Archive for April, 2007

carbon offsets for server farms

Monday, April 30th, 2007

We tend to focus on carbon neutrality for previous centuries’ industries (cars, coal). But we can forget the gluttonous material and energy needs of our e-industries. I’m thinking specifically of the acres of computer servers needed to support e-commerce functions and search engines. These server farms deserve our climate change attention just as much as our concern about SUVs. A couple of examples show that organizations are beginning to address these concerns.

Yahoo, for example, is aiming to go carbon neutral this year.

Carbon Neutral consults with firms to determine their carbon footprint, assess possibilities for reduction, and then estimate offsets. Some high profile organizations have used the company–IUCN is one–although I don’t know the Carbon Neutral’s provenance in terms of the carbon-friendly projects it funds.

Two Steps Forward succinctly lays out both the problems and advances of energy consumption by data centers.

I, for one, would like to determine how much offset I require for my home computers, although I realize that purchasing offsets doesn’t obviate my need for reducing overall energy consumption and computer use.

unintended consequences of alternate energy policy

Friday, April 27th, 2007

Renewable energy sources that reduce our dependence on oil and gas and decrease the emissions of green house gases may unintentionally do more harm than good.

In the rush to develop biofuels, forests are burned in Asia to clear land for palm oil, and swaths of the Amazon are stripped of diverse vegetation for soya and sugar plantations for ethanol.
The campaign [for sustainable biofuel standards] is driven by evidence that developers in the two Asian countries have burned vast tracks of rain forest to grow palm oil. The fires unleash millions of tons of carbon dioxide and smoke that shroud entire areas of Southeast Asia in eye-watering smog for weeks at a time.

The Netherlands is Europe’s biggest importer of palm oil, used in a wide range of supermarket products as well as a fuel oil supplement. One Dutch company has plans [as of 2005] to build three 50 megawatt power stations exclusively running on palm oil.

This is part of a hurried effort by The Netherlands to produce biofuels, which is not just an internal environmental decision but a reaction to stringent limits on carbon emissions imposed by the EU and a response to skyrocketing oil prices. To promote the use of biofuels, the Dutch government has created a basket of tax incentives. The government is rethinking the consequences of the push.

The Cramer Commission, which conducted the study, has recommended “a track-and-trace system to follow a [sustainably developed] product from plantation to power plant, like an express delivery package”. This may be a good test case for RFIDs. The original goods/packaging could be peppered with the minute ID tags. Enough should survive each step so the provenance of the goods could be determined. Not to say there wouldn’t be problems (e.g., diluting the ‘sustainable’ products with non-sustainable oil) but my experience with certificate programs suggests that they are quite difficult to enforce. Every bit helps.

clean green for the social elite

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

Green cleaning products are the Tupperware of the upper class.

mobile phones and bees

Tuesday, April 17th, 2007

Bees are the key to most of the world’s food. Their seemingly minor act of pollination ensures most of the world’s food crops. In the past year, there’s been a dramatic decrease in North American and European bee populations where, in some places, up to 80 percent of them have simply disappeared. It’s called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which

occurs when a hive’s inhabitants suddenly disappear, leaving only queens, eggs and a few immature workers, like so many apian Mary Celestes. The vanished bees are never found, but thought to die singly far from home.

Th collapse could be due to a wide variety causes, among them parasites, cancer, and even beekeeper practices.

New findings (reported here and here) suggest that the cause is related to cell phone usage. The radiation from mobile devices are interfering with the bees’ ability to home back on their hives.

If the massive bee die-off is due to mobile phones then researchers should be able to find out if it is due to specific radio frequencies. Meanwhile if the causal link is proven then shouldn’t all mobiles be turned off until a solution is found? That would cause a considerable uproar – but being able to feed people is more important. What if the link is associative (a clear link cannot be found but it’s strongly suggestive) or combinatorial (the radio waves in combination with something else is causing the losses). Then will the public give up their cell phones?

I couldn’t find the paper that the articles were referencing. The closest was this from 2004.

Update: Here are the symptoms of CCD

1) In collapsed colonies
# The complete absence of adult bees in colonies, with no or little build up of dead bees in the colonies or in front of those colonies.
# The presence of capped brood in colonies.
# The presence of food stores, both honey and bee bread
i. which is not immediately robbed by other bees
ii. when attacked by hive pests such as wax moth and small hive beetle, the attack is noticeably delayed.

2) In cases where the colony appear to be actively collapsing
# An insufficient workforce to maintain the brood that is present
# The workforce seems to be made up of young adult bees
# The queen is present
# The cluster is reluctant to consume provided feed, such as sugar syrup and protein supplement

This map gives you a sense of the huge impact of CCD in the U.S.:
States reporting CCD in dark brown (March 2007)
(Map Source: Sieber. Data Source: Bee Alert Technology for the attributes and ESRI for the state boundaries)

[Got the idea for the map from the NYTimes, which treats explanations like cell phones as a form of wild-eyed conspiracy.]

Marrying-in is easy (and popular) with the Google family

Thursday, April 12th, 2007

The number of extensions being linked to Google Maps/Earth/Etc. is incredible. The coffee-table atlas is virtually obsolete (no pun intended). For example, have you ever wondered where Anseba is located? Visit for all you need to know.

google earth and darfur

Tuesday, April 10th, 2007

Google Earth teams up with the US Holocaust Museum to track the enormity of the first genocide of the 21st Century: Darfur in Sudan. There’s a wealth of information, both at the personal and the transnational scales. One can zoom in to see the stories of individual children or zoom out to bear witness to the sheer number of destroyed villages.

burning Darfur village

It would be an easy task to add geographic layers describing the public heath (e.g., water scarcity) and environmental devastation that often accompanies genocides.

grim visions

Monday, April 9th, 2007

Dire future from Britain’s Ministry of Defense, tasked with anticipating the challenge to its armed forces:

Information chips implanted in the brain. Electromagnetic pulse weapons. The middle classes becoming revolutionary, taking on the role of Marx’s proletariat. The population of countries in the Middle East increasing by 132%, while Europe’s drops as fertility falls. “Flashmobs” – groups rapidly mobilised by criminal gangs or terrorists groups.

Among the environmental problems they cite are water scarcity and climate change. All in all, it’s not too cheery.

google maps for communities

Friday, April 6th, 2007

Extreme Tech provides a detailed explanation on building your own community website by hacking Google Maps and Google Earth.

In addition to using GE and GM to build community sites for both community members and visitors, you could create an excellent green maps mashup.

Also check out GCensus on the same site, a way to create choropleth maps of census data, using Google Earth.

homeland security and spatial data–the local version

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2007

Santa Clara County, California has just decided to limit its sale of geographically related information, that is the data needed to make computerized maps. The stated reason is homeland security because “they didn’t want some of the data to end up in the hands of terrorists”. However, the county also just happens to be in the final phase of a lawsuit alleging that the county overcharges for its data. According to the report, the county currently charges $150,000 but a consultant hired BY the county asserts that the whole data set could cost as little as $22,000.

This is just the latest salvo in the fight by cities and counties to protect digital spatial data, whic represents a lucrative source of funding for the government (but also, to be fair, finances the county’s own geographic information system and staff, which historically has never been adequately budgeted for in more prosaic government operations). One should note that the collection of this data is financed by public dollars AND most of it is available for free in paper format. Should one believe I am making up ulterior motives, one of the plaintiffs in the case responds,

This is a completely made-up argument thrown in at the last minute,” he said, noting that the county had already sold the information and that employees without any kind of special training are allowed to work with it.

In the killer app world of Google Earth and Google Maps, this type of data now forms a critical part of standard government operating procedure. For example, private sector planners use it to assess the impacts of transportation proposals. Realtors use the data to sell homes. Corporations use it to select sites for new development. Availability of local spatial data possesses enormous importance as a window onto government activties, whether it’s police presense, environmental impacts, or affordable housing construction. That’s why the San Jose Mercury News is one of the plaintiffs and why nonprofit and environmental organizations should follow this case closely.

going down the drain

Monday, April 2nd, 2007

Environment Canada has just approved a Swedish toilet for use in Canada.


The Multoa, imported from Sweden, is a waterless composting toilet. More on the toilet from EcoEthic.

Update: If you need computational power, then try the eToilet, a joint venture between Microsoft and Mulltoa. Or if you require more efficient processing power, then I’d suggest the Mulltoa NE, which allows for batch composting.

please wash your hands before you surf

Monday, April 2nd, 2007

The Google TiSP. Another in a long line (here, here, and here for most recent) of our toilet-related posts.