30 November 2012

29 November 2012

California Sells Out Of Pollution Permits

As the Wall Street Journal explains:

Businesses are required to either cut emissions to cap levels annually, or buy pollution permits called “allowances” from other companies for each extra ton of emissions discharged annually.

The cap and number of allowances will decline over time in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions year-by-year.

The final price for 2013 allowances was just nine cents above the $10 minimum price set by regulators.

However, not everyone approves of cap-and-trade.

No surprise here: petroleum refiners, manufacturing companies and other industries have spoken out strongly against the program, calling it an illegal tax that will hurt California’s economic recovery.

The California Chamber of Commerce last week filed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the cap-and-trade auction, arguing that the Air Resources Board exceeded the authority granted under AB 32.

But they may well be outnumbered. As Rob Day of Black Coral Capital in Boston explains:

“The price of carbon matters, but the price is going to change over time. It’s more important to me to see that there was an appetite for these credits,” Day said. “This is a robust market. It’s real. It’s not going away. California is pricing carbon, and companies are saying, ‘I need to start paying attention to my carbon footprint.’ “

Good for California!

Read more click here

28 November 2012

Greenhouse gas volumes reached new high in 2011: survey

Date: 21-Nov-12
Country: GENEVA
Author: Tom Miles

Atmospheric volumes of greenhouse gases blamed for climate change hit a new record in 2011, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said in its annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin on Tuesday.

The volume of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas emitted by human activities, grew at a similar rate to the previous decade and reached 390.9 parts per million (ppm), 40 percent above the pre-industrial level, the survey said.

It has increased by an average of 2 ppm for the past 10 years.

Fossil fuels are the primary source of about 375 billion metric tonnes (413.37 billion tons) of carbon that has been released into the atmosphere since the industrial era began in 1750, the WMO said.

WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said the billions of tonnes of extra carbon dioxide would stay in the atmosphere for centuries, causing the planet to warm further.

"We have already seen that the oceans are becoming more acidic as a result of the carbon dioxide uptake, with potential repercussions for the underwater food chain and coral reefs," he said in a statement.

Levels of methane, another long-lived greenhouse gas, have risen steadily for the past three years after leveling off for about seven years. The reasons for that evening out are unclear.

Growth in volumes of a third gas, nitrous oxide, quickened in 2011. It has a long-term climate impact that is 298 times greater than carbon dioxide.

The WMO, the United Nations' weather agency, said the three gases, which are closely linked to human activities such as fossil fuel use, deforestation and intensive agriculture, had increased the warming effect on the climate by 30 percent between 1990 and 2011.

The prevalence of several less abundant greenhouse gases was also growing fast, it said.

Sulphur hexafluoride, used as an electrical insulator in power distribution equipment, had doubled in volume since the mid-1990s, while hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) were growing at a rapid rate from a low base.

But chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and most halons were decreasing, it said.

27 November 2012

Climate change evident across Europe, says report

By Mark Kinver
Environment reporter, BBC News

The effects of climate change are already evident in Europe and the situation is set to get worse, the European Environment Agency has warned.

In a report, the agency says the past decade in Europe has been the warmest on record.

It adds that the cost of damage caused by extreme weather events is rising, and the continent is set to become more vulnerable in the future.

The findings have been published ahead of next week's UN climate conference.

They join a UN Environment Programme report also released on Wednesday showing dangerous growth in the "emissions gap" - the difference between current carbon emission levels and those needed to avert climate change.

"Every indicator we have in terms of giving us an early warning of climate change and increasing vulnerability is giving us a very strong signal," observed EEA executive director Jacqueline McGlade.

"It is across the board, it is not just global temperatures," she told BBC News.

"It is in human health aspects, in forests, sea levels, agriculture, biodiversity - the signals are coming in from right across the environment."

2C or not 2C

The report - Climate Change, Impacts and Vulnerabilities in Europe 2012 - involving more than 50 authors from a range of organisations, listed a number of "key messages", including:

Observed climate change has "already led to a wide range of impacts on environmental systems and society; further climate change impacts are projected for the future";
Climate change can increase existing vulnerabilities and deepen socio-economic imbalances in Europe;
The combined impacts of projected climate change and socio-economic development is set to see the damage costs of extreme weather events continue to increase.
As it currently stands, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has set a target of limiting the rise in global mean temperature to 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrial levels.

But the report's authors warn that even if this target to mitigate warming is met, "substantial impacts on society, human health and ecosystems are projected to occur".

To limit the impacts, experts say effective adaptation strategies need to be developed in order to minimise the risk to nations' infrastructure, homes and businesses.

The European Commission is expected to publish its European Adaptation Strategy in 2013, outlining measures it think will help the 27-nation bloc deal with future climate shifts.

For the rest of the article click here

26 November 2012


25 November 2012

Gerrymandering Works (For Party In Power)

Reposted From Jobsanger

We all know by now that President Obama defeated his GOP opponent rather easily in the 2012 election (both in the popular vote and the Electoral College). In addition, most of the contested senate seats were won by Democrats -- giving them a slightly bigger majority in the U.S. Senate than they had before. They now have 55 votes (counting the two Independents who caucus with them).

But what most Americans don't know is that the Democrats also got more votes for all House seats in the country than the Republicans got. The Democrats got 57,340,724 votes for House seats (50.23%), while the Republicans got 56,818,399 votes (49.77%). That's an advantage of about 522,325 votes for the Democrats (or slightly more than half a million).

Now a person might think that would mean the Democrats had a slight majority in the House, or at least the division between the two parties would be very close. But that wouldn't be true. Even though the GOP lost the total raw vote, they were still able to hold on to a significant majority of the House Seats. They won 234 seats and the Democrats won 201 seats, giving the Republicans a 33 vote advantage in the House. That's down from their 49 vote advantage after the 2010 election, but it still will allow them to easily control the House.

How does this happen? How can a party get fewer votes, but still win a significant majority of House seats. The answer is gerrymandering (the practice of establishing a political advantage for a particular party by manipulating geographic boundaries to create a partisan district). And 2010 the Republicans were able to seize control of many state governments, giving them the power to redraw congressional districts to benefit their own party. And from the House results in the 2012 election, it looks like they did a very good job of protecting their own party by gerrymandering districts.

The two pictures above show some districts in Tarrant County, Texas. The top picture shows the congressional districts as drawn by the Republican legislature (note the very oddly-shaped 12th and 26th districts). The federal court threw this out, saying it discriminated against minorities, and instituted the lower map instead, to be used only in the 2012 election (which means the legislature will have to try again to redistrict next January).

You might be wondering why this is allowed to happen. Isn't gerrymandering illegal? Well, yes and no. The 1965 Voting Rights Act made it illegal to gerrymander to deny representation to minorities. Then when the Texas districts were redrawn in 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it was legal -- as long as it did not deprive minorities of representation. So now the Republicans, especially in Texas and the South, stuff as many minorities as they can get into as few districts as possible, and then gerrymander the remaining districts to scatter Democratic votes and create safe Republican districts. By creating a few minority districts, they satisfy the law and are able to do what they want in the rest of the state (including dividing up an area with a strong Democratic vote and putting the pieces into several different Republican districts).

Is this dirty politics? Of course it is, and it's played by both political parties. The Republicans were just able to gain an advantage in the 2010 state legislatures -- and that allowed them to gerrymander the redistricting to protect their own. And we saw the results of that in the 2012 election (where Democrats got more votes, but Republicans got more seats).

This really needs to be changed. A few states are going to non-partisan committees for redistricting to prevent the party in power from gerrymandering to their own advantage. The idea is still too new to know if it works or not, but it certainly sounds like it would be better than how redistricting is currently done in most states.

24 November 2012

Electricity Production in the United States

Another Great Study from the Brilliant David Roper - Click here

23 November 2012

Ripe for Retirement: The Case for Closing America's Costliest Coal Plants

As many as 353 coal-fired power generators in 31 states — representing up to 59 GW of power capacity — are no longer economically viable compared with cleaner, more affordable energy sources

A significant number of U.S. coal-fired generators are old, inefficient, dirty, and no longer economically competitive. Simply stated, they are ripe for retirement and should be considered for closure.

America’s coal power fleet is facing an increasingly uncertain economic future. Growing competition from cheaper, cleaner alternatives — including natural gas and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar — is making it harder for these generators to produce energy economically.

With appropriate planning, these outdated coal generators can be closed down while still maintaining a reliable electricity system. By ramping up underutilized natural gas plants, increasing renewable energy through existing state policies, and reducing demand through improved energy efficiency, every region in the country could more than replace the electricity currently produced by ripe-for-retirement generators.

Shutting them down doesn't just make sense financially. Reducing America's reliance on coal would also improve public health, lower global warming emissions, and provide a historic opportunity to accelerate the transition to a cleaner, healthier energy future.

For the rest of this report Click here

22 November 2012

Global investors call for action on serious climate danger

(Reuters) - A coalition of the world's largest investors called on governments on Tuesday to ramp up action on climate change and boost clean-energy investment or risk trillions of dollars in investments and disruption to economies.

In an open letter, the alliance of institutional investors, responsible for managing $22.5 trillion in assets, said rapidly growing greenhouse gas emissions and more extreme weather were increasing investment risks globally.

The group called for dialogue between investors and governments to overhaul climate and energy policies.

The call comes less than a week before major U.N. climate talks in Doha, Qatar. Almost 200 nations will meet in Doha from November 26 to December 7 to try to extend the Kyoto Protocol, the existing plan for curbing greenhouse gas emissions by developed nations that runs to the end of 2012.

On Sunday, the World Bank said current climate policies meant the world was heading for a warming of up to 4 degrees Celsius by 2100. That will trigger deadly heat waves and droughts, cut food stocks and drive up sea levels.

"Current policies are insufficient to avert serious and dangerous impacts from climate change," said the group of investors from the United States, Europe, Asia and Australia.

The investments and retirement savings of millions of people were being jeopardized because governments were delaying tougher emissions cuts or more generous support for greener energy.

The group said the right policies would prompt institutional investors to significantly increase investments in cleaner energy and energy efficiency, citing existing policies that have unleashed billions of dollars of renewable energy investment in China, the United States and Europe.

But many economies were still going to be heavily reliant on polluting fossil fuels such as coal, and policies needed to be implemented to speed up the shift to cleaner energy, the investors said.

They issued seven action points, including slashing fossil fuel subsidies and boosting carbon markets, for governments to focus on and said the re-election of Barack Obama in the United States and the leadership change in China were an opportunity to push for tougher climate talks.

"Strong carbon-reducing government policies are an urgent imperative," said Chris Davis, director of investor programs at Ceres, a U.S.-based coalition of investors and green groups.

"Hurricane Sandy, which caused more than $50 billion in economic losses, is typical of what we can expect if no action is taken and warming trends continue," said Davis, who also works for the Investor Network on Climate Risk, which groups 100 institutional investors with assets of more than $11 trillion.

(Editing by Robert Birsel)

21 November 2012

Dust Bowl Revisited

Janet Larsen

On October 18, 2012, the Associated Press reported that “a massive dust storm swirling reddish-brown clouds over northern Oklahoma triggered a multi-vehicle accident along a major interstate…forcing police to shut down the heavily traveled roadway amid near blackout conditions.” Farmers in the region had recently plowed fields to plant winter wheat. The bare soil—desiccated by the relentless drought that smothered nearly two-thirds of the continental United States during the summer and still persists over the Great Plains—was easily lifted by the passing strong winds, darkening skies from southern Nebraska, through Kansas, and into Oklahoma.

Observers could not help but harken back to the 1930s Dust Bowl that ultimately covered 100 million acres in western Kansas, the Oklahoma and Texas Panhandles, northeastern New Mexico, and southeastern Colorado. Yet when asked if that was the direction the region was headed, Oklahoma’s Secretary of Agriculture Jim Reese was unequivocal: “That will never happen again.”

In the early decades of the twentieth century, earnest settlers of the semi-arid Plains, along with opportunistic “suitcase farmers” out to make a quick dollar, plowed under millions of acres of native prairie grass. Assured that “rain follows the plow,” and lured by government incentives, railroad promises, and hopes of carving out a place for their families, these farmers embraced the newly available tractors, powerful plows, and mechanized harvesters to turn over the sod that had long sustained Native American tribes and millions of bison.

The plowing began during years of rain, and early harvests were good. High wheat prices, buoyed by demand and government guarantees during the First World War, encouraged ever more land to be turned over. But then the Great Depression hit. The price of wheat collapsed and fields were abandoned. When the drought arrived in the early 1930s, the soils blew, their fertility stolen by the relentless wind. Stripped of its living carpet, freed from the intricate matrix of perennial prairie grass roots, the earth took flight.

Clouds as tall as mountains and black as night rolled over the land. Regular dust storms pummeled the homesteaders; the big ones drew notice when they clouded the sun in New York City and Washington, DC, even sullying ships hundreds of miles out in the Atlantic. Dunes formed and spread, burying railroad tracks, fences, and cars. “Dust pneumonia” claimed lives, often those of children. People fled the land in droves.

In The Worst Hard Time, Timothy Egan describes the topsoil loss, how a “rich cover that had taken several thousand years to develop was disappearing day by day.” The sodbusters had quickly illuminated the dangerous hubris in the 1909 Bureau of Soils proclamation: “The soil is the one indestructible, immutable asset that the nation possesses. It is the one resource that cannot be exhausted; that cannot be used up.” The rechristened Great Plains looked like it would revert back to its original name: the Great American Desert.

When a series of dust storms reached far-flung Washington, DC, in the spring of 1935, a reluctant Congress was finally convinced to allocate resources to help stabilize the soil. With government subsidies and direction from the newly created Soil Conservation Service, practices were introduced to help hold down the earth. Grasses were replanted; shelter belts of trees were planted to slow the persistent winds; contour farming or terracing was used to farm in line with the natural shape of the land; strip cropping was used to leave some protective cover on the soil; and crop rotations and fallow periods allowed the land to rest.

While some of the Dust Bowl land never recovered, the settled communities becoming ghost towns, many of the once-affected areas have become major food producers. By 1933 wheat production in Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, and Colorado was slashed by nearly three-quarters from its 1931 high of 411 million bushels, taking until 1947 to reach that level again. In 2012, the wheat output of these four states exceeds 700 million bushels, a third of the U.S. wheat harvest.

After World War II, well-drilling and pumping technologies allowed farmers to tap into the Ogallala aquifer, a vast reservoir of water beneath the Plains, stretching from southern South Dakota through the Texas Panhandle. Irrigation expanded, with center-pivot sprinklers creating the green circles overlain on brown squares that are familiar to anyone who has flown over the central United States.

In recent decades irrigation has allowed the traditional Corn Belt to move westward onto drier lands. Kansas, for instance, sometimes called “the Wheat State,” harvesting one-sixth of the U.S. crop, now produces as much corn as it does wheat. The wheat is primarily rainfed, but more than half the corn is irrigated.

As extraction of the underground water has increased, however, water tables have fallen. The depletion is particularly concerning in the Central and Southern Plains where there is virtually no replenishment of the aquifer from rainfall, foreshadowing an end to the use of this finite resource. In the former Dust Bowl states, irrigation had its boom, but in many areas it is beyond its peak. With wells going dry, some farmers have returned to the more-common rainfed wheat farming, which typically yields far less than with irrigation; others have gotten out of wheat all together.

In Kansas the average drop in the water table is 23 feet (7 meters), but drops of 150 feet or more have been reported. The fall in water tables is even greater in the Texas Panhandle. Statewide, Texas’ irrigated area is down more than 20 percent from its high nearly 40 years ago. Only recently, after the water table fell fast during the back-to-back droughts, have limits been placed on withdrawals from individual wells there to slow the depletion. According to scientists at the University of Texas at Austin and the U.S. Geological Survey, if current rates of extraction continue, irrigation over a third of the southern High Plains will be untenable within 30 years.

Beyond the farm, climatologists are making it clear that the recent droughts are exactly the sort of event predicted to come more frequently as the planet heats up. So rainfed crops are in trouble, too. Models agree that with the global warming in store absent dramatic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, much of the western United States—from Kansas to California—could enter into a long-term state of dryness, what physicist Joseph Romm has termed “dust-bowlification.”

With soil conservation measures in place, when drought revisited the Plains in the 1950s, the mid-1970s, the early 2000s, and again in 2011-2012—when Texas and Oklahoma baked in their hottest summers on record—a full-blown Dust Bowl did not develop. But will the ground hold forever? The United States is by far the world’s leading grain exporter; thus the fate of the nation’s “breadbasket” matters for food prices, and food security, around the globe.

While our understanding of and respect for the soil is greater now than it was at the turn of the last century, erosion still exceeds new soil formation on most acres. The combination of higher temperatures, prolonged drought, and irrigation limitations turns the prospects for continued large-scale crop production on the Plains grim. In case going through the worst recession since the Great Depression was not enough to remind Americans of hard times in the country’s past, climate change and the pressures of population and consumption growth pushing farmers to produce ever more food on limited land will make it harder to avoid a repeat of history.

Janet Larsen is the Director of Research for the Earth Policy Institute.

Copyright © 2012 Earth Policy Institute

20 November 2012

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19 November 2012

How Germany Is Getting to 100 Percent Renewable Energy

by Thomas Hedges
There is no debate on climate change in Germany. The temperature for the past 10 months has been three degrees above average and we’re again on course for the warmest year on record. There’s no dispute among Germans as to whether this change is man-made, or that we contribute to it and need to stop accelerating the process.

Since 2000, Germany has converted 25 percent of its power grid to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and biomass. The architects of the clean energy movement Energiewende, which translates to “energy transformation,” estimate that from 80 percent to 100 percent of Germany’s electricity will come from renewable sources by 2050.

Germans are baffled that the United States has not taken the same path. Not only is the U.S. the wealthiest nation in the world, but it’s also credited with jump-starting Germany’s green movement 40 years ago.

“This is a very American idea,” Arne Jungjohann, a director at the Heinrich Boll Stiftung Foundation (HBSF), said at a press conference Tuesday morning in Washington, D.C. “We got this from Jimmy Carter.”

Germany adopted and continued Carter’s push for energy conservation while the U.S. abandoned further efforts. The death of an American Energiewende solidified when President Ronald Reagan ripped down the solar panels atop the White House that Carter had installed.

Since then, Germany has created strong incentives for the public to invest in renewable energy. It pays people to generate electricity from solar panels on their houses. The effort to turn more consumers into producers is accelerated through feed-in tariffs, which are 20-year contracts that ensure a fixed price the government will pay. Germany lowers the price every year, so there’s good reason to sign one as soon as possible, before compensation falls further.

The money the government uses to pay producers comes from a monthly surcharge on utility bills that everyone pays, similar to a rebate. Ratepayers pay an additional cost for the renewable energy fund and then get that money back from the government, at a profit, if they are producing their own energy.

In the end, ratepayers control the program, not the government. This adds consistency, Davidson says. If the government itself paid, it would be easy for a new finance minister to cut the program upon taking office. Funding is not at the whim of politicians as it is in the U.S.

“Everyone has skin in the game,” says writer Osha Gray Davidson. “The movement is decentralized and democratized, and that’s why it works. Anybody in Germany can be a utility.”

The press conference the foundation organized with InsideClimate News comes two weeks after one of the biggest storms in U.S. history and sits in the shadow of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would unlock the world’s second-largest oil reserve in Canada. The event also comes one day after a report that says that the U.S. is on track to become the leading oil and gas producer by 2020, which suggests that the U.S. has the capability to match Germany’s green movement, but is instead using its resources to deepen its dependency on fossil fuels.

Many community organizers have given up on government and are moving to spark a green movement in the U.S. through energy cooperatives.

Anya Schoolman is a D.C. organizer who has started many co-ops in the district although she began with no experience. She says that converting to renewable energy one person at a time would not work in the U.S. because of legal complexities and tax laws that discourage people from investing in clean energy.

Grid managers in the U.S., she explains, often require households to turn off wind turbines at night, a practice called “curtailment.”

“It’s a favor to the utility companies,” she says, which don’t hold as much power in Germany as they do in the United States.

Individuals and cooperatives own 65 percent of Germany’s renewable energy capacity. In the U.S. they own 2 percent. The rest is privately controlled.

The largest difference, panelists said, between Germany and the U.S. is how reactive the government is to its citizens. Democracy in Germany has meant keeping and strengthening regulatory agencies while forming policies that put public ownership ahead of private ownership.

“In the end,” says Davidson, who spent a month in Germany studying the Energiewende, “it isn’t about making money. It’s about quality of life.”

Thomas Hedges works for the Center for Responsive Law in Washington, DC

18 November 2012

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17 November 2012

16 November 2012

Final Electoral Map(s)

Reposted from Jobsanger

Florida finally finished counting their votes, and that state also goes to President Obama. The Republicans can call it a close election if they want to (a "squeaker"), but it looks like a good old-fashioned thumping to me!

But while that map shows the winner in each state, the map below is interesting because it shows the percentages in each state. All states are some shade of purple (because neither candidate got 100% of the vote in any state).

15 November 2012

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14 November 2012

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13 November 2012

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12 November 2012

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11 November 2012

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10 November 2012

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09 November 2012

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01 November 2012

Oil-Soaked Saudi Arabia Sets Goal of 100% Renewable Energy Read more: http://www.care2.com/causes/oil-soaked-saudi-arabia-sets-goal-of-100-renewable-energy.html#ixzz2AhAMai7x

Saudi Arabia is one of the largest oil-producing countries in the world. Despite the fact that oil has been Saudi Arabia’s cash crop for decades, the country recently admitted that it does not represent the energy source of the future. EcoWatch reports that during last week’s Global Economic Symposium in Rio de Janeiro, Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Saud of Saudi Arabia said, “I would like to see Saudi Arabia using 100 percent renewable energy within my lifetime.”  (He’s 67, by the way, so we’re talking about years, not decades).

Wow. When the country from which America imports most of its oil announces that it wants an economy based on renewable energy, it should be a wake up call. Too bad the oil and coal industries have paid to stuff our ears full of cotton and handed out pro-fossil fuel propaganda like sleeping pills. We can’t hear the alarm bells that have jarred Saudi Arabia into action.

In fact, Saudi Arabia and other oil producing countries in the Middle East are banking on the fact that Americans will maintain their oil addiction up until the very last possible second. “I see renewable energy sources helping to prolong our continued export of crude oil,” Saudi Arabia’s oil minister, Ali al-Naimi, told The Wall Street Journal. This means that while his own country begins the shift to renewable energy for its own power needs, it will continue exporting to America and other oil-dependent countries, charging top dollar for ever barrel.

While our politicians scoff at the idea that we should abandon oil, gas and coal for clean energy alternatives, countries in the Middle East are proving that it’s possible — and doesn’t need to happen as gradually as we think. Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia announced that it would invest $109 billion to exploit its abundant solar resources. Mecca, which hosts millions of pilgrims a year visiting Islam’s most holy shrine, hopes to become the first city in Saudi Arabia to operate an entire power plant from renewable energy sources. In fact, Middle Eastern potential for solar energy production is so promising, American companies are investing in it…something they’re reluctant to do here at home.

The lesson here is plain: America is lying to itself. Oil isn’t safer or cheaper. It won’t last forever. Instead of burning through every last bit, oil-rich countries are making the move to renewable energy now. They’re saving those last, excruciatingly expensive barrels for the last chump standing, which is likely to be the U.S. We’re being outpaced by China, Spain, Germany, Norway, and now apparently Saudi Arabia in every aspect of the clean energy game.

As stated in Renewable Energy World, America’s energy “policy hiatus, coming ironically at a time when fully competitive renewable power is starting to be a realistic possibility in a few years’ time, is posing a threat to continued growth in investment in the sector in 2012 and beyond.”

If what our leaders (and Presidential candidates) really want is an energy-independent America, why do they insist we remain tethered to fossil fuel’s sinking ship? Wake up America. And think before you vote

Reposted for original click here