Don't Fly, Levitate: German Maglev as a Travel Alternative in the U.S.


by Bonnie J. Gordon

Cross-posted on IBS

Short-haul flights, usually defined as flights of 500 miles or less, are the wallowing pigs of carbon emissions from transportation. Pretty much the only worse alternative over that distance is 250 Hummer drivers going it solo. Unfortunately for most Americans, unlike the Europeans and Japanese, there is no congenial third way to travel - like, for instance, high-speed rail.

But the silver lining is that we Americans don't have to replace an aging steel wheel infrastructure like the rest of the developed world does. We can just build a new network for the most advanced surface transportation technology available: magnetic levitation rail, or "maglev" for short.

Maglev has come a long way since it debuted for most average Americans at Disney World's Tomorrowland. There are several U.S. maglev projects in the advanced planning stages, almost all of them based on a German system called the Transrapid (www.transrapid.de).

Taking the Transrapid from Atlanta to Orlando would be just as fast as flying, if you include getting out to the airport and check-in time. And traveling via maglev would produce a
fraction of the carbon dioxide emissions.

"Rail has gone as far as it can go," says Phyllis Wilkins, chairperson of the U.S. Maglev Coalition and executive director of Maglev Maryland. "If you want to take it to the next level, you have to go to maglev."

Wilkins has been working on the Baltimore-Washington Maglev Project (www.bwmaglev.com) for more than 15 years. The Transrapid-technology project would connect downtown Baltimore with the District of Columbia, stopping at Baltimore Washington International Airport on the way. Ideally, the BW Maglev line would eventually become part of an expanded route stretching from Boston to Charlotte, stimulating the creation of more efficient travel and housing patterns, making tourism more convenient and affordable, and chopping a few heads off the air and highway pollution hydra in our country's most densely-populated region.

That would be nice. Meanwhile the BW Maglev project has been waiting for the funding to complete its final environmental impact statement for three years, says Wilkins. In 2005 Congress appropriated $90 million for seven maglev pilot projects nationwide, but because of technical problems with the bill the money was never delivered. The bill was rewritten, and finally passed a few weeks ago. Wilkins says that once the funding arrives, the planning phase for the BW project can be wrapped up in about six months.

"Europe and Japan have a well-developed transportation infrastructure because they made the decision generations ago not to be dependent on foreign energy," she adds, "while Americans are only now realizing that we have to link transportation issues and environmental issues. All of us in transportation are becoming optimistic that we are finally being heard."

But ears start closing when officials hear the budget estimates associated with creating a national maglev infrastructure from the ground up. The Baltimore-Washington maglev project alone will require an investment of $3.7 billion in 2002 dollars - and that's for one of the shortest legs of the envisioned Northeast Corridor route.

The Transrapid has all but ground to a halt in Germany itself, where massive political pressure stirred up by the Green party in Munich recently killed plans to build a commercial line connecting the Bavarian capital's central railway station with the city's airport.


Hurricane Gustav strengthens over the Gulf


On the third anniversary of Katrina, Gustav is projected to become a potential category 5 hurricane as it passes over the warmer Gulf waters on a path that includes New Orleans as a possible landfall target.

Gustav churns toward the U.S. Gulf Coast on a similar path to Katrina (see below). Residents in its projected path have been warned to either evacuate or to prepare to do so. New Orleans has made the evacuation order mandatory.

The infamous SuperDome (now renamed) is not intended as a shelter this time. The Humane Society reminds residents to take their pets with them; not to leave them as so many were left with Katrina and/or to stay behind with them, if they are headed to buses and shelters provided for evacuation. For buses that are headed to emergency flights, there are some limitations on pets. Citizens should check with pet shelters about their animals if that is their only way out for other modes of transportation that have been instructed to allow evacuees' pets to accompany them.

Offshore oil rigs have been evacuated, as well and oil and gas prices in the region have risen in anticipation of the possible shortfalls (and possible gauging).

With the cone of possible landfall sites still in flux (<--see graph), it is uncertain exactly where Gustav will strike. The damage in the Caribbean thus far, over 80 killed and many more left homeless, points to a severe event.

Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans, in issuing the mandatory evacuation order, warned his residents to 'be scared' and referred to Gustav as "The Storm of the Century."

The high temperature of the Gulf waters means it is likely that the impact could be even se
vere to catastrophic, depending on where it hits, the upper atmosphere wind shear patterns and how much time it has to draw strength from the warmed gulf waters.

Two more storms are building behind Gustav... Continued...


Too Much Spin


I was in a doctor's waiting room, listening to pundits on a big-screen TV, when a middle-aged man turned to me and stated:

"Too much spin."

His reaction was not what I'd expected, considering the gentleman had identified himself as a Republican and the pundits he'd complained about were McCain surrogates.

He told me a story of easy wealth in the banking industry due to the Bush administration's relaxing of regulations, despite the uneasy feeling he'd had that his company, working with sub-prime loans, was riding for a fall. The fall came and he and his colleagues were now looking for work.

My new acquaintance gave me the impression that listening to McCain's surrogates was insulting to his intelligence and he complained directly that they were not addressing the issues that were important to him: conservative policies, what they would do about the economy and the truth about tax cuts (he'd figured it out that they were lying about Obama's position on that). Instead of getting what he wanted from them, he felt bombarded with constant "gotcha" that made him want to turn off the TV.

We talked about those tax cuts. He made the point that his family had earned over $250,000 a year and, as such, could be subject to increased taxes under the Obama plan. I was curious if that still applied, given his work status. His expression spoke volumes. As an executive in a service industry that relied upon the middle class, there was little likelihood he would earn the requisite amount to meet those increased tax obligations if his customers were no lon
ger viable candidates for loans. Tax cuts for the middle class, it seemed, would be more beneficial to him in the long run, even with the possibility increased taxes for his former >$250,000 bracket (emphasis on the former).

Another area of interest to my Republican acquaintance was Obama's authenticity. He told me, given all the McCain spin that he knew was untrue, about the economy and other issues, he was having trouble accepting their negative representations of the Illinois Senator, but did not know enough about him to make a decision. I told him what I knew about Senator Obama (The Environmentalist
endorsed the Senator on February 4th after reviewing his and other candidates' environmental policies) and suggested he review both candidates' policies on their websites and make his own informed decision.

This led to an interesting discussion about the policies vs. the over-spin we see on TV and our mutual question as to why the pundits were so focused on spin vs. spin rather than policy vs. policy. Our consensus was ratings, although my new-found Republican friend pointed out that he had taken changing the channel when it turns into all spin all the time.



A Filmmaker's 'Fields of Fuel'


Published on Reuters

Filmmaker Greg Reitman's first-hand account of the journey that led to his Sundance Award winning feature documentary, FIELDS OF FUEL.

Four years ago, I met environmentalist and filmmaker Josh Tickell at the Temecula Valley Film festival where we had both been invited to showcase our films. At the time, I had just finished my first documentary film "Hollywood’s Magical Island-Catalina," which won the Audience Award and was syndicated nationally on PBS. while Josh was finishing the festival tour of his short film, "The Veggie Van Voyage."

At the festival, we showcased and marketed our films together and began our friendship as I became truly amazed at Josh Tickell’s devotion to the environment and his cause towards cleaner energy. After twelve months of discussions about politics, family, religion, and, of course, the environment, Josh finally convinced me to join forces with him in producing the feature documentary film, ‘Fields of Fuel’:

I had no idea what I was getting involved with or the impact that this film would ultimately have worldwide. Over the next three years, we made numerous trips. Our first was to Portugal where we filmed the ‘Peak Oil’ Conference and interviewed experts like Colin Campbell and Mathew Simmons. These experts talked convincingly about Peak Oil and the reluctance of governments to accept this idea. I remember, in particular, Mathew Simmons' comment that, if the world were to understand that there was not enough oil to meet demand (Peak Oil), the resultant impact on the world's markets and the potential for escalating chaos could be exponential.

We flew from Portugal to Germany. The MAN Museum was a top priority, as Josh wanted to document the story of Rudolf Diesel and his diesel engine. Going through the archive and seeing the first diesel engine was electrifying. Even
more electrifying was the revelation that the engine was designed to run on vegetable oil,
– a fact which had been pushed under the rug.

When we returned to America, Josh was ready to take his historical Veggie Van (the subject of his short film) back on the road. We gathered our supplies and coordinated the trip so that each stop would allow for the van to run on biodiesel (i.e. used vegetable oil) and soon, we were on the road with the mission to meet and film the legendary music singer/songwriter Willie Nelson
... Continued...


James Hansen's Travel Report


Dr. James Hansen of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies has returned from his recent trip abroad with a comprehensive report on the need to define a global climate strategy:
Geophysical boundary conditions must be considered in defining a global climate strategy. The Kyoto Protocol and proposed extensions are an exercise in self-delusion and a prescription for global disaster.
In July, Dr. Hansen sent a letter to the Prime Minister of Japan, host of G8 conference, warning that we'd exceeded safe C02 levels (safe being below 350 ppm; current levels exceed 385 ppm). His new report begins with a recounting of his meeting with the German Minister of the Environment, Sigmar Gabriel, which included a warning about the use of coal-fired plants:
I am grateful for Minister Gabriel’s generosity with his time, and I have no doubt about his sincerity in dealing with climate change. However, we did not come to a common understanding about the implications of geophysical boundary conditions on fossil fuels. The stark policy implication of the data, I assert, is urgency for a moratorium on coal-fired power plants.
Fig. 1. (a) carbon sources, and (b) CO2 scenarios if coal emissions are phased out linearly over 2010-2030 period; return below 350 ppm can be hastened via reforestation and carbon sequestration in soil, and further via capture of CO2 at gas-fired power plants.

The report continues with the United Kingdom and offers Hansen's concerns about the problems inherent with geophysical boundaries while attempting to define a global strategy and his concern about the countries' position on carbon sequestration and "clean coal." Continued...

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Who do you want running the West Wing?


A recent NYT article has detailed the dysfunction of the McCain campaign, in what the authors referred to as a "loose style" of "infighting" and "colliding centers of power," providing a picture of a McCain campaign divided by competing interests and unclear leadership.
Mr. McCain is called the White Tornado by some people who have worked for him over the years. Throughout his presidential campaign, he has been the overseer of a kingdom of dissenting camps, unclear lines of command and an unsettled atmosphere that keeps aides constantly on edge.
Which leads to this question: Who do you want running the West Wing? In other words: Who do you want administering the country? Because the candidate's management style and campaign staff's response to that style is an indicator of that future staff's competency in running the country.
His [McCain's] management of his campaign offers a glimpse of how he might run the White House. He would, it appears, be a president who is intensely interested in issues (particularly foreign affairs) and open to conflicting opinions, but also impetuous at times and tolerant of the kind of internal churning that can impede orderly decision-making and keep aides on edge.
By contrast, the Obama campaign has implemented a specific mandate within their power structure: "No Drama."
"One of the great strengths of this campaign from the very beginning has been the cohesion, the sense of camaraderie, and the lack of drama," said David Axelrod, a leader of the no-drama movement with his casual wardrobe and low-key demeanor.
One could make specific arguments as to which candidate meets a voter's specific policy requirements, but that does not address the question: Who do you want running the West Wing - the administration of the country, the implementation of those policies, the day-to-day management of infrastructure and response to emergencies and future threats? Continued...


Invasive Species Threat To US Waters


by Patriot Daily

Published on Reuters

US waters are threatened by invasive species that may spread deadly diseases to people and wildlife, impair water supply infrastructure, harm ecosystems, cause twice the annual economic damage of all natural disasters, and are linked to half of the decline of endangered species.

When large ships are not transporting cargo, the ships pump coastal waters and all the living organisms into their ballast tanks while at foreign ports to obtain balance. When closer to our shores, the ballast water is exchanged with ocean waters, but the exchange does not eliminate the invasive species, which then are discharged into our waters. The 9th Circuit has directed the EPA to regulate this pollution while Congress has reached an impasse on legislation.

Ballast water is needed to provide balance for changes in the ship's weight. The problem is that the ballast water contains
thousands of invasive species which are then carried in the ballast tanks of the ship. When a ship reaches the next port, changes in the cargo load may require changes in ballast, and thus the ballast water is discharged into a new ecosystem. When the ships return to the US, then the invasive critters are released into US waters. Each year, "more than 21 billion gallons of ballast water" is discharged into US waters.

The invasive species range from "microscopic bacteria to weeds, fish, crabs and mussels." Each day, more than 10,000 marine species "hitch rides around the globe in the ballast water of cargo ships."

These invasive species then create enormous problems for our water supplies, environment and people.

They can spread disease. A 2001 EPA report disclosed that a cholera bacteria was "possibly" released by a Chinese freighter in Latin America, which caused the deaths of 10,000 people. Ships from Latin America then imported this cholera in their ballast tanks to the Mobile, Alabama port. Fortunately, the cholera bacteria was discovered in oyster and finfish samples so that no one was killed in the US.

Deadly diseases may be spread to wildlife as well as people. For example, it is believed that ship ballast water likely transported Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS), an invasive species virus, to US waters, resulting in bloody, hemorrhaging "fish kills involving more than 30 species, including valuable sport fish such as salmon, trout, walleye, muskie, bass and perch."

They clog the water pipes and infrastructure. For example, two decades ago, little quagga and zebra mussels hitched a ride from Eastern Europe to the Great Lakes. In 6 years, the invasive species caused $500 million in damages to the regional economy by clogging water intake pipes. Last year, the mussels spread to Lake Mead in Nevada and on to Southern California, where one water district projects it will cost at least $15 million a year to try to extinguish aqueduct infestations.

They threaten native species: Invasive species are a "major or contributing cause of declines for almost half the endangered species" in the US. The absence of natural predators allows the invasive species to "multiply rapidly and quickly take over an ecosystem."

The threat by invasive species is enhanced because they are "almost impossible to remove" and thus scientists, industry officials and land managers have concluded that "invasive species are one of the most serious, yet least appreciated, environmental threats of the 21st century." Continued...


Older, unhappy women as swing voters


The AARP's Divided We Fail initiative released a survey today of swing voters in battleground states; those identified as older, lower income, mostly white women who said their decision would be based, primarily, upon the economy. Not a surprise, considering the state of same, but one that bears further scrutiny following another survey; this one reported by USA Today and ABC news which stated older women were unhappier than their male counterparts:
Women start out as happy young adults but by midlife wind up the sadder sex, says a new study on satisfaction related to financial circumstances and family life, which past research has shown play a significant role in well-being and happiness.
The ABC report showed a graph that started with men and women in their 20's, with women the happier of the two sexes and men working on it -- until age 48 when the lines cross as women take a downward slide into unhappiness and men find themselves well situated.

What is this about?

The answer provides a clue to the support for Hillary Clinton within the same demographic: the way our society is structured, the possibility that a women of a certain age and (at least at birth) background might finally be able to dictate policy that would include some consideration of their circumstances:
Early in adult life, women are more likely than men to fulfill their aspirations for material goods and family life, but later, they may be divorced or separated and less financially secure. Meanwhile, men's finances and family life improve, making them "the happier of the two genders," the study says.
The societal support system for these women becomes a pulled-out rug that threatens to leave them behind after age 48. If they are not with a man, they are at risk for poverty which increases the pressure upon these women to stay with their men. But that is no panacea. If they do stay, many of these women are at increased risk of becoming a caretaker and/or beholden to a man in a position of power, that, dependent upon his character, who has the opportunity to misuse that power awarded him by society.

No wonder the men surveyed were happier.

AARP survey concluded that the older white women in the battleground states they approached placed the economy as their preeminent issue felt that neither candidate was addressing their concerns.
"Undecided swing voters are older women, focused domestically on the economy and health care and do not feel that either candidate is adequately addressing these issues," said AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond.

The polling found that 60 percent of swing voters say they are interested in learning more about the candidates' positions on the issues that matter most to them. Perhaps most importantly, the research indicates that nearly all swing voters (94%) in the six key states agree that health care and financial security are too big for any one candidate or party to fix.

As societal imbalances can produce conflict within the groups being oppressed, a consequence of the divide and conquer nature of our trickle-down economics that don't (trickle down), it is possible that these women could end up voting against their own interests with a McCain who, at least, culturally speaks their language, as opposed to an Obama, who does not seem to be speaking to them at all.

What does Senator Obama have to do to reach these women? Continued...


Sexism, Racism, Bad Jokes, and that McCain Ad


I was going to write about my celebration of the birth of my twin grand-daughters three days ago, a joyful move over Brangelina post, but in the midst of all this family happiness I came upon the McCain ad comparing Obama to Britney and Paris. And it stopped me cold. What's that about? And why did it trouble me so?

Let me get the really nasty stuff off my chest right away. Comparing Obama to Paris Hilton is another of McCain's tasteless and inept jokes. Paris Hilton is a no-talent nobody blessed with the good looks and good fortune that have made her a shameless somebody to our giddy press. Like John McCain, she came from affluent circumstances. And like him she is a survivor; he survived a long imprisonment in a brutal war, and she survived a spoiled brat childhood in Beverly Hills. I don't mean to denigrate his suffering, or hers, but the sad fact is that both of them seemed to learn so little from it. You couldn't send either of them to the grocery story for a container of milk and expect them to identify it -- the store or the milk. Like McCain, Paris is one tough cookie, someone who lives in the world without apparently being effected by the less fortunate around her. Clearly Ms. Hilton has far more in common with John McCain than with Barack Obama.

In different ways Paris and McCain both inhabit their own plastic bubbles comfortably. She has charmed the besotted paparazzi, bent them to her will, and prevailed, posturing on life's red carpet, slinking towards oblivion or middle age -- whichever comes first. McCain has made it to his Republican presidential nomination by charming an infatuated political press that never seemed to ask him a tough question. He lightened his moral load as he aged by tossing off whatever burdens of decency and character he intermittently demonstrated. Now, having tossed aside reality as well in his statements about the oil crises, the economy, the war, veterans affairs (his is one of the worst voting records for vets) he is light enough to survive the run without any onerous burdens like truth or integrity.

Poor Britney doesn't deserve to be classified with Paris or even McCain. She is a talented mess who inherited nothing, made a fortune from her adolescent musical talents, whatever you think they may be, worked hard from childhood to rise above her humble origins, and for all her aberrant behavior should not be placed side-by-side with Paris or McCain, both charter members of that infamous lucky sperm club.

John McCain -- unlike the mythical Good Joe American he hopes to bamboozle with his vicious anti-Obama ads -- is an elitist/opportunist who abandoned a sick wife, carried on with an attractive blond beer heiress and married her, survived corruption charges as one of the Keating Five, and became a proxy billionaire through that romantic transaction which has helped to finance his political ambitions. To suggest that Obama, a brilliant man from a modest background, one who made his own luck and life through his intelligence and strength of character, has something in common with these Hollywood girls is less than an insult to Obama, who has young daughters and clearly loves them; it is an embarrassment to McCain, as it reveals his low view of women. They are dirty jokes to him. Be it a young Chelsea Clinton's awkward adolescent looks, or women being raped by gorillas, he finds the denigration and victimization of women a source of infinite jest. None of this is accidental. It all fits in with that infamous ad. If you wanted to contrast Obama to a dubious celebrity there are so many untalented men who fit the category -- too many to list here -- but McCain chose two feckless, reckless young white women to bring his opponent low by stating that there was little substance to back up Obama's fame and popularity. In making that ad McCain went well beyond his stated intention to show his opponent as an empty suit. It's so easy to see the ad for what it is and read "black man, promiscuous young white women, wink wink." Wouldn't it be splendid if the mainstream press suddenly opened its eyes to that ploy? Continued...

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