Tuesday, March 15, 2011

8 People & Trends To Watch

The Gadflies
Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus pissed off a lot of their green friends when they skewered the enviro movement for its failed 15-year crusade against global warming in their 2004 paper "The Death of Environmentalism." After lambasting enviros for becoming self-absorbed and irrelevant, the researchers are now pushing a Health Care for Hybrids bill that requires automakers that get financial bailouts to produce cleaner cars. Plus, they've taken on Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a high-profile environmentalist, in his fight against building a wind farm on Cape Cod - a battle that could sour investor interest in wind energy. "Developing wind power is more important than saving the Alaskan wilderness," Shellenberger says, "which is all going to end up underwater from global warming anyway."

The Evangelizer
Frustrated by the inability of scientists to sound the alarm on global warming, Laurie David, a talent booker-turned-activist married to comedian Larry David, sought out the moral authorities of our time - funnymen Jack Black, Tom Hanks, and Steve Martin. It worked. Dolled up, dumbed down, and democratized, climate change has been rebranded from a fringe issue for wonky worrywarts to an A-list fret. In 2005, David began a campaign to embed the topic into everything from Alias and The Bold and the Beautiful to the National Council of Churches. Her latest win: conceiving and producing the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, starring Al Gore. "It's the march of the penguins!" David says of her push to give the eco movement mass-market appeal. "I want everyone marching!"

The Diesel Governor
Montana's coal fields hold the equivalent of 240 billion barrels of clean diesel, which almost makes the state another Saudi Arabia. Governor Brian Schweitzer has been hustling GE, Shell, South African Sasol, and the US military to invest in converting that coal into diesel; with oil at more than $40 a barrel (the price at which coal-to-diesel conversion becomes cost-efficient), they're interested. Schweitzer also wants to jump-start a US biofuels industry by adding farm subsidies to alt-energy-producing crops like soybean, safflower, camelina, and canola. Schweitzer, a Democrat, picked up his agricultural self-reliance in Saudi Arabia, where he helped design the irrigation system that turned the kingdom from a wheat importer into a net exporter of wheat in the '80s. The US, he says, can do the same for fuel.

The Builder
"People who aren't building green buildings are building obsolete buildings," says Douglas Durst, whose reign as copresident of the Durst Organization, his family's 90-year-old Manhattan real estate firm, has been as successful as it is idealistic. He's turned high-rises into eco-towers ventilated by outside air, insulated with high-performance glass that cuts energy bills, and made of recycled materials (like steel and carpeting). Even the US Green Building Council, a standards body, is impressed: It certified Durst's 4 Times Square (home to Condé Nast, Wired's owner) the nation's first green office. His latest project? The Helena, a tower with on-premises black-water treatment and a solar-paneled rooftop garden. With another apartment and a BofA tower in the works, Durst is turning New York green.

Pollution Trading
In 2003, after the US bailed on the Kyoto Protocol, the Chicago Climate Exchange began trading permission to pollute. Companies like Bayer, DuPont, Ford, IBM, and Motorola signed on, eager to position themselves ahead of any government carbon regs to come. Under the program, they agree to reduce their carbon emissions 4 percent by 2007 (or, for newer members, 6 percent by 2010). Hit their target early and they can sell their credits for roughly $2 each (one credit equals 1 metric ton of CO2). CCX, which has 140 members, includes cities like Chicago and Portland, Oregon, and multinationals facing mandatory reductions in Europe. Founder Richard Sandor, who pioneered the financial futures market on the Chicago Board of Trade, says carbon emissions could outpace oil to become the most heavily traded commodity.

Nuclear Power
Solar. Wind. Hydro. As replacements for fossil fuels, they're not enough. So countries are increasingly turning to nuclear energy for the clean power that the global economy demands, and now, 20 years after Chernobyl, there's a resurgence of nuclear plants. More than 400 reactors in 31 countries (104 in the US alone) provide 16 percent of the world's electricity. China expects to add 32 more facilities by 2020. Nuclear is cheaper than other energies, it doesn't need to be imported, and it doesn't come with emission taxes. Nonetheless, it remains controversial for all the obvious reasons: disposal of spent fuel rods, vulnerability to meltdown or arms proliferation - but even the US, which hasn't seen a new nuclear plant in a decade, is getting ready to build reactors in Mississippi and Alabama.

Green Machines
The Prius is just the beginning. This year, Toyota will roll out a hybrid version of the Camry, the top-selling car in the US. The next phase of green car tech follows fast: The Mercedes F 600 Hygenius pairs a lithium-ion battery with fuel cells to run nearly 250 miles on a tank of hydrogen. Meantime, about 40 percent of cars in Europe are now biodiesel-ready. Adoption of the fuel in the US, where it lags, may soon get a boost thanks to new additives and blends that reduce the nitrogen oxide emissions and keep biodiesel from jelling in cold weather. Other innovations in the works include BMW's Turbosteamer motor, which harnesses heat from its exhaust and cooling system to power the engine, and Mitsubishi's plant-based plastics used throughout its autos.

Power Plants
Coming soon to US cornfields: ethanol plants. There are now 95 facilities in operation, 34 under construction, and more on the way. The goal: to more than double production of the corn-based fuel to nearly 10 billion gallons by 2015. (Still, that's just a fraction of the 140 billion gallons of gasoline Americans guzzle each year.) Among those turning maize into gold is Jefferson Grain Processors, led by Paul Olsen, a third-generation Wisconsin farmer. His operation will produce 140 million gallons of ethanol, plus biodiesel, electricity, CO2, animal feed, and 8 million pounds of fish - farmed, processed, and fried - all using the excess energy from ethanol production. "It's a Wal-Mart society - you've got to be efficient," Olsen says. If prices fall? "It's ethanol. We can always make hooch."

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