Archive for September, 2014

TV: Fukushima poses “significant health risks” to areas thousands of kilometers away

September 30, 2014


Official Data: Lettuce from US West Coast nearly topped Chernobyl contamination limit; ‘Most dangerous’ alpha radiation also detected — TV: Fukushima poses “significant health risks” to areas thousands of kilometers away (VIDEO)

Posted: 29 Sep 2014 05:16 AM PDT


David Swanson Interviews TCBH!’s Dave Lindorff on Ukraine, Syria, and on the Militarization of America’s Police

September 29, 2014

“Let’s Try Democracy” Program on Talk Nation Radio:


Talk Nation Radio host David Swanson, a noted labor and peace activist who has been doggedly promoting the idea that war itself is a crime — one that was outlawed by the Kellogg-Briand Pact, ratified by the Senate 85-1 and signed by President Calvin Coolidge — interviews TCBH! founder Dave Lindorff about the crisis in Ukraine, about the US push for war against ISIS, and ultimately Syria, and about the ongoing militarization of the police in the United States.

Listen to this half-hour edition of Swanson’s program “Let’s Try Democracy,” by clicking here

TCBH!'s Dave Lindorff (l) and David Swanson, host of Talk Nation Radio's "Let's Try Democracy" program (r)TCBH!’s Dave Lindorff (l) and David Swanson, host of Talk Nation Radio’s “Let’s Try Democracy” program (r)

On the road to artificial photosynthesis: Study reveals key catalytic factors in carbon dioxide reduction

September 29, 2014

September 25, 2014
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
The excessive atmospheric carbon dioxide that is driving global climate change could be harnessed into a renewable energy technology that would be a win for both the environment and the economy. That is the lure of artificial photosynthesis in which the electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide is used to produce clean, green and sustainable fuels. However, finding a catalyst for reducing carbon dioxide that is highly selective and efficient has proven to be a huge scientific challenge. New experimental results have revealed the critical influence of the electronic and geometric effects in the carbon dioxide reduction reaction and might help make the problem easier to tackle.

This TEM shows gold–copper bimetallic nanoparticles used as catalysts for the reduction of carbon dioxide, a key reaction for artificial photosynthesis.
Credit: Image courtesy of Peidong Yang group, Berkeley Lab

The excessive atmospheric carbon dioxide that is driving global climate change could be harnessed into a renewable energy technology that would be a win for both the environment and the economy. That is the lure of artificial photosynthesis in which the electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide is used to produce clean, green and sustainable fuels. However, finding a catalyst for reducing carbon dioxide that is highly selective and efficient has proven to be a huge scientific challenge. Meeting this challenge in the future should be easier thanks to new research results from Berkeley Lab.

Peidong Yang, a chemist with Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division, led a study in which bimetallic nanoparticles of gold and copper were used as the catalyst for the carbon dioxide reduction. The results experimentally revealed for the first time the critical influence of the electronic and geometric effects in the reduction reaction.

“Acting synergistically, the electronic and geometric effects dictate the binding strength for reaction intermediates and consequently the catalytic selectivity and efficiency in the electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide,” Yang says. “In the future, the design of carbon dioxide reduction catalysts with good activity and selectivity will require the careful balancing of these two effects as revealed in our study.”

Yang, who also holds appointments with the University of California (UC) Berkeley and the Kavli Energy NanoSciences Institute at Berkeley, is a leading authority on nanoparticle phenomena. His most recent research has focused on nanocatalysts fashioned from metal alloys rather than a single metal such as gold, tin or copper.

Nanoscience expert Peidong Yang holds appointments with Berkeley Lab, UC Berkeley and the Kavli Energy NanoSciences Institute at Berkeley. (Photo by Roy Kaltschmidt)

“By alloying, we believe we can tune the binding strength of intermediates on a catalyst surface to enhance the reaction kinetics for the carbon dioxide reduction,” he says. “Nanoparticles provide an ideal platform for studying this effect because, through appropriate synthetic processes, we can access a wide range of compositions, sizes and shapes, allowing for a deeper understanding of catalyst performance through precise control of active sites.”

In addition, Yang says, nanoparticle as catalysts have high surface-to-volume and surface-to-mass ratios that are advantageous for achieving high catalytic activity. For this new study, uniform gold-copper bimetallic nanoparticles with different compositions were assembled into ordered monolayers then observed during carbon dioxide reduction.

“The ordered monolayers served as a well-defined platform that enabled us to better understand their fundamental catalytic activity in carbon dioxide reduction,” Yang says. “Based on our observations, the activity of the gold-copper bimetallic nanoparticles can be explained in terms of the electronic effect, in which the binding of intermediates can be tuned using different surface compositions, and the geometric effect, in which the local atomic arrangement at the active site allows the catalyst to deviate from the scaling relation.”

The effects Yang and his colleagues observed for gold-copper bimetallic nanoparticles should hold true for other carbon dioxide reduction catalysts as well.

“We expect the effects we observed to be universal for a wide range of catalysts, as evidenced in other areas of catalysis such as the hydrogen evolution and oxygen reduction reactions,” says Dohyung Kim, a member of Yang’s research group and a collaborator in this study. “The factors we have identified are based on the solid concept of electrocatalysis.”

Knowing the influence of the electronic and geometric effects makes it possible to deduce how intermediate products in the reduction of carbon dioxide, such as carboxylic acid and carbon monoxide, will interact with the surface of a newly proposed catalyst and thereby provide the means for predicting the catalyst’s performance. Coupled with the exceptional structuring of active catalytic sites made possible by the use of nanoparticles, the path is paved, Yang and his colleagues believe, for unprecedented improvements in electrochemical carbon dioxide reduction.

“My group is now using the insights gained from this study in the design of next generation carbon dioxide reduction catalysts,” Yang says.

A paper describing this research has been published in Nature Communications entitled “Synergistic geometric and electronic effects for electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide using gold-copper bimetallic nanoparticles.” Yang is the corresponding author and Kim is the lead author. The other co-authors are Joaquin Resasco, Yi Yu and Abdullah Mohamed Asiri.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided byDOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Dohyung Kim, Joaquin Resasco, Yi Yu, Abdullah Mohamed Asiri, Peidong Yang. Synergistic geometric and electronic effects for electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide using gold–copper bimetallic nanoparticles. Nature Communications, 2014; 5: 4948 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms5948

Cite This Page:

DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “On the road to artificial photosynthesis: Study reveals key catalytic factors in carbon dioxide reduction.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 September 2014. <>.

Longevity Gene Therapy Is the Best Way to Defeat Aging

September 29, 2014

6 Votes


Gene engineering is the most powerful existing tool for life extension. Mutations in certain genes result in up to 10-fold increase in nematode lifespan and in up to 2-fold increase in a mouse life expectancy. Gene therapy represents a unique tool to transfer achievements of gene engineering into medicine. This approach has already been proven successful for treatment of numerous diseases, in particular those of genetic and multigenic nature. More than 2000 clinical trials have been launched to date.

We propose developing a gene therapy that will radically extend lifespan. Genes that promote longevity of model animals will be used as therapeutic agents. We will manipulate not a single gene, but several aging mechanisms simultaneously. A combination of different approaches may lead to an additive or even a synergistic effect, resulting in a very long life expectancy. For this purpose, an animal will be affected by a set of genes that contribute to longevity. In addition, a gene therapy of all major age-related pathologies will be developed to improve the functioning of individual organs and tissues in old age. As a result, we will develop a comprehensive treatment that will not only dramatically extend lifespan, but will also prevent the decrepitude of the body. Experiments will be conducted in old mice. Thus, in case of success, the developed method of aging treatment can be quickly moved to clinical trials.

The goal of the project is to develop a complex gene therapy that will drastically increase mouse lifespan and prevent tissue pathology in old age, coupled with the safety assessment of the treatment.

Project description

11 genes that are most promising in terms of life extension (table 1) will be used as targets for gene therapy. We will affect both the biological aging mechanisms, common to all the cells of the organism, as well as the primary neuroendocrine center, that regulates the whole organism’s longevity – the hypothalamus. The expression increase or decrease of these genes in animal models was shown to result in boosted longevity. If the increase in expression of a particular gene is necessary for longevity, we will deliver this gene into the body. If, on the other hand, longevity depends on the inhibition of a certain gene’s expression, we will introduce a genetic construct that encodes small RNAs that inhibit the expression of the target gene. Two out of 10 genes have previously been used for gene therapy of aging: the lifespan of mice was increased by 20% (Zhang et al., 2013, Bernardes de Jesus et al., 2012). In addition, we will deliver 8 genes that prevent the individual tissue function disruption in old age. Each of these genes separately has previously been successfully used for gene therapy of one of the age-related diseases in rodent models (table 2).

Therapeutic genes will be introduced into the body using viral vectors – the most powerful method of delivering genetic constructs. This novel therapy that utilizes all the genes simultaniously will be used for radical life extension and for fighting decrepitude. Furthermore, each of the therapeutic genes will be tested individually. All the experiments will be conducted in 2-year old mice.

The experiments will be conducted in the following groups of experimental animals:

  • Simultaneous impact of 11 genes, known to extend life expectancy (table 1) and 8 genes that prevent the development of age-related diseases in various tissues (table 2)
  • Simultaneous impact of 11 genes, known to boost longevity (table 1)
  • Simultaneous impact of 8 genes that prevent the development of age-related pathologies in different tissues (table 2)
  • The impact of each of the 10 genes that extend lifespan, individually (11 groups of animals) (table 1)
  • Exposure to a combination of the 10 most effective geroprotectors
  • Old animals without impact
  • Young animals without impact

First of all, the efficiency of the delivery of therapeutic genes into the cells and duration of gene expression will be tested. If a tissue-specific therapy is needed, the specificity of the therapeutic construct delivery to the target tissue will be studied as well.

All groups of mice will be regularly tested for aging markers, and also the blood and adipose tissue transcriptome, proteome and metabolome will be analyzed. All age-related histological and physiological changes will be studied. Behavioral test will be performed to analyze cognitive ability and locomotor activity in mice. The average and maximum lifespan of mice will be determined. In addition, a detailed study of side effects will be performed. Mice will be compared with old mice of the control group as well as with young mice. 

Table 1. Target genes for life extending gene therapy.

Target gene The impact on gene expression Therapeutic effect
Effects on the hypothalamus
NF-кВ Expression inhibition The inhibition of NF-KB transcription factor causes an increase in hormone production by the hypothalamus with during aging and hypothalamus rejuvenation


UCP2 Overexpression Uncoupling protein 2 elevates the temperature of the hypothalamus, which is accompanied by a slight decrease in the overall body temperature and increased longevity
Systemic effect on most body cells
TERT Overexpression The catalytic subunit of the telomerase extends the end regions of chromosomes – the telomeres, which increase the replicative potential of cells and longevity of the body
Repetitive sequences of the genome, encoding retrotransposons Expression inhibition Inhibiting retrotransposon expression leads reduced genetic instability in old age
CRTC1 Expression inhibition Inhibiting TOR-kinase, which promotes cell growth and proliferation, leads to increased life expectancy
FOXO3 Overexpression A transcription factor that triggers stress response and promotes longevity
TFEB Overexpression A transcription factor that activates autophagy and leads to longevity
ELAVL1 Overexpression RNA – binding protein HuR stabilizes mRNA of factors regulating the cell cycle. The overexpression of HuR leads to rejuvenation of senescent cells
SIRT6 Overexpression The overexpression of sirtuin 6 – a NAD + -dependent deacetylase, leads to an increase in life expectancy
AMPK genes Overexpression AMPK overexpression triggers stress response and promotes longevity
Effect on senescent cells
HSV-TK Overexpression Herpes virus thymidine kinase promotes the transformation of a non-toxic prodrug into a toxic product. Thus, exposure to the prodrug induces death of senescent cells


Table 2. Target genes for gene therapy of age-related pathologies. Overexpression of these genes is necessary for the treatment of senile tissue decrepitude.

Target gene Tissue and delivery method Therapeutic effect Genetherapyresearchlinks
VEGF Systemic delivery into the blood Vascular endothelial growth factor enhances angiogenesis (blood vessel formation) Wang et al., 2004
BMP2, BMP7 Systemic delivery into the blood Bone morphogenetic proteins enhance bone formation and the fracture healing process Yue et al., 2005; Wang et al., 2008
IL-2 gene Systemic delivery into the blood A cytokine that stimulates an immune response Fayad et al., 2004
CREB Hippocampus A transcription factor that in the hippocampus leads to the improvement of long-term memory formation Mouravlev et al., 2006
IGF-1 Systemic delivery to the CNS Insulin-like growth factor-1, whose delivery to the central nervous system (CNS) causes improvement of locomotor activity Nishida et al., 2011
ecSOD Penis Extracellular superoxide dismutase improves erectile function by reducing oxidative stress Bivalacqua et al., 2003
GDNF Hypothalamus Glial-derived neurotrophic factor that reduces obesity when delivered to the hypothalamus Tumer et al., 2006
PVALB Heart A Ca2+- binding protein, that causes improvement of the hearts diastolic function Schmidt et al., 2005

Project authors: Anastasia Shubina, Mikhail Batin, Maria Konovalenko and Alexey Moskalev.


  1. Bernardes de Jesus B., Vera E., Schneeberger K., Tejera A.M., Ayuso E., Bosch F., Blasco M.A. Telomerase gene therapy in adult and old mice delays aging and increases longevity without increasing cancer // EMBO Mol Med. – 2012. – .v.4(8). – P.691-704.
  2. Bivalacqua T.J., Armstrong J.S., Biggerstaff J., Abdel-Mageed A.B., Kadowitz P.J., Hellstrom W.J., Champion H.C. Gene transfer of extracellular SOD to the penis reduces O2-* and improves erectile function in aged rats // Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. – 2003. – v.284(4). – H1408-21.
  3. Fayad R., Zhang H., Quinn D., Huang Y., Qiao L. Oral administration with papillomavirus pseudovirus encoding IL-2 fully restores mucosal and systemic immune responses to vaccinations in aged mice // J Immunol. – 2004. – v.173(4). –P.2692-8.
  4. Mouravlev A., Dunning J., Young D., During M.J. Somatic gene transfer of cAMP response element-binding protein attenuates memory impairment in aging rats // Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. – 2006. – v.103(12). – P.4705-10.
  5. Nishida F., Morel G.R., Hereñú C.B., Schwerdt J.I., Goya R.G., Portiansky E.L. Restorative effect of intracerebroventricular insulin-like growth factor-I gene therapy on motor performance in aging rats // Neuroscience. – 2011. – v.177. – P.195-206.
  6. Schmidt U., Zhu X., Lebeche D., Huq F., Guerrero J.L., Hajjar R.J. In vivo gene transfer of parvalbumin improves diastolic function in aged rat hearts // Cardiovasc Res. – 2005. – v.66(2). – P.318-23.
  7. Tümer N., Scarpace P.J., Dogan M.D., Broxson C.S., Matheny M., Yurek D.M., Peden C.S., Burger C., Muzyczka N., Mandel R.J. Hypothalamic rAAV-mediated GDNF gene delivery ameliorates age-related obesity // Neurobiol Aging. – 2006. – v.27(3). – P.459-70.
  8. Wang H., Keiser J.A., Olszewski B., Rosebury W., Robertson A., Kovesdi I., Gordon D. Delayed angiogenesis in aging rats and therapeutic effect of adenoviral gene transfer of VEGF // Int J Mol Med. – 2004. – v.13(4). – P.581-7.
  9. Wang Q-L., Han Q-L., Kang J., Gou S.-H., Wang L.-Zh. Polyethylenimine-mediated BMP-7 gene transfection promotes fracture healing in elderly rats // Academic Journal of Second Military Medical University. – 2008. – v.28(5). – P.514-518.
  10. Yue B., Lu B., Dai K.R., Zhang X.L., Yu C.F., Lou J.R., Tang T.T. BMP2 gene therapy on the repair of bone defects of aged rats // Calcif Tissue Int. – 2005. – v.77(6). – P.395-403.
  11. Zhang G., Li J., Purkayastha S., Tang Y., Zhang H., Yin Y., Li B., Liu G., Cai D. Hypothalamic programming of systemic ageing involving IKK-β, NF-κB and GnRH // Nature. – 2013. – v.497(7448). – P.211-6.

Solar power is growing so fast that older energy companies are trying to stop it

September 29, 2014

Workers with solar city install rooftop panels in California.Steve & Michelle Gerdes/Flickr

If you ask the people who run America’s electric utilities what keeps them up at night, a surprising number will say solar power. Specifically, rooftop solar.


That seems bizarre at first. Solar power provides just 0.4 percent of electricity in the United States — a minuscule amount. Why would anyone care?

But many utilities don’t see it that way. As solar technology gets dramatically cheaper, tens of thousands of Americans are putting photovoltaic panels on their roofs, generating their own power. On top of that, 43 states and Washington DC have “net metering” laws that allow solar-powered households to sell their excess power back to the grid at a fixed price.

That’s a major threat to traditional utilities. They still have to maintain the grid, but there are fewer and fewer customers buying electricity. Indeed, a new study fromLawrence Berkeley National Laboratory confirms utilities’ worst fears. If rooftop solar were to grab just 10 percent of the market over the next decade, utility earnings in some areas could fall by up to 41 percent.

To avoid that fate, many utilities are fighting back, pushing for policies that could slow the growth of solar — by increasing fees for solar households or scaling back those “net metering” laws. They’re getting support from conservative groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). But on the flip side, utilities are alsofacing surprising resistance from various Tea Party groups that have started championing solar energy.

The battle over solar is now raging in more than a dozen states — from Arizona toUtah to Wisconsin to Georgia. (It’s also flaring up abroad, in countries like Germany and Australia). Here’s a broad overview of what’s happening:

How cheap solar could lead to a utility “death spiral”

solar price plummet

(Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)

Solar panels are still very much a niche product. But the cost of solar rooftop systems has been plummeting in recent years (see chart). Firms like SolarCity will now install solar systems at no upfront cost to customers, who can then make monthly payments. On top of that, there’s a 30 percent federal tax credit for all residential solar systems until the end of 2016.


So even though solar provides just 0.4 percent of America’s electricity, it’s growing at a tremendous rate. Rooftop solar generation has roughly tripled since 2010. By some estimates, a new solar system is installed every four minutes in the United States.

To older electric utilities, this is a big potential problem. As rooftop solar becomes more popular, people will buy less and less electricity from their local power company. But utilities still have fixed costs for things like repairing the grid. So, in response, they’ll have to raise rates on everyone else. Yet those higher electricity rates will just spur even more people to install their own solar rooftop panels to save money. Cue the death spiral.

Sound far-fetched? This was the doomsday scenario laid out by the Edison Electric Institute, an industry trade group, back in January 2013. Even a relatively modest increase in rooftop solar power could cause havoc. David Crane, CEO of NRG Energy, has called these trends “a mortal threat to the existing utility system.”

And a recent study from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory noted that utilities could face serious financial trouble within a decade. Distributed solar now makes up nearly 2 percent of retail sales in some areas. If solar penetration reaches just 2.5 percent by 2022, shareholder earnings for some utilities could fall an estimated 4 percent. (Electricity prices, meanwhile, would rise 0.1 to 0.2 percent.)

That’s just the beginning. If the penetration of distributed solar reached as high as 10 percent — an aggressive but not impossible goal — some utilities in the Northeast could see their earnings drop as much as 41 percent. (Utilities in other regions, like the Southwest, would take a smaller hit.) This is similar to what’s already happened in Germany, where distributed solar has halved the market value of some utilities.

The study did note that there are a variety of policies that might help utilities recoup their lost revenues. Many states, for instance, are trying to modify regulations so that utility profits are no longer wholly dependent on how much electricity is sold — a process known as “decoupling.” But how much this softens the blow really depends on the fine details.

Utilities are now trying to slow solar down

Photovoltaic solar panel project at the Lester Public Library, Two Rivers, Wisconsin (Lester Public Library/Flickr)

Photovoltaic solar panel project at the Lester Public Library in Two Rivers, Wisconsin (Lester Public Library/Flickr)

The fact that solar power could prove so disruptive has triggered a number of fierce policy battles at the state level.


One big issue is the “net metering” policiesin 43 states and DC that essentially require utilities to buy excess rooftop solar power from homes and businesses at retail prices.

Electric utilities argue that these policies have become unfair and unwieldy. All those new solar-powered homes and businesses are still connected to the grid — a grid that the utility now has pay to maintain and repair out of its own pocket. As such, utilities argue that they should be allowed to charge rooftop solar owners an extra maintenance or connection fee of some sort.

net metering

(Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency)

Solar advocates counter that solar power provides a wide variety of ancillary benefits — it doesn’t pollute, it helps address global warming, and it provides a handy source of peak power on hot days when A/C use surges. As such, they should get some sort of subsidy for this, and net metering makes sense.


The first big battle over net metering came back in 2013, when Arizona Public Service proposed a new $50 monthly feefor all households with rooftop solar. That sparked a huge backlash from solar advocates, and eventually regulators eventually scaled the fee back to $5 per month.

Similar fights are spreading to more and more states. As Zack Colman recently reported in the Washington Examiner, measures have now been filed in 20 states to either scale back or eliminate net metering laws. In Wisconsin, for instance, the largest utility in the state, We Energies, has proposed reducing the price paid to rooftop solar owners for their electricity, as well as charging all homeowners a higher price for connecting to the grid.

Many of these rollback efforts have been backed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative group that has drafted “model legislation” to weaken net metering. Their argument? The growth of rooftop solar could force utilities to raise rates on the rest of us in order to maintain the grid.

But policies to control the growth of solar can take a variety of forms. On Hawaii’s Oahu island, for instance, anyone who wants to install solar panels on their roofs now has to get permission from the local utility, which argues that the current grid can’t handle the strain. In Pennsylvania, utilities want to limit how much solar power a homeowner can install on his or her roof to 110 percent of what the house needs in a year.

But other Tea Party groups have taken a pro-solar stance

solar array oklahoma

Battelle researchers are currently using a solar array at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City to test a new power converter that easily integrates many DC sources into the power system. (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory/Flickr)

The debate over solar has also created some surprising tensions among conservatives. On the one hand, many right-wing groups are opposed to the heavy subsidies given to solar power by Congress and states. But another subset of conservatives view solar power more favorably — and oppose efforts by states to restrict it or impose new fees.


Case in point: Earlier this year in Oklahoma, electric utilities and conservative politicians tried to push a bill that would have charged rooftop solar owners more for the electricity they sell back to the grid. But that proposal was staunchly opposed by the conservative group TUSK, which stands for “Tell Utilities Solar Won’t Be Killed” and is led by Barry Goldwater, Jr. — son of the conservative icon. The bill eventually died.(See Slate‘s Josh Voorhees for the full Oklahoma story.)

TUSK, for its part, has argued that rooftop solar offers homeowners greater energy choice and should be valued by conservatives. “Monopoly utilities want to extinguish the independent rooftop solar market in America to protect their socialist control of how we get our electricity,” its website notes. “They have engaged in class warfare and tried to sabotage net metering, a billing method that gives individual homeowners fair credit for power produced on their own rooftops.”

Similar conservative splits are now showing up elsewhere. In Georgia, the Green Tea Coalition — a Tea Party offshoot — is pushing for policies that would allow homeowners to buy solar systems from third parties (something that Georgia restricts). “Solar empowers the consumer and the individual,” Debbie Dooley of the Green Tea Coalition explained to Midwest Energy News. “These giant monopolies want to take away that consumer choice unless they can control it.”

Is there a possible compromise on solar power?

In the meantime, some states are trying to find a balance here, mulling over policies that both promote solar power but don’t leave utilities struggling to maintain the grid.

Minnesota, for one, has outlined a “value of solar” policy, in which regulators determine a fair value for electricity generated by rooftop solar panels — taking into account both their environmental benefits and the costs they imposes on the grid — and then letting utilities buy up that electricity at that price (rather than at the retail electricity rate, which can fluctuate).

Still, even this policy has created rifts among solar advocates, with some arguing that current net metering policies work just fine. (One contentious difference? Under net metering, homes only sell the electricity they don’t need back to the grid, whereas under “value of solar” policies, they have to sell all of it to the utility.)

The issue’s likely to become more contentious if solar power keeps growing — and, eventually, many utilities may be forced to make more drastic changes to their business model. See, for instance, this recent post by Matt Lehrman and Peter Bronski of the Rocky Mountain Institute on how radical changes to the old electricity-pricing model could be the best way to resolve this debate.

Further reading

Note that the fight over solar isn’t just taking place in the United States. Reuters’ Tracy Rucinski and Byron Kaye have a great piece on similar fights in Germany, Spain, and Australia.

This series by David Roberts of Grist, written last year, is an excellent deep dive into the traditional utility business model — and the threat posed by solar

Americans keep buying less electricity. That’s another big problem for utilities.

Transcript 2: Conversation w Paul Craig Roberts, Noam Chomsky & Rob Kall: Climate Change and Suicidal Russia Policy

September 29, 2014
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The second and final part of the transcript of my conversation with Paul Craig Roberts and Noam Chomsky Here’s a link to the audio podcast.

Paul Craig Roberts and Noam Chomsky
(image by Paul Roberts image from Paul Roberts, Chomsky image by Rob Kall)

Rob: Now, my next question, well, is going to be about climate change. What role will climate change play in the future of economics and world power balances? Why don’t you keep going Noam.

NC: Well, if current tendencies persist, we are reaching a point where there’ll be a substantial rise in sea level, inundating coastal planes — that could mean millions of people dying in Bangladesh, inundating cities — most major cities are coastal cities — in Boston, New York, San Francisco, others…

PCR: Miami…

NC: Yeah, Miami — much worse in the global south typically. We’re already at a level of species extinction that is comparable to what happened 65 million years ago when a huge asteroid hit the earth and ended the age of the dinosaurs and opened the possibility for small mammals to survive…ultimately us. That level of species extinction is now being matched and it’s going to increase. All of these are really catastrophic consequences, unpredictable in fact. You can’t even talk about the global economy — it’s going to have far more harmful consequences than that. And it’s not that far off. We’re marching toward the precipice.

Rob: I have to wonder, will…there are some people and companies that seem to want this to happen. What will happen to the economy, to the world, and the power balance in the world?

NC: Well, I think this goes back to a point that Paul made. Take say, Exxon Mobil…you know, biggest energy corporation. I mean, it’s not that they want these catastrophes to happen. It’s that the logic of the institutional framework in which they function is almost compelling them, unless there are external pressures, to march toward that precipice. They have recently announced, Exxon Mobil, that they are going to intensify their focus on fossil fuel extraction instead of alternatives because it is simply so much more profitable.

Chevron, another major energy corporation, had a small sustainable energy program that was doing ok — it was profitable, but they just shut it down because the profits are so much greater on extraction of fossil fuels. Within the given institutional logic, you can’t really blame the managers and directors for choosing these options — they simply have no choice within that framework, or very little choice. There was a day when Henry Ford could manage the considerations that Paul was talking about — he could see I’ve got to pay the workers $5.00 per hour or else there won’t be anybody to buy my cars. But there aren’t…the contemporary institutions don’t allow that.

PCR: Yes, I can remember when I was going to university, we were taught that corporations had responsibility to shareholders but also to employees, to customers, to the communities…and that they had to balance those. But what happened, I can’t remember exactly when, but all of the responsibilities were eliminated, except to shareholders. And so, as Noam Chomsky said earlier, if you get pressure to move jobs offshore where the labor costs are substantially slower and the profits rise, and you resist, then Wall Street simply says ‘if you resist we’re going to finance a takeover, and we’ll have somebody there who will move them.’

So it’s this sort of short-run focus on profits that makes it hard, or in fact I would say impossible, like Chomsky believes, for these kinds of issues to be responsibly dealt with. So if everyone is operating on a short run basis, focused only on return to executives and shareholders, then you destroy the system. And what surprises me is how many corporate interests fund groups and economists to go around saying that there is no global warming — they still deny it as a climate problem. This is very prominent among what they call free market economists. It’s seen as some sort of government propaganda in order to takeover business or to limit growth.

If you look at economic theory even, it supports these kinds of notions because the science is built up on a production function known as the Stiglitz Solow Production Function — two Nobel Laureates. And the assumption is that man-made capital is a perfect substitute for Nature’s capital. And so what that says is you can never run out of resources. And so the whole notion of depletion or depleting the sinks in the environment…they can absorb waste — it’s difficult to get economists to even think about that. So you even have, on top of the other failure, you have this sort of major intellectual failure.

Rob: It seems like…

NC: If I could make one suggestion. I’d suggest that you invite Bob Solow on the program because I’m pretty confident, though he would understand the logic of what Paul just described, he would not accept the consequences. That’d be interesting to hear why.

Rob: Well we can work on that. It seems like both of you agree that it’s basically the nature of the corporation that is causing the problem.

PCR: It’s the incentive…it’s the incentives placed before them.

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Unapproved Monsanto GMO wheat found in Montana

September 29, 2014
 September 26, 2014 1:31 pm • By MARY CLARE JALONICK Associated Press0

** FILE ** The entrance to the Monsanto Company, headquartered in St. Louis, is shown in a file photo from June 28, 2005. Monsanto Co., a supplier of crop seeds and pesticides, said higher sales of corn seeds and its recently acquired fruits and vegetable business helped its profit grow 18 percent last quarter. (AP Photo/James A. Finley, File)
Enlarge Photo

Updated at 5:45 p.m.

WASHINGTON • Unregulated genetically modified wheat has popped up in a second location in the United States, this time in Montana, the Agriculture Department said Friday.

No genetically engineered wheat has been approved for U.S. farming, and the discovery of unapproved varieties can pose a potential threat to U.S. trade with countries that have concerns about genetically modified foods.

USDA said Friday that the incident was on a smaller scale than a similar finding in Oregon last year that prompted several Asian countries to temporarily ban U.S. wheat imports.

The herbicide-resistant wheat was found on one to three acres in Montana, while the genetically engineered plants found in Oregon were spread over more than 100 acres. And the plants were found at a university research center in Huntley, Mont., where genetically modified wheat was legally tested by Creve Coeur-based seed giant Monsanto 11 years ago. The plants in Oregon were found in a field that had never conducted such tests, prompting questions about how they got there.

The department said it was investigating the discovery of the Montana wheat, which is a different variety than the genetically modified wheat found in Oregon. USDA said the wheat would be safe to eat, but none of it entered the market.

In a final report also released Friday, USDA said it believes that the genetically modified wheat in Oregon was an isolated incident and that there is no evidence of that wheat in commerce. The report says the government still doesn’t know how the modified seeds got into the fields.

The discovery of the genetically modified wheat in Oregon in 2013 prompted Japan and South Korea to temporarily suspend some wheat orders, and the European Union called for more rigorous testing of U.S. shipments.

Monsanto Co. suggested last year that some of the company’s detractors may have intentionally planted the seeds. Robb Fraley, Monsanto’s executive vice president and chief technology officer, said in June 2013 that sabotage is the most likely scenario, partly because the modified wheat was not distributed evenly throughout the field and was found in patches.

Bernadette Juarez, who oversees investigative and enforcement efforts for USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said the department wasn’t able to prove any such scenarios. “Ultimately, we weren’t able to make a determination of how it happened,” she said.

In a statement Friday, a Monsanto spokeswoman did not repeat Fraley’s 2013 speculation about sabotage but said the report provided closure. Monsanto also said it is fully cooperating with the Montana investigation.

Montana State University’s Southern Agricultural Research Center, where the modified wheat was found, also said it has been cooperating with USDA’s investigation.

Most of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States are already genetically modified to resist certain herbicides or to have other traits. But the country’s wheat crop is not, as some wheat farmers are reluctant to use genetically engineered seeds since their product is usually consumed directly by people. Much of the corn and soybean crop is used as feed for animals.

Some in the wheat industry have also been concerned that genetically modified wheat, if ever approved, would contaminate conventional wheat, causing problems with exports. Opponents of modified crops used the Oregon wheat as an example of that threat. “Genetic contamination is a serious threat to farmers across the country,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for Center for Food Safety.

There has been little evidence to show that foods grown from engineered seeds are less safe than their conventional counterparts, but several states have considered laws that would require them to be labeled so consumers know what they are eating. Vermont became the first state to enact such a law this year, though it is being challenged in court.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Cross-Bred Crops Trump the Failing GMO-Created Techniques

September 29, 2014


GMO is not the only solution to drought-resistant corn. Traditional cross-breeding is an another and better solution.

‘Cross-bred crops get fit faster,’ says an important new article published in the journal, Nature. Within its wizened lines is advice on how to breed better corn without resorting to growing GMO.

Natasha Gilbert explains in the article how genetic engineering simply doesn’t stack up in comparison to conventional breeding efforts to create drought-resistant corn for countries like Africa that are water-scarce. She notes:

 “Old-fashioned breeding techniques seem to be leading genetic modification in a race to develop crops that can withstand drought and poor soils.”

The key example she uses for making this claim is based on the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa project, launched in 2006 with a $33 million investment. The project has developed 153 new varieties of corn to improve yields in 13 different countries. This has all been accomplished without using GM seed.

In field trials, these varieties matched or exceeded the yields from commercial seeds under good rainfall conditions, and yielded up to 30% more under drought conditions.

Restating arguments for non-GMO that the Earth Open Source report GMO Myths and TruthsGMWatch, and many others have repeatedly made over the decades, Gilbert notes:

“Drought tolerance is a complex trait that involves multiple genes. Transgenic techniques, which target one gene at a time, have not been as quick to manipulate it.”

Gilbert attests that the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico City as well as six other research organizations are developing GM varieties of drought-resistant maize in collaboration with Monsanto, but these will likely not compare to the conventional non-GM methods proven in this recent pilot in Africa. These GM varieties also won’t be ready for African farmers to use until at least 2016, and they need drought-resistant crops now.

Disciplining the Sharing Economy

September 29, 2014


Due to the economy, people looked for other means to make an income. Sharing economy grew with people renting their car or rooms in their home, as well as other services. As these services grow, regulations are needed to protect consumers and workers.

The increasing ability of people to exchange goods, services, and labor directly, via online platforms, is transforming how modern economies operate. But to ensure that the rise of the “sharing economy” works efficiently and improves conditions for all parties, some regulation is needed.

People can now circumvent many traditional service businesses. They can share transport, using Uber, Lyft, or RelayRides; provide accommodation through Airbnb; tender household chores via TaskRabbit, Fiverr, orMechanical Turk; and arrange their grocery deliveries using Favor andInstacart. Similarly, crowdfunding platforms, such as Kickstarter and Lending Club, allow start-ups to raise grants, loans, or investment from the general population, rather than relying on a financial intermediary.

By cutting out the middleman, these online platforms empower individuals, reduce transaction costs, and create a more inclusive economy. But their evolution is far from straightforward, and many such services will require careful regulation if they are to flourish – as protests and court rulings in Europe against Uber demonstrate.

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One reason why Uber and other sharing-economy pioneers are so disruptive is that they represent a highly efficient form of peer-to-peer capitalism. Buyers and sellers can agree directly on the price of every transaction, and business reputations depend on transparent customer feedback, generating continuous pressure to improve performance.

The sharing economy also boosts entrepreneurship, as people see new ways to fill gaps in the market. What began as a simple way for households to boost incomes – by renting out one’s apartment or car – has become a formidable disruptive force. Forbes magazine estimates that the sharing economy’s 2013 revenues topped $3.5 billion. During the 2014 soccer World Cup in Brazil, a country with a chronic shortage of hotel rooms, more than 100,000 people used home-sharing Web sites to find accommodation.

The opportunity to buy or sell has also become much more inclusive: half of Airbnb hosts in the United States have low to moderate incomes, and 90% of hosts globally rent their primary residence.

Several cities have recognized the benefits to be gained from promoting a sharing economy. Seattle, for example, has deregulated its transportation and hospitality sectors, challenging the city’s taxi and hotel monopolies.

But economic change of this magnitude inevitably has its opponents, some with legitimate concerns. Do peer-to-peer businesses undercut incumbents by not paying similar taxes? Are such businesses – flush with venture capital – running their operations at a loss in order to capture market share? And should these firms be allowed to access telecoms data to learn about customers’ habits and movements, thus giving them an unfair advantage?

Some firms have set their own operating standards. TaskRabbit, which subcontracts household jobs like assembling Ikea furniture, requires participants to pay a minimum wage, and has launched an insurance scheme to protect its US workers. On the other hand, technology platforms that use “algorithmic scheduling” to align workers’ shifts and hours with business cycles automatically, continue to disrupt family life and cause unnecessary stress. Policymakers need to stay ahead of these sharing-economy trends.

As services and software converge, public officials must enhance their technical skills and work with the private sector to ensure market fairness and efficiency. For example, they must prevent the manipulation of reviews and other practices that mislead consumers trying to assess the quality of a company’s service. Airbnb and the online travel agent Expedia allow reviews only by customers who have actually used their services; that could become a regulatory norm throughout the sharing economy.

Governments also have a broader role to play. As more people adopt “portfolio careers” – relying on several sources of income, rather than a single job – it becomes harder to collect and analyze labor-market data. Governments will need new accounting and reporting standards to calculate wages, forecast incomes, and categorize workers within the growing ranks of the self-employed. Such standards, coupled with data-sharing guidelines, will help determine when, and how much, to tax sharing-economy transactions.

None of this will be easy. Though self-employment and part-time labor are hardly new, the sharing economy is different, because it allows freelancers to become “nano-workers,” shifting among employers not just monthly or even weekly, but several times a day. As US and European unemployment rates remain high and wages stagnate, people increasingly rely on such diverse income streams. Today, almost 27 million Americans survive on part-time and project-based incomes.

With nearly half of all services jobs in the OECD at risk of automation, the sharing economy can smooth the disruption caused to displaced workers as they upgrade their skills. Indeed, sharing-economy data can help governments identify those workers at greatest risk and support their retraining.

The sharing economy reflects the convergence of entrepreneurialism and technological connectivity. Taxi drivers and hotel owners may feel threatened, but the sharing economy has the potential to increase and redistribute earnings in cities that are already struggling with poverty and inequality. Those who are displaced will have far better prospects in the more prosperous and inclusive environment that the sharing economy promises to create.

How the Dark Money Regime Is Shaping 2014 Elections

September 29, 2014


Corporations and the rich take advantage of a nonprofit nondisclosure loophole regarding the source of their money. Thus, money coming from nonprofits to political candidates is called dark money.

Nonprofit groups, some well known (such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity, founded by the Koch brothers) and some obscure (America Inc., anyone?), have dumped huge sums of anonymous money into every competitive Senate race and many House contests. Here are five eye-opening indicators showing the rapid spread of dark money in this year’s campaign season—and why it’s going to get worse as Election Day approaches.

The $50 Million Mark

A milestone passed in late August: According to the Center for Responsive Politics, dark-money groups—nonprofits created under the 501(c)(4) and (c)(6) sections of the U.S. tax code—had by then surpassed $50 million on elections. These groups, unlike political action committees and candidates’ campaigns, do not have to disclose their donors. So some of the key players looking to sway election results remain in the shadows.

This was a new record and seven times the amount of dark money spent by the same point on House and Senate elections in 2010. And this week, dark-money spending for the 2014 cycle reached $63 million—just shy of the $69 million in dark money spent during the entire 2008 presidential election.

You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet

Every politician knows that campaign season begins in earnest after Labor Day. If recent history is any guide, there is sure to be an unprecedented last-minute blitz of dark-money spending.

As the Center for Responsive Politics’ Robert Maguire notes, almost $7 million had been dropped by Labor Day in 2010. But by the end of that election season, dark-money spending had spiked to $130 million. That trend repeated in 2012: In late August of that year, dark-money spending clocked in at $51 million. Fast forward to Election Day and the total ballooned to more than $300 million.

This cycle is not a presidential year, but with the U.S. Senate up for grabs, dark-money spending could surpass the record-setting amount of 2012. “If the rate of spending from previous cycles continues,” Maguire writes, “the totals could reach upwards of $730 million or—if the rate seen in the last midterm holds—edge close to $1 billion.”

The Casino King Bets Big on Red—Again

Sheldon Adelson, the 81-year-old casino mogul who runs the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, is one of the biggest individual political donors in American history. In 2012, he doled out nearly $150 million to candidates, PACs, super-PACs, and dark-money nonprofits. His largesse propped up former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s wounded presidential campaign during the primaries, and Adelson later gave more than any other donor to the super-PAC backing GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

Despite a win-loss record in 2012 that would make a rookie craps player blush, Adelson is back at it in 2014. As the Daily Beast’s Peter Stone reported, Adelson “is poised to donate close to $100 million this election cycle, with much of that total coming in untraceable ‘dark money’ to conservative groups.” Then again, if you’re worth $38 billion, as Adelson is, what’s another nine-figure spending spree to put your friends and allies in power?

The Koch Brothers Flood the Airwaves

If you live in a state with a competitive Senate race and you watch TV, there’s a good chance you’ve sat through an ad like the one above. TV viewers around the country have been inundated with political ads and negative messaging this campaign year—and for that, they can largely thank Charles and David Koch, the billionaire industrialist brothers, and their sprawling network of dark-money groups.

Koch-linked groups ran nearly 44,000 TV ads from January 1, 2013, to August 31, 2014, according to the Center for Public Integrity. Here’s another way of looking at that number: 1 out of every 10 TV ads in that 20-month time period came from a group affiliated with the Kochs’ political network. These groups include the Koch network’s flagship organization, Americans for Prosperity, the American Energy Alliance, Concerned Veterans for America, the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, Generation Opportunity and the 60 Plus Association.

Democrats Love Their Dark Money Too

Don’t think that the dark-money action is all on the Republican side. Not only do Democrats have their own political sugar daddies—see Tom Steyer, the retired hedge fund investor who’s pledged to spend $50 million of his own money this year on congressional races—but pro-Democratic dark-money groups rank among the biggest spenders in this year’s contests.

Four of the top 10 dark-money spenders so far in the 2014 midterms are aligned with Democrats and have combined to spend $14 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. They are Patriot Majority USA (which paid for the above ad), the League of Conservation Voters,, and the Environmental Defense Action Fund.

Democratic dark-money groups are as prone to twisting the truth as their GOP-allied counterparts. Patriot Majority, for instance, accused Rep. Tom Cotton, the Republican running against Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, of wanting to give himself “taxpayer-funded health care for life.” PolitiFact rated that claim a lie. recently blasted out a fundraising email falsely claiming that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) posed for a photo with ISIS militants.

Craig Varoga, the president of Patriot Majority USA, justified his use of dark money in an October 2012 interview with Campaigns and Elections. “For the time being, it does not matter whether any of us agree or disagree with current campaign finance laws, or court interpretations and FEC rulings on these laws,” he said. “This brave new world is here.”

Originally published by Mother Jones