Category Archives: Big Business
by Lauren Craig, EarthTechling
The food-versus-fuel debate has typically been used in reference to farmers in industrialized countries growing food crops, such as corn, to sell to biofuels producers.
However, there is another side to the debate. The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), a non-profit research institute based in London, is raising concerns that rising global demand for biomass fuels could lead to a race for land acquisition in the developing world, with serious implications for communities that grow their own food.
As countries in the global north increase their use of biomass to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and meet ambitious renewable energy targets, the demand for wood and other biomass crops could exceed supply by up to 600% in some countries.
Some countries, including Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom already import increasing volumes of wood pellets.
According to the IIED, this trend, combined with the tropics’ high growth rates, cheap land and low costs of labor and the rising price of fossil fuels, could lead more countries to look toward Africa, South America and South Asia as sources of biomass fuels.
There is evidence that this is already happening. For example, in 2010, a US company secured a 49-year lease on 5,000 hectares of land in Ghana for a plantation to produce feedstock for biomass power plants.
The same company also operates in Guyana, and intends to establish energy crop plantations in Madagascar, Mozambique and Tanzania.
Governments hope that this increased private investment will lead to job creation and further action toward mitigating climate change. But, in many parts of the developing world, poor people have weak or non-existent land rights.
If governments choose to lease large areas of land for fuel wood plantations, the IIED warns that many rural communities could lose access to land which they have farmed for generations, and on which their survival depends. The entire policy brief can be found here.
Here’s an interesting conundrum, posed by Representative Dennis Ross (R-Florida), at a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing held on Monday:
“Imagine you are sitting in Dulles airport in Virginia, waiting for a flight back to Florida,” Ross began in his opening remarks. “You download a music file from Apple, which is headquartered in California. The music is sent to you via a server in Oklahoma.”
Which of these states should be allowed to tax the sale?
Without a “clear national rule,” he warned at the hearing, “all four states may attempt to tax the transaction.”
And so Congress is considering one such national standard: HR 1860, the Digital Goods and Services Tax Fairness Act of 2011. Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas) submitted the bill to the Judiciary committee two weeks ago. A similar law sponsored by Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) awaits consideration in the Senate.
The crux of the legislation centers around this sentence: “No State or local jurisdiction shall impose multiple or discriminatory taxes on or with respect to the sale or use of digital goods or digital services.”
The bill defines a “discriminatory tax” as a tax imposed by a State or local jurisdiction at a higher rate than “is generally imposed on or with respect to the sale or use of tangible personal property or of similar services that are not provided electronically.”
A “multiple tax” is defined as one in which that State or locality “gives no credit with respect to a tax that was previously paid on or with respect to the sale or use of such digital good or digital service to another State or local jurisdiction.”
Then come more specific limits on taxation. Any tax on the sale of digital goods and services can only be imposed on the state and its localities “whose territorial limits encompass the customer’s tax address.” This is understood as the address that the customer offered and which the seller received in good faith.
This legislation is strongly supported by the Download Fairness Coalition, which, not coincidentally, describes itself as “a partnership of businesses, associations, and consumers who have joined together to prevent multiple and discriminatory taxation of digital goods.”
The Coalition includes Apple, Time Warner Cable, Comcast, Verizon and, most notably, Amazon. The last mentioned company has been famously at odds with various states over taxes for years.
Story Continues -> How Will States Tax Internet Downloads? Congress May Decide
As expected, a Democratic bill that would have put an end to the multi-billion-dollar annual tax subsidies for oil companies Chevron, Shell, BP, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil failed to overcome a Republican filibuster on Tuesday evening. The heavily partisan 52-in-favor, 48-against vote fell eight shy of the 60 required to bring the bill to the floor.
If passed, the bill would have eliminated $12 billion in subsidies for production of oil within the U.S. and cut $6 billion in credits for taxes that oil companies pay to foreign governments. Finally, the bill would have put an end to oil companies writing off some drilling and development costs.
According to the Huffington Post, Republicans say that the bill unfairly singles out oil companies and would hinder their ability to hire American workers, thus leading to reduced oil production and increased dependence on foreign oil. Democrats argue that subsidies are unnecessary given that oil companies typically report profits in the multi-billion dollar range.
Three Democrats – Mary Landrieu (D-LA, pictured), Mark Begich (D-AK), and Ben Nelson (D-NE) – voted with Republicans to maintain the subsidies, while Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Susan Collins (R-ME) sided with the Democrats.
As this chart – based on data from the Center for Responsive Politics– shows, the 48 senators who voted with the oil industry received over $21 million in oil-related contributions, while the 52 senators who voted to eliminate subsidies received a mere $5.4 million. Looks like money talks.
by Emma Woollacott
Shell’s announced that it’s to go ahead with plans to build the world’s largest floating object ever, a platform designed to exploit offshore natural gas fields.
The Prelude Floating Liquefied Natural Gas (FLNG) project, moored some 200 kilometres offshore from Australia, will produce gas from offshore fields and liquefy it onboard by cooling it to minus 162 degrees Celcius.
Construction will now begin at a shipyard in South Korea.
From bow to stern, the FLNG facility will be 488 metres long (1600 feet or almost 1/3 of a mile long_. When fully equipped, and with its storage tanks full, it will weigh around 600,000 tonnes – around six times as much as the largest aircraft carrier. Some 260,000 tonnes of steel will be used.
“Our innovative FLNG technology will allow us to develop offshore gas fields that otherwise would be too costly to develop,” says Malcolm Brinded, Shell’s Executive Director, Upstream International.
“FLNG technology is an exciting innovation, complementary to onshore LNG, which can help accelerate the development of gas resources.”
In an industry first, liquid natural gas will be transported by ship straight from the plant to the customer, rather than being liquefied at a land-based plant. The company says the facility has been designed to withstand the severest cyclones – those of Category 5.
The facility is expected to go into production in around 2017 at the Prelude gas field. It expects to harvest some 110,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day. The FLNG facility will stay permanently moored at the Prelude gas field for 25 years, after which it may be moved elsewhere.
By Tom Simonite
A cell-phone application that logs everything the phone”s user does–from sending e-mail to playing games–may not sound so desirable. But researchers are deploying the software to see if they can determine the best ways to improve the battery life of phones and uncover network dead spots.
Working with colleagues at Microsoft Research, Hossein Falaki, a PhD candidate at UCLA”s Center for Embedded Network Sensing, has developed software that records data use, phone use, and battery-charge levels. The software is designed to run on devices that use Windows Mobile or the Android operating system. The Android version can also track the data sent and received by individual applications.
“One major problem we all experience with smart phones is that the batteries don”t last long enough,” says Falaki, who will present a paper next month at the Internet Measurement Conference in Melbourne, Australia, on more than 2,000 days of data collected from eight Windows Mobile and 35 Android users. “By studying how people use [the phones], we can find ways to match devices and networks to people.”
For example, the tracking application uncovered data suggesting that a tweak to the hardware of two phones made by the Taiwanese manufacturer HTC– could save approximately 40 percent of the power consumed by their radios. These handsets automatically switch off the radio after being idle for 17 seconds, a tactic used by all handsets and often with a similar timeout value. But that is a poor match with the very “bursty” way that smart-phone users access data, says Falaki. “People take the phone out of their pocket, interact with it for a few minutes, and then don”t use it for a relatively long time after,” he says.
Logs of data use showed that after a burst of activity, users rarely needed more data in the subsequent 17 seconds, so the radio was often left on needlessly. In fact, some 95 percent of data packets were sent or received within 4.5 seconds of the last one. Resetting the device so that the radio powered down after 4.5 seconds would consume 40 percent less power without affecting performance, says Falaki.
“These ”tail times” are larger than they need to be,” says Arun Venkataramani, an assistant professor at University of Massachusetts, Amherst who studies power use in mobile devices. “From an application and user perspective, there”s significant room for improvement.” The Microsoft-UCLA data agrees with results from his own experiments looking at the energy costs of cell-phone timeout periods, he says.
Article Continues -> http://www.technologyreview.com/communications/26524/?p1=Headlines
Fire retardants in baby blankets, nano-particles in cosmetics, plastics in water bottles and anti-bacterial agents in soaps.
Experts call these and other chemicals emerging contaminants — compounds that were once thought to be safe, but which scientists now believe may pose a danger to human health.
The state-backed People”s Daily newspaper reported Thursday that 1,611 small mines across China with outdated facilities were closed this year, citing the National Energy Bureau.
More than 2,600 people died in mining accidents in China last year, though deaths have decreased in recent years as the government increased safety inspections and shut down illegal mines.
In October, the State Administration of Work Safety said mine managers and bosses who do not accompany workers down into mine shafts would be severely punished.
Tests often provide medically meaningless data according to ethics group
With medical technology becoming more and more advanced, we have numerous new medical tests that doctors can use to check for various disease conditions. Some of the new genetic tests can be used to determine the chance a patient might have of developing a serious disease like cancer or diabetes at some point in their lives.
The interesting part about many of these genetic tests is that there is a market for direct sales of genetic testing to people that have no symptoms or reason to worry they might develop a certain disease. A new report by a British medical ethics groups has asked that private DNA testing be accredited and have to live up to certain standards to protect consumers.
The group maintains that many of these genetic tests provide “medically and therapeutically meaningless” results and that these false results could lead the person paying for the tests to pay for further testing that isn’t needed and to needlessly worry about their medical condition. The group, called the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, maintains that the results of many genetic tests are “unclear, unreliable, or inaccurate.” In addition to regulating genetic testing, the group also wants regulations placed on body scanning services using MRI and CT scans.
Christopher Hood, one of the authors of the report publishes by the ethics group said, “The internet is now often the first port of call for people to find out more about their health. People need to know where they can get accurate health information, how to buy medicines online safely and how any personal information about their health posted online might be used.”
The genetic tests are generally conducted using a DNA sample derived from saliva. Google-backed a company providing these direct to consumer genetic testing in Europe back in 2008. The company is called 23andMe. The genetic tests the company sold cost $999 when it launched and claimed to read over 600,000 genetic points on the donor”s genetic makeup looking for potential issues.
Speaking directly about the use of CT and MRI scans, another of the report authors named Nikolas Rose said, “The reliability of these tests is questionable. And even if the tests were reliable, the increases in risk over that in the general population that are given to you by these tests are usually minimal, and in almost all circumstances they have no clinical relevance.”
The group maintains that when a full body scan is conducted of a person with no real reason other than to satisfy curiosity, the amount of radiation the user is exposed to is more harmful than most disease conditions that the test may potentially discover. The tests also often uncover anomalies that are meaningless and cause needless worry for the patient.
CHIBA, Japan — There were gadgets and robots galore at Japan”s premier electronics show this week. But one of the biggest attractions wasn”t anything you could touch – an energy efficient city of the future.
For the first time, the Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies, better known as Ceatec, devoted one area of the show floor to selling a vision of urban life in 2020 and beyond.
The Japanese version of the so-called “smart city” exists in a post-fossil fuel world. Alternative sources like the sun, wind and nuclear power are harnessed in mass quantities. That power is then distributed to buildings, homes and electric cars connected to each other through “smart grids,” which monitor usage throughout the network to maximize efficiency.
The goal is to drastically cut carbon emissions, which many scientists believe cause global warming – ideally to zero. The bigger dream is for the smart city to become Japan”s next big export, fueling new growth and ambition at a time when the country finds itself in an economic rut and eclipsed by China as the world”s second-biggest economy behind the U.S.
The city of Yokohama, just southwest of Tokyo, is the site of a social and infrastructure experiment to create a smart city for the rest of the world to emulate. Launched this year, the “Yokohama Smart City Project” is a five-year pilot program with a consortium of seven Japanese companies – Nissan Motor Co., Panasonic Corp., Toshiba Corp., Tokyo Electric Power Co., Tokyo Gas Co., Accenture”s Japan unit and Meidensha Corp.
“We want to build a social model to take overseas,” said Masato Nobutoki, the executive director of Yokohama”s Climate Change Policy Headquarters, during a keynote event at Ceatec this week. “Yokohama is a place where foreign cultures entered Japan 150 years ago and then spread to the rest of the country.”
Now, he said, it”s where the best of Japan is converging, preparing for launch to the wider world.
Japan certainly isn”t the only country working on smart grids.
Australia has committed $100 million and is developing its first commercial-scale smart grid in Newcastle, a city a New South Wales state. South Korea is embarking on a $200 billion smart grid project on Jeju Island as part of efforts to cut national energy consumption by 3 percent by the year 2030. China is expected to invest a world leading $7.3 billion toward smart grids and related technologies in 2010, ahead of Washington”s $7.1 billion in Department of Energy grants, according to market research firm Zpryme.
Zpryme estimates that the global smart grid market will be worth $171.4 billion in four years, up sharply from $69.3 billion in 2009.
On Tuesday, Toyota Motor Corp. separately announced the launch of its own home smart grid system in Japan to coincide with its plug-in hybrid cars going on sale in early 2012.
Called the Toyota Smart Center, it calculates the most efficient way of using energy, eliminating waste by shutting off gadgets when they aren”t being used and maximizing the recharging benefits of hybrids, which recharge as they run. Utilities can also be used when rates are cheapest such as overnight to heat stored water.
With competition heating up and so much business at stake, Japan is hoping to aggressively court customers overseas, especially in emerging economies, with not only its vision but also its long-standing reputation for reliability and quality.
If it”s all a little hard to imagine, Nissan was offering a peek into the future at Ceatec. The centerpiece of the automaker”s pavilion was a 3-D theater with a 275-inch screen giving viewers a virtual reality drive through a “near future” Yokohama. The virtual city tour will be replicated for leaders from around Asia when they gather in Yokohama next month for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings.
“We need to turn talk into reality,” said Minoru Shinohara, senior vice president for technology development at Nissan, which will begin selling its Leaf electric car in December.
“If all we do is talk, I have a great fear that we will be surpassed,” said Shinohara.
The Aysén region of Chilean Patagonia is threatened by a plan to build five dams on the Baker and the Pascua rivers – two of the wildest most pristine rivers on the planet. The Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition (Rave), an initiative of the International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP), set up to address the challenges of modern conservation, visited the area in February this year to assess what impact the dams would have on the surrounding area and its way of life.
The expedition team included the Pulitzer prize winner and National Geographic photographer Jack Dykinga and twice World Press winner and Prince”s Rainforest Project award winner Daniel Beltra.
The three dams on the Pascua River (below) would create artificial lakes flooding more than 1,600 hectares (about 4,000 acres). Flooded lands would include some of the world’s rarest forest types, including the critically endangered plants. Other rare species that would be harmed by the Pascua dams include the torrent duck and the white-bellied seedsnipe.
The water supplying 80 per cent of the world”s population is exposed to “high levels of threat,” according to a study that surveys the status of rivers throughout the world, and looks at their effects on both humans and the ecosystem at large.
Writing in this week”s Nature (vol 467, p 555), Charles Vorosmarty of the City College of New York and colleagues presented data on factors affecting water security, from dams that reduce river flow in Patagonia, for example, to the pollution and destruction of wetlands.
They produced two maps showing the levels of threat to humans and to ecosystems that rely on rivers. The maps are virtually identical, with the continental US, Europe and south-east Asia facing the greatest threats, to both humans and the wider ecosystem.
Via The Guardian