The concept behind biochar is a bit complicated but very interesting. Based on an ancient Amazonian practice of burying carbon in the soil, the industry plans to sequester vast quantities of carbon in the soil and sell the latent emissions as credits on the worldwide carbon market. The theory is that if terra preta (charcoal enriched soil) is created on a global scale as much as 6 billion tons of CO2 would be prevented from entering the atmosphere every year. Although this is only about half of the 8 to 10 billion tons of carbon emitted yearly by human activity it is still substantial enough to be investigated. In fact, scientists around the world are saying that burying biochar would not only slow the rate of global warming it would also enhance the soil and make a side dish of sustainable biofuels as well.

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I can recall the economists, bureaucrats and investors rejoicing loudly and proudly when the Commerce Department announced that U.S. exports were rising overall, as much as $28.8 billion higher than the year before. But what the department made less noise about and even failed to mention in many instances, was the rising tide of imports, which were up as much or more, around $26.4 billion between the year 2007 and 2008.

I also read an article explaining that the nation’s seaports, airports, railways and highways were still faced with moving an additional $40 billion worth of stuff in and out across our borders, on top of the $330 billion worth of stuff that’s already going in and out each month. These figures omit the increases in the import cost that comes from rising oil prices, which is a huge factor.

But imports of consumer and industrial goods continue to dominate over exports in our trade balance. This is what is called a “trade deficit”. We make and export far less than we import and consume and this has had a huge impact on our economy and current inability to pull ourselves out of the recession. And the need for imports just keeps rising as our capacity to manufacture those items keeps disappearing. The hauling, sorting and delivering of all these foreign-made goods has evolved into a fast-growing, high-tech, high-profit industry. On that end, those that profit from this business are hard pressed to slow it down or correct the imbalance and this is also a huge part of our current picture.

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As of today, now playing in a theatre near you, is a film with a fascinating new look at the oil industry and it’s dark side. CRUDE, the film, tells a shocking story that Chevron, the 5th largest company on this planet, does not want the world to know. Like, The Cove, another documentary about the uglier side of industry, this one is a bombshell that should awaken everyone who sees it to the environmental tragedies that are ongoing here on Earth and the battle to save our planet.

Three years in the making by acclaimed filmmaker Joe Berlinger (Brother’s Keeper, Paradise Lost, and Metallica: Some Kind of Monster), CRUDE chronicles the epic legal battle to hold Chevron accountable for its systematic contamination of the Ecuadorian Amazon. If you are not aware of the disaster, it was an environmental tragedy experts call the “Amazon Chernobyl,” and believe is the worst case of oil-related contamination on Earth. I have had my own firsthand experience with the self absorbed and mostly indifferent oil industry in my own life; we had a property that was contaminated by big oil and basically lost our fight. I know how hard it is to battle these powerful people.

But here’s the story on this current battle. While drilling in the Ecuadorian Amazon from 1964 to 1990, Texaco, which is now called Chevron, deliberately dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater, spilled roughly 17 million gallons of crude oil, and left hazardous waste in hundreds of open pits dug out of the forest floor. The company selfishly resorted to substandard practices that were obsolete in order to increase its profit margin by a mere $3 per barrel of crude. Of course, the local people and ecosystems paid the price instead, and at a much higher price than $3.00. In fact, many have paid with their lives and their livelihoods. But, good for them, they have been fighting back and this is where the film comes in.

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Many of us have experienced the frustration of having a cell phone or MP3 player go dead and being away from a power outlet to charge the batteries. Actually, this isn’t a solely current problem, either, as I recall listening to “dragging” cassette players and static hazed radios many years ago, when I used battery chargers and rechargeable batteries. Being caught on a 10 mile hike with a dead radio is a big drag. This is where portable solar is making big inroads and offering relief. Even if you’re not a big techno nerd with a boombox on your shoulder or an MP3 plug in your ear, you may have concerns about getting off the grid or just saving money on batteries in general. Even you should consider portable solar. Thanks to technology improvements and lower production costs for photovoltaic (PV) cells, you can now harness sunlight at home or on the road to power a variety of products while reducing your environmental impact at the same time.

PV cells generate varying amounts of electricity based on their size and composition, and on the amount of incoming sunlight. Even so there are a lot of products for which sunlight provides a viable and affordable alternative power source and these are already available on the market. If you haven’t purchased one yet or maybe even haven’t even shopped these items, here is a brief list of what I found available today:

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Duke Energy’s Integrated Gasification Combined-Cycle (IGCC) plant in Edwardsport, Ind. is taking a significant step forward in the use of cleaner coal technology. Notice that I say “cleaner coal” and not “clean coal” because the former is possible while the latter is not. But in the noble effort of creating the former to help meet the country’s future energy requirements, the first major pieces of equipment have arrived. Using GE IGCC technology, the plant is expected to be the largest cleaner coal IGCC facility of its type in the world when it is complete. An Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle, or IGCC, is a power plant using synthesis gas (syngas). This gas is often used to power a gas turbine whose waste heat is passed to a steam turbine system, also referred to as a combined cycle gas turbine.

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Better Place, an electric car company just starting to really expand, is developing a $200-250 million network in Hawaii, with 50,000 to 100,000 electric-car recharging stations to be in place by 2012. The $100 million project comes as a three-part effort to radically overhaul the state’s energy diet. Hawaii has an “extreme oil addiction,” according to Gov. Linda Lingle. Ninety percent of her state’s energy comes from imported oil, costing about $7 billion a year. A third of that oil makes its way into automobile tanks as gasoline. With gas on the islands still hovering around $2.65, Hawaiians spend more money on their cars (taxes, insurance, and fuel) than Americans on average in any other state.

Shai Agassi, founder and chief executive of privately owned Better Place, said the cost is an estimated “ballpark” range and that investors have yet to be lined up for the all-island project. Better Place has signed a memorandum of understanding with Hawaiian Electric Companies. Power spots will be first to pop up all over the island, including parking lot locations and stations in the downtown areas.

According to the Wall Street Journal: “Under the plan, consumers would buy or lease electric cars, and Better Place would supply recharging services and batteries. Consumers would have a choice of buying mileage plans — which would include recharging services and battery swaps — or being guests on the network and paying for each battery charge”.

The company will continue to work with automakers to design electric cars that fit Hawaii’s driving and traffic patterns. They are saying that Nissan-Renault has already signed on to make vehicles compatible with the proposed network. The other automakers may soon join in. The clever upstart plans to offer electric transportation as a service with drivers paying to access a network of charging stations, much in the same way they pay for access to mobile phone service. Better Place has been selected as one of the “Fifty Best Tech Startups” by Business Week.

Nissan-Renault has said they will build the electric cars, and mass market availability in Hawaii is expected in 2012. According the map on their website, the company is now operating in the United States, Israel, Denmark, Australia and Japan. Find out more about Better Place here.

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Everyday choices are the foundation of our energy usage and financial expenses. You already know that if you make wise choices in the grocery or department store you can save money and get what you want. The same is true of energy choices. You don’t have to go without air in the heat of the day or stop using your dryer. Although cutting back when it’s least painful is not a bad idea. If you are motivated to get this done, then I have some suggestions.

The government website, Energy Awareness, offers a number of materials and resources. When you go there, ask for the CD Rom “Power Kit of Energy Awareness Resources,” which is instructional and helpful in the real world. They also offer a book, “Go Green”, which gives some great ideas for saving energy.

In a nutshell, here’s what they suggest (with a few of my own thrown in):
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