Ebola's still raging

The last time I wrote about Ebola, there were 117 confirmed related deaths along with the 35 deaths likely related to the most recent outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Roll forward eight months and more than 2,100 people have been infected and 1,400 are now dead from the disease. In this past week, it was announced that the viral hemorrhagic fever had made its way into Congo's neighbor, Uganda. It's become the second-most devastating outbreak of Ebola in history. The only outbreak of the disease more severe took place between 2013 and 2016. Then, 11,000 people died.

A panel made up of 10 infections disease experts told the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) announced that, as dire as the situation might be, calling the outbreak, what it is--sn international emergency--would be a bad idea. It makes sense: as the New York Times points out, saying that the hemorrhagic fever is an international emergency could lead to neighboring countries shuttering their borders to the Democratic Republic of Congo and forbidding flights to and from the region. That'd be a non-starter for keeping much-needed medical and scientific aid flowing into the hot zone. Despite the fact that folks are dying painfully and on a startling scale, the international community is doing jack shit to help stamp out the outbreak. This is especially troubling, given the fact that the hot zone for this outbreak also happens to be in a war zone. Medical operations have been chronically stalled or stopped do to the dangerous working environment that the individuals brave enough to face the disease have been subjected to. Read the rest

California State Senator wants to remake cities with midrises near public transit, but he is facing a wave of nimbyism

Scott Wiener is California State Senator for San Francisco, whose SB827, co-sponsored by State Senator Nancy Skinner, will move some zoning responsibility from cities to the state, forcing cities to allow the construction of higher-density housing (duplexes, eight-plexes and midrise, six-story apartment buildings) near public transit stops. Read the rest

Billionaire tech investors back ballot initiative to purge homeless people from San Francisco

Sequoia Capital Chairman Michael Moritz and angel investor Ron Conway have donated to San Francisco's Proposition Q: if passed, "the city would give residents of tent encampments 24 hours’ notice to relocate to a shelter or accept a bus ticket out of town." Read the rest

Rolling on the river: The future of local energy

Today, most of the electricity in the United States is generated in very large facilities—capable of serving millions of homes—far away from the people who will actually use that electricity. We do it this way because it makes financial sense. It's cheaper to produce electricity in bulk and ship it over transmission lines, than it would be to produce a little electricity in a lot of places.

Or, at least, that would be the case if NIMBYism didn't keep getting in the way. Not In My Backyard movements don't just affect the construction of the actual power plant. And they don't just affect fossil fuels. Transmission lines serve both clean and dirty generation and they have to cross hundreds, or even thousands, of miles to reach their destinations. Along the way, they cross lots of people's property, skirt dozens of towns, and maybe even cut through federal lands. All of that means added cost. Today, experts have told me, it's often more expensive to build the transmission lines to feed a power plant than it is to built the power plant itself.

And that opens some opportunities.

Across the United States, there are pockets of sustainable energy resources not quite large enough to support a big power plant, but potentially very useful to us, nonetheless. And the high cost of transmission means that these resources are starting to make more financial sense. Chief among these is small-scale hydropower. At Txchnologist, I wrote a piece about small-scale hydro—how it works and what we stand to gain by thinking about the scale of electricity generation in a different way. Read the rest

A powerful personal perspective on NIMBY

OnEarth magazine has a really interesting essay on renewable energy and NIMBYism, by nature writer David Gessner. A former resident of Cape Cod, Gessner was a longtime opponent of the plan to site offshore wind turbines in the ocean near the Cape. But he recently changed his mind. Why? It has to do with Henry David Thoreau and the Gulf Oil Spill. Read the rest