July 30, 2009

Where Do Your Old Electronics End Up?

Many old electronics gather dust in storage waiting to be reused, recycled or thrown away. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that as much as three quarters of the computers sold in the US are stockpiled in garages and closets when they are no longer in use. When these items finally get thrown away, they end up in landfills or incinerators or, more recently, are exported to Asia where they are dismantled and harvested for lead, copper, and other materials under unsafe conditions.

E-waste is routinely exported by developed countries to developing ones, often in violation of international laws. Inspections of 18 European seaports in 2005 found that as much as 47 percent of the trash destined for export, including e-waste, was illegal.

July 29, 2009

Dangerous E-Waste

The computer that you are using to read this article, as well as the one that I am using to write it, and all of the computers, cell phones, game consoles, and other electronics that we have owned contain some very toxic materials. A University of Utah study recently reported that the U.S. discarded 130 million cell phones in 2005, and that 60-65 million personal computers become obsolete every year. The whole of the developed world discards a huge amount of electronic waste, or e-waste, but have you ever wondered where it all goes? Most of it travels to China.

July 23, 2009

The Need for Speed

"Imagine boarding a train in the center of a city...whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles per hour...and ending up just blocks from your destination." That's the vision of of high speed rail (HSR) that President Obama laid out while explaining a plan to invest $13 billion between 2009 and 2014. It's a dream already being lived and enjoyed by people in many other developed nations. But is the U.S. financing enough, and will the dream ever become a reality in that country? It will need to be, if the U.S. plans to be an economic power in the future. Idling in traffic for hour on freeways that look more like parking lots is not an efficient way for people to get around, and the U.S. has fallen far behind other countries in terms of developing its transportation infrastructure. Newsweek recently reported the following statistics:

CHINA: 1,339 miles of HSR track, top speed of 267 mph
FRANCE: 1,180 miles of track, top speed of 199 mph
JAPAN: 1,360 miles of track, top speed of 188 mph
SPAIN: 981 miles of track, top speed of 186 mph
GERMANY: 620 miles of track, top speed of 186 mph
U.S.A.: 456 miles of track, top speed of 150 mph (Acela)

Transportation infrastructure costs money, and the U.S. promise of $13 billion over five years may not be enough. Germany, a much smaller country, spends the equivalent of $58 billion in rail subsidies in five years. The cost to build only the California HSR system is $45 billion. By comparison, the U.S. Acela system resported $468 million in revenue in the 2008 financial year, demonstrating that good HSR requires substantial public investment and should not be expected to pay for itself in fares alone. The real dividends show up later in the form of increased business opportunities, financial stimulation, lower pollution, and higher quality of living.

July 13, 2009

Best Buy Selling Green Vehicles

Best Buy Co., best known as a vendor of giant televisions, appears to be moving in a new direction: selling electric scooters, bicycles, motorcycles, and Segways.

Without fan fair, the largest (by sales) consumer-electronics retailer in the United States has begun offering electric-powered scooters, bicycles and Segway Inc. transporters in 19 locations in California, Oregon and Washington.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Best Buy "is throttling up the venture this summer with the introduction of the Brammo Enertia, a futuristic electric motorcycle that can travel 45 miles at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour and plugs into a standard wall outlet. Best Buy wouldn't disclose when it will begin selling the motorcycle, but Brammo Inc. representatives said it would debut in a Portland store this month." The hot new electric motorcycle will be priced at just under $12,000 and get the electric equivalent of 361 miles per gallon, but why hasn't the public seen more advertising? Why do so many companies introduce electric vehicles in relative secret and in limited numbers? Is this a progressive move on the part of Best Buy, or just more greenwash? (See the Related Articles list below for more.)

July 10, 2009

Three New Dinosaurs Found in Western Queensland, Australia

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh has announced the discovery of three new dinosaur species, found in a prehistoric billabong in Western Queensland, Australia. The dinosaurs have been given nicknames after characters created by poet Banjo Paterson who is said to have written Waltzing Matilda in Winton in 1885. Banjo (carnivorous theropod) and Matilda and Clancy (giant plant-eating sauropods) were found in a vast geological deposit near Winton that dates from 98-95 million years ago.

The creatures were unearthed during the State Government funded joint Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum and Queensland Museum digs in Western Queensland, and are part of the largest concentration of dinosaur bones ever discovered in Australia.

The meat-eating Australovenator wintonensis (Banjo) was similar to Velociraptor. It was fast, had sharp teeth, and sported three large slashing claws on each hand. It was probably a terrifying creature. Palaeontologists say that the Diamantinasaurus matildae (Matilda) was a solid and robust animal, filling a niche similar to the hippopotamus today. The second new species, Wintonotitan wattsi (Clancy) represented a tall animal that may have been Australia’s prehistoric answer to the giraffe. Both of the plant-eating dinosaurs found represent new types of titanosaurs, the largest animals ever to walk the earth.

“These discoveries are a major breakthrough in the scientific understanding of prehistoric life in Australia, and the potential for educational tourism through their permanent display at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History in Winton, is enormous,” said the Premier.

A paper describing the new dinosaurs was published on-line today in PLoS ONE, the Public Library of Science’s new interactive open-access journal for scientific and medical research.