La Antigua Guatemala is a small city which enjoys a robust tourism industry and hosts innumerable Spanish language schools for foreigners. Buried in the colonial architecture (which earned the city status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site) lies all the trappings of modern civilization. The relative wealth of La Antigua amidst the poverty and violence of Guatemala has afforded the city opportunities to modernize, and the government seems open to all ideas which may propel La Antigua into the 21st century as assuredly as any western nation.

Towards the end of last year the municipality introduced a free wireless zone in its central park, earning it status as the first digital city of Latin America. The novel concept of free wi-fi for all has been championed by consumer advocates the world over but in San Francisco the process has been bogged down by negotiations with competing providers and to this day there is no such service, but in La Antigua they just decided to roll up their sleeves and make it happen. When one thinks of Guatemala they probably don’t imagine internet cafes and people using their laptops in the park, but access is available to all who would wish to make use of it.

As encouraging as that development is the people of La Antigua are preparing to lay the ground-work for another first, and possibly becoming the first city of its kind in the entire world. According to Rudy Giron’s excellent La Antigua Daily Photo, a group of dedicated people are busy laying the framework for an alternative fuel project for the city. Biopersa organizers went from restaurant to restaurant collecting spent cooking oil with the intention of reprocessing it into biodiesel for municipal vehicles and the local hospital. If the initial steps are successful and the idea takes hold La Antigua Guatemala could be the first city which operates its city vehicles entirely on reprocessed biodiesel.(See bottom for an update.) (more…)


All eyes have been on the Senate’s budget wrangling which has allowed some interesting things to slip under the radar that may otherwise have received more cameras and klieg lights. Majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada recently convened a clean energy summit in DC, inviting such political luminaries as Bill Clinton and Al Gore as well as words of wisdom from noted oil wildman T. Boone Pickens to discuss how to prepare America’s future as a sustainable energy producer. Most conversation has been focused on revamping the country’s electrical grid by renaming it a smart grid which is currently ill-equipped for handling wattage loads from wind and solar farms which factor largely into the overall scheme of things. However, Pickens takes things a step further as he pounds the pulpit pushing for natural gas to be diverted from electrical production to transportation.

California voters might recall Pickens backing Proposition 10, the Alternative Fuel Vehicles and Renewable Energy Bonds measure which proposed to fund rebates for the purchase of high-efficiency or alternative fuel vehicles, the latter being code for cars running on natural gas. There was also money dedicated to researching renewable energy solutions, but the crux of the initiative was to encourage the purchase of cars which would require natural gas to run. Pickens, it so happens, owns a large chain of natural gas stations called Clean Energy which explained why a Texas oil tycoon who achieved wealth through aggressive company purchases in the 1980’s would be shelling out massive amounts of cash to pass a proposition in another state. Voters rejected this by about a 60-40 margin. (more…)

There has always been a certain joy experienced when I happen to catch stock market news filled with unhappy premonitions and arrows pointing towards hell. While I understand that the implications of our current dire straights reach far and wide, possibly even affecting someone as disconnected from money as myself, I must admit that the idea of a complete economic collapse is exciting. Not necessarily because I revel in the idea of a Mad Max-esque world with roving gangs of bandits and bizarre outposts of civilization operating on jerry-rigged technology but because I feel that the utter depths of foolishness which propel the world forward cannot be stopped without the bottom of the bucket falling out.

In a recent op-ed piece, New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof examines the issue of Guantanamo, the US’s military foothold on Cuba which houses the nameless accused in America’s war on the world. Barak Obama has asserted his intentions are to close the prison down as a gesture of transparency and responsibility and Kristof argues that the military should leave as well. Ideally, his plan would have the base handed back to Cuba but realizes the political difficulty in doing this so he proposes a secondary plan borrowed from the Public Library of Science: convert Guantanamo into a research center to combat tropical disease. (more…)

Somewhere in between my rapidly decaying body and my rapidly decaying mind is a slumbering mid-life crisis. There will be no cherry-red convertible and a mistress half my age, but when my thoughts do stray into the possibilities of life-improving changes that can be made the fact that I’m still slugging away in the thankless realm of unit-pushing retail finds itself naked in the spotlight.

It’s not so bad, of course, which is why I’ve been able to stay for so long. They leave me alone and let me do what I do without any oversight, they don’t mind the fact that I’m a slob who shows up a little late here, leaves a little early there. I don’t interact with customers except through the safety of the internet, I have a little computer in the corner and I’ve been able to amass a collection of bizarre import DVDs and countless records. The company isn’t horrible, doesn’t go out of its way to destroy the world or exploit anyone; they try to donate money to worthy causes and collect old batteries and personal electronics for recycling. However, the daily knowledge that I contribute to a cycle of plastic exchanging hands hangs heavily over my head and makes me feel useless and lazy, caught in a trap of an empty existence. Underneath the general curiosity and compulsive clicking that takes me from one corner of the internet to the next is a search for something that might resonate within the core of my being.

The entrepreneurial spirit is not strong in me, so I find what people come up with endlessly fascinating. Today Dave Richards of Defeating Global Poverty introduced a new company called Burro operating in Ghana renting rechargeable batteries to locals. The business plan is straightforward: electricity is unreliable or unavailable to many citizens who have to operate lanterns and radios by battery power. The favorite brand is Tiger Head, a low charge disposable zinc-carbon variety dry-cell that corrodes and releases manganese dioxide. People using batteries to keep their houses lit at night or ghetto blasters blaring all day burn through these quickly, throw them away and have to buy more.

Burro imports cheap Chinese rechargeables and rents them to people who have signed on for monthly accounts. The high-quality rechargeable batteries can be swapped out as frequently as needed through any number of agents who resupply them and recharge the spent batteries. For a moderate sum per month (roughly equal to three times the cost of a single Tiger Head D-Size battery) customers are guaranteed as much battery power as they need for a set cost.

The company was started by Whit Alexander, co-founder of the Cranium board game. Presumably the sale of Cranium to Hasbro has lined Whit’s pockets with enough capital to invest in this innovative project currently being run out of the city of , due north of the capital Accra. They set up shop and began to hire a team of partners, agents and salespeople; by all accounts the idea has caught on very quickly with the Ghanaians and subscriptions have soared. So we have a company that provides a necessary service which gives people steady jobs while reducing the amount of toxic trash polluting the world. Expanding slowly into neighboring villages the company is effectively establishing a network which can be used for future projects.

Still there’s a little rough with the smooch. I’m not keen on cheap Chinese imports, although I understand that trying to supply an African nation with affordable products must be a challenge. It’s also distressing in an irrational way to see yet another wealthy white guy swooping into the continent and wrapping the locals in his benevolent arms. It doesn’t make him a bad person, of course, and I believe that his intentions are good, but it still sits uneasily in my gut. I hope that when the business is established Alexander spins his participation off to the local partners he’s working with and lets them take the reins for the next Burro ride.

Both pictures are stolen from the Burro Brand blog. You can check it out and follow their progress as they take over the local battery market.

In the latest of his groundbreaking encounters with the figures whose decisions shape our environment, George Monbiot meets Andy Harrison, the chief executive of easyjet, and takes him to task over the budget airline’s plans for an “ecojet”, growing carbon emissions from the aviation industry and the company’s carbon offsetting scheme

George Monbiot vs. Andy Harrison

In a couple of months I’ll be winging it away to Europe and I feel guilty about this fact. More and more people take to the skies every year and the carbon emissions of the aviation industry have been understandably increasing. If America had a network of high-speed rail would domestic flights decrease? It may take stern policy changes to strip the airlines of their dominance but I’m not sure we have a choice.

As always, clicking the picture will take you to the Manchester Guardian page where you can watch the interview. Then you can feel guilty when you fly too.

After two years of effort by activists and the National Park Service to delay it a land auction was recently held in Salt Lake City by the Bureau of Land Management; the date of the sale was publicly announced on election day and received as much press coverage as could be expected. Protesters waved signs and marched outside while, shuttered away from the angry and desperate chants, were a collection of oil and gas representatives hoping to purchase parcels totaling almost 150,000 acres of Federal Land which they could dynamite, mine and drill.

Among their stuffed shirts and tailored suits was 27-year-old environmentalist Tim DeChristopher who signed the paper work to register as a bidder. Through the auctions he held paddle 70 high, driving up prices on some parcels and eventually finding himself indebted to the Federal Government for $1.8 Million, the going rate for 22,000 acres in the southeastern corner of Utah.

DeChristopher’s intentions to disrupt the proceedings are not subject for debate, but possible consequences are a matter of discussion. Although an immediate internet fundraising drive went into high gear to collect $45,000 as a down payment jilted gasmen are quick to accuse him of too little too late– bidders are required to be able to pay a minimum of $81,238.50 the day of the auction and complete the purchase no later than January 6th. The activist’s hope is that the sum he has collected will be enough to delay the parcels being resold until the incoming Obama administration takes over with new officials leading the BLM which has been criticized by environmental groups for their massive land sales to oil and gas prospectors.

The registration forms to take part in the auction have a passage which states it’s a Federal crime to “knowingly and willfully make any false, fictitious or fraudulent statements“; the industry shills are hoping that this includes bidding with no intention to pay and praying that DeChristopher receives the maximum five year prison sentence for disrupting their orgy. Not so forthcoming is the fact that, according to Pat Shea, a lawyer representing DeChristopher as well as the former head of the BLM under the Clinton Administration, oil companies are routinely offered lines of credit to pay off their auction debts. In other words the oil and gas companies can pay any way they damn will please and now that some young punk who wants to save land from their drills has sat down at their table they want the book thrown at him. (more…)

In the latest of his groundbreaking encounters with the figures whose decisions shape our environment, George Monbiot challenges Jeroen van de Veer, chief executive of oil and gas giant Shell, on ethics, greenwash advertising, renewable energy investments and gas-flaring in Nigeria

George Monbiot vs. Jeroen van de Veer

Something to think about for the next time you fill up at the pump, or buy anything trucked into your town, or move or breathe or exist in any way shape or form. As always, click the picture and you’ll be taken to a magical place where you can watch the video, courtesy of the good people at the Manchester Guardian.