Tackling the elephant in the room: overpopulation

Environmentalists tend to avoid the topic of population control. Too touchy. But the politically incorrect issue is becoming unavoidable as the global population lurches toward a predicted 9 billion people by mid-century. Will there be enough food? Enough water? Will planet-heating carbon dioxide gas become ever more uncontrollable?

Now comes a study by statisticians at Oregon State University focusing on the elephant in the room.

The findings: If you are concerned about your carbon footprint, think birth control.

The greenhouse gas effect of a child is almost 20 times more significant than the amount any American would save by such practices as driving a fuel-efficient car, recycling or using energy-efficient lightbulbs and appliances, according to Paul Murtaugh, an Oregon State professor of statistics. Under current U.S. consumption patterns, each child ultimately adds about 9,441 metric tons of CO2 to the carbon legacy of an average parent -- about 5.7 times a person’s lifetime emissions, he calculates.


Given the higher per-capita consumption of developed nations, the study found that the impact of a child born in the U.S., along with all his or her descendants, is more than 160 times that of a Bangladeshi child. And the long-term impact of a Chinese child is less than one-fifth the impact of a U.S.-born child. But as China, India and other developing nations hurtle toward prosperity, that is likely to change.

-- Margot Roosevelt

Greenpeace paints mocking moniker on roof of HP building

Let this be a lesson to electronics companies everywhere: If you don’t fulfill your pledge to remove toxic materials from your products, Greenpeace is going to paint your roof.

Luckily, they’ll use nontoxic finger paint. The negative advertising, visible to passing birds and helicopters, won’t last longer than the time it takes to power-wash it away.

Unless someone snaps a picture. Or films it.

It took about 10 minutes for a few activists to complete the mission, Greenpeace International toxics campaigner Casey Harrell said. Dressed in hazmat suits and armed with motorized paint-sprayers, they scaled the building with industrial-strength ladders and blasted the words “Hazardous Products” on the roof of Hewlett-Packard’s Palo Alto headquarters. And they didn’t even get arrested.

The action followed demands by Greenpeace that the company fulfill a promise to stop using hazardous materials such as PVC plastics and brominated flame retardants, which have been linked to thyroid hormone disruption in animals.


“Greenpeace will not stand idly by while companies that commit to environmentally responsible action backtrack on commitments,” Harrell said in a statement Tuesday. “As the No. 1 seller of PCs worldwide, HP has both the responsibility and the ability to make sure the company no longer deserves the moniker ‘Hazardous Products.’ ”

HP said in a statement that the company was committed to eliminating brominated flame retardants and PVC from its PC products by the end of 2011, according to wire reports.

-- Amy Littlefield

Utility pays U.S. a $14.75-million wildfire settlement


Pacific Gas & Electric Co. is paying the U.S. Forest Service $14.75 million to settle damage claims stemming from a 1999 fire in Northern California.

The payment is the second-largest of its kind to the agency, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. Last year the Forest Service won a $102-million settlement from Union Pacific Railroad Co. in a lawsuit involving another Northern California wildfire.

Downed power lines have been blamed for a number of destructive wildfires in the state, including last year’s Sesnon fire in the San Fernando Valley, several of the 2007 blazes in San Diego County and the Malibu Canyon fire that same year.

The October 1999 Pendola fire started on private land when a pine tree fell on a transmission line. The line shorted out, igniting the tree. A total of 11,725 acres burned, about a third of which was in the Tahoe and Plumas national forests.


The fire burned for 11 days and cost $4.2 million to fight. More than $10 million of the settlement is compensation for natural resources damage. -- Bettina Boxall

College students compete for best 100% solar home

Though some college students are soaking up rays at the beach this summer, students at Santa Clara University and California College of the Arts have found a different use for the sun’s energy.

About 200 undergraduates have been designing and building a house that will run entirely on solar energy as part of the Department of Energy’s 2009 Solar Decathlon. Team California is the only team from the West Coast and one of 20 teams competing from around the world.


The team’s Refract House will feature a dishwasher, television and washer and dryer, in addition to a radiant system that runs water under the floor and through the ceiling to cool and heat the house. Unlike some box-shaped solar houses, which team leader Preet Anand says are “hyper-efficient but boring,” Refract House is shaped like a “bent tube.” The walls are made of used billboards, which will be covered with salvaged redwood panels.

Santa Clara came in third in the 2007 competition, and Team California hopes to win the competition in Washington, D.C., this year. To get there, the team will have to break apart the modular home, load it onto trucks and drive it to the National Mall.

Although travel and marketing expenses have ratcheted the project’s cost up to an estimated $1.3 million, some of the features, such as a system that recirculates water from sinks and showers, would cost a buyer less than $1,000.

After the competition, the home will sit on the lawn of San Jose City Hall, where Anand hopes it can motivate passersby.


-- Amy Littlefield

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