as 935 million metric tons.

The whole report is interesting, though laden with acronyms. The EPA decided that there’s insufficient information to make a clear decision at this point, tossing the ball back into State’s court. They specifically focus on a central conclusion of the DSEIS report — that the tar sands oil will find a way to market whether or not the pipeline is built. EPA doesn’t contest that point directly, but requires more sophisticated and modern modeling of the impacts of these alternates routes of getting the oil to the US. This makes sense — if the oil will be pulled from the ground and travel to and through the US, then all possible routes and methods of transport must be equally evaluated.

That said, the current analysis of Keystone indicates it could “significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

Obama: "...that bright blue ball rising over the moon's surface, containing everything we hold dear -- the laughter of children, a quiet sunset, all the hopes and dreams of posterity -- that's what's at stake."

President Obama, yesterday at Georgetown, at the end of his speech calling for action and outlining new policies on climate change:

Understand this is not just a job for politicians. So I’m going to need all of you to educate your classmates, your colleagues, your parents, your friends. Tell them what’s at stake. Speak up at town halls, church groups, PTA meetings. Push back on misinformation. Speak up for the facts. Broaden the circle of those who are willing to stand up for our future.

Convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution. Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. Invest. Divest. Remind folks there’s no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth. And remind everyone who represents you at every level of government that sheltering future generations against the ravages of climate change is a prerequisite for your vote. Make yourself heard on this issue.

I understand the politics will be tough. The challenge we must accept will not reward us with a clear moment of victory. There’s no gathering army to defeat. There’s no peace treaty to sign. When President Kennedy said we’d go to the moon within the decade, we knew we’d build a spaceship and we’d meet the goal. Our progress here will be measured differently — in crises averted, in a planet preserved. But can we imagine a more worthy goal? For while we may not live to see the full realization of our ambition, we will have the satisfaction of knowing that the world we leave to our children will be better off for what we did.

“It makes you realize,” that astronaut said all those years ago, “just what you have back there on Earth.” And that image in the photograph, that bright blue ball rising over the moon’s surface, containing everything we hold dear — the laughter of children, a quiet sunset, all the hopes and dreams of posterity — that’s what’s at stake. That’s what we’re fighting for. And if we remember that, I’m absolutely sure we’ll succeed.

Mother Jones’s nice outline of the key points of the speech follows:

Here are the key components of the plan aimed at reducing US emissions:

  • Directs the EPA to issue draft emission rules for existing power plants by June 2014, to be finalized by June 2015.

  • Asks the EPA to “work expeditiously” on finalizing rules for new power plants that the agency issued in March 2012 (though does not appear to include a due date for that).

  • Pledges that the federal government will draw 20 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2020.

  • Sets a goal of permitting an additional 10 gigawatts of renewable energy on public lands by 2020.

  • Sets a goal of putting 100 megawatts of renewable energy on federally subsidized housing by 2020.

  • Creates a new, $8 billion loan guarantee program for advanced fossil fuel projects at the Department of Energy (think clean coal, etc.).

  • Directs the EPA and the Department of Transportation to work on fuel economy standard for heavy-duty trucks, buses, and vans for after 2018 (following up on the 2014-18 rules they rolled out in 2011).

  • Sets a goal of cutting at least 3 billion tons of carbon pollution by 2030 through improvements in energy efficiency standards.

  • Calls for an end to US funding for fossil fuel energy projects overseas unless they include carbon capture technology.

Radiolab: Jenny Hollowell reads her short story, "A History of Everything, Including You"

“Life evolved or was created. Cells trembled and divided and gasped and found dry land. Soon they grew legs and fins and hands and antennae and mouths and ears and wings and eyes—eyes that opened wide to take all of it in: the creeping, growing, soaring, swimming, crawling, stampeding universe. Eyes opened and closed and opened again; we called it blinking. Above us shone a star that we called the Sun and we called the ground the Earth. So we named everything, including ourselves. We were man and woman, and when we got lonely we figured out a way to make more of us. We called it sex and most people enjoyed it.”

No excerpt will really do this justice; Hollowell’s reading is funny, poignant, and devastating. Begins around 3 minutes in, though the whole podcast is worth a listen.

Delicatessen with love: Global grammas + their favorite foods

Arianna Rinaldo, introducing Gabriele Galimberti’s photo gallery of grandmothers and their prized recipes:

Appealing to their natural cooking care and their inevitable pride in their best recipe, common factors to all grandmothers in the world, Gabriele persuaded them to do their best in the kitchen. This means moose stake in Alaska and caterpillars in Malawi, delicious, but ferociously hot, ten-spice-curry in India and sharks soup in the Philippines. He has come back with a cookery book of detailed recipes that mix love, photography and travel amongst the many exotic ingredients. Indeed, each for each grandmother he has produced a portrait of the cook, and easy to follow recipe and an image of the extraordinary and at times mouthwatering final dish.

His photos and text are great. I’ve had a similar idea floating around for a short video series of how people cook in households around the world — with a specific focus on how they cook AND what the meal looks like. My colleagues and I tend to focus on the fuel, the stove, and the practices of cooking in rural households — but often don’t pay as much attention to the nourishing final product. The meals carry such cultural and local significance (not to mention deliciousness) — a fact that Galimberti highlights magnificently.

via kottke

The 'Social Cost Of Carbon' Is Almost Double What The Government Previously Thought

Think Progress has a nice summary of the report out of the Obama administration updating the social cost of carbon (SCC). From the report’s executive summary:

The SCC estimates using the updated versions of the models are higher than those reported in the 2010 TSD. By way of comparison, the four 2020 SCC estimates reported in the 2010 TSD were $7, $26, $42 and $81 (2007$). The corresponding four updated SCC estimates for 2020 are $12, $43, $65, and $129 (2007$). The model updates that are relevant to the SCC estimates include: an explicit representation of sea level rise damages in the DICE and PAGE models; updated adaptation assumptions, revisions to ensure damages are constrained by GDP, updated regional scaling of damages, and a revised treatment of potentially abrupt shifts in climate damages in the PAGE model; an updated carbon cycle in the DICE model; and updated damage functions for sea level rise impacts, the agricultural sector, and reduced space heating requirements, as well as changes to the transient response of temperature to the buildup of GHG concentrations and the inclusion of indirect effects of methane emissions in the FUND model. The SCC estimates vary by year, and the following table summarizes the revised SCC estimates from 2010 through 2050.

After reviewing the full document, the changes update the science to the state of current understanding. As such, the projections offered within are more current (and based on more evolved science) than previously SCC estimates. The conclusions from the report are significant, but seem to overplay the US’s actions and role to date:

However, the climate change problem is highly unusual in at least two respects. First, it involves a global externality: emissions of most greenhouse gases contribute to damages around the world even when they are emitted in the United States. Consequently, to address the global nature of the problem, the SCC must incorporate the full (global) damages caused by GHG emissions. Second, climate change presents a problem that the United States alone cannot solve. Even if the United States were to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to zero, that step would be far from enough to avoid substantial climate change. Other countries would also need to take action to reduce emissions if significant changes in the global climate are to be avoided. Emphasizing the need for a global solution to a global problem, the United States has been actively involved in seeking international agreements to reduce emissions and in encouraging other nations, including emerging major economies, to take significant steps to reduce emissions.

This is a step in the right direction, but dodges real leadership.

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes: NIN - Came Back Haunted

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