Millennials will not be regulated

From Salon:

Can you hear that new California sound? It’s the “sharing economy” marching relentlessly forward. You can’t stop it

Friday, Sep 20, 2013

On Thursday in San Francisco, the California Public Utilities Commission set a national precedent by voting unanimously in favor of new regulations legitimizing ride-sharing companies in the news. When the vote was announced “huge hipster applause” broke out, according to one tweet. ”I have never seen so many young people inside the CPUC auditorium,” reported another attendee.

Even though the city’s taxicab companies are already threatening to sue, the news was a big win for the so-called sharing economy — a phenomenon that seems increasingly propelled by smartphone-wielding millennials used to getting what they want when they want it. Yes, the rules do add a layer of bureaucracy that will make it more of a hassle for people to offer rides under the auspices of companies such as Lyft and Sidecar and Uber. A new class of businesses called “transportation network companies” must now carry commercial liability insurance, and their drivers must pass driver training programs and background checks and get their vehicles regularly inspected. But the rules also legitimize those companies at a critical moment: a point in their evolution when they have been coming under increasing attack from existing taxicab companies and other critics. And where California leads …

The vote was also the second big show of force in the last couple of weeks for Peers, a nonprofit sharing economy advocacy outfit that is rapidly proving it can mobilize the troops. Two weeks ago, in Silver Lake, an upscale hipster neighborhood in Los Angeles, Peers encouraged local residents to attend a neighborhood council meeting held to discuss a proposed ban forbidding residents from renting out their homes for periods of less then 30 days. Such a ban would be a disaster for another sharing economy standard bearer, the popular room-sharing service Airbnb. But Peers’ action alert proved potent. According to witnesses, supporters of Airbnb far outnumbered supporters of the ban.

Millennial people power for the sharing economy!

Or wait — make that people power in the service of flush-with-cash Silicon Valley start-ups that stand to profit immensely from new sharing-economy-friendly regulatory regimes. Lyft raised $60 million earlier this spring in a round led by Netscape founder Marc Andreessen. Airbnb, after a $150 million infusion spearheaded by early Facebook investor Peter Thiel, has been valued at upward of $2.5 billion. And after similarly huge influxes of capital from a private equity giant and Google, Uber is considered worth around $3.5 billion.

There is a distinctly quizzical aspect to the spectacle of profit-motivated Silicon Valley sharks draping themselves in the communitarian, post-hippie rhetoric of the sharing economy. Do the shareholders of Uber and Airbnb really share the same values as the young people who see Internet-enabled cooperation as a way to make the world a better place by reducing our overall consumption of resources and building stronger community ties? And are we really sure that the long-term impacts of the growth of the sharing economy will be positive for consumers, workers and the overall economy?

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Is Oil Industry Funding of a Fracking Study a Problem? Let’s Ask an Oil-Funded Expert

From FAIR:

Sep. 19, 2013

The New York Times had a report yesterday (9/18/13) on a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on methane releases associated with natural gas fracking. The study, Times reporter Michael Wines writes, “bolsters the contention by advocates of fracking–and some environmental groups as well–that shale gas is cleaner and better than coal, at least until more renewable-energy sources are developed.”

Wines was upfront about the fact that the study was backed by energy companies with a financial stake in its results. But he suggested that that really wasn’t such a big problem:

The study’s connection to the petroleum industry–among its sponsors and financiers are Shell, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, Exxon Mobil and Chevron–may lead some to question its objectivity, some outside experts said. But most said the research and the reputations of the researchers appear solid.

“Previous studies that have gotten a lot of attention have had red flags jumping out all over them. This one didn’t,” said Michael A. Levi, the director of the program on energy security and climate change at the Council on Foreign Relations. In an e-mailed statement, Shell’s president, Marvin Odum, called the study “a prime example of key groups–that may not have the exact same interests–working collaboratively and taking a science-based approach” to the methane problem.

So the president of Shell doesn’t think that Shell’s sponsorship of the study is anything to worry about–that’s not a big surprise. But the guy from the Council on Foreign Relations didn’t see any “red flags”–that’s reassuring, right?

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EPA chief tells Grist what coal will have to do to survive in a “carbon-constrained” future

From Grist:

By and 20 Sep 2013

It’s been a long time coming, but, finally, the EPA is going to begin tackling carbon pollution from the world’s single greatest contributor to climate change — the U.S. power sector.

Under draft rules being announced this morning, new coal power plants will have to be a whole lot cleaner than the ones we’ve got today. In fact, thanks also to market conditions, new coal plants might not get built at all. Perhaps most important, the draft rules lay the foundation for a bigger move to cut emissions from already-existing coal-fired power plants, a plan due to be unveiled in June 2014.

In an interview with Grist, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the proposed regulations for new plants are not intended to push coal out of the energy mix. Still, the standards are pretty strict. The EPA had released an earlier version of them in March of last year, then decided to rework them, but this new set of regs still takes a hard line with coal.

The proposal calls for any coal power plants built in the future to emit under 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour — considerably less than coal plants emit today, which is about 1,800 pounds on average. The rules are more stringent than some had expected; observers had been saying that they might come in at 1,300 or 1,400 pounds per megawatt-hour. (The draft rules set a limit for natural-gas plants, too — 1,000 pounds for large facilities — but new gas plants already pollute less than that. Some advocates had hoped the EPA would push the gas standard down to 800 pounds per megawatt-hour.)

There’s basically only one way a new coal plant would be able to meet the EPA’s proposed standard: by incorporating a carbon-capture-and-sequestration (CCS) system to keep some CO2 emissions from going into the atmosphere — a pricey and thus far little-used technology. One coal plant with CCS is now under construction in Mississippi and it’s already a billion dollars over budget. Many utilities aren’t bothering with new coal plants at all because natural gas is much cheaper and wind and solar are increasingly affordable as well.

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The Crisis at Fukushima’s Unit 4 Demands a Global Take-Over

From Common Dreams:

by Harvey Wasserman

We are now within two months of what may be humankind’s most dangerous moment since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

There is no excuse for not acting. All the resources our species can muster must be focused on the fuel pool at Fukushima Unit 4.

Fukushima’s owner, Tokyo Electric (Tepco), says that within as few as 60 days it may begin trying to remove more than 1300 spent fuel rods from a badly damaged pool perched 100 feet in the air. The pool rests on a badly damaged building that is tilting, sinking and could easily come down in the next earthquake, if not on its own.

Some 400 tons of fuel in that pool could spew out more than 15,000 times as much radiation as was released at Hiroshima.

The one thing certain about this crisis is that Tepco does not have the scientific, engineering or financial resources to handle it. Nor does the Japanese government. The situation demands a coordinated worldwide effort of the best scientists and engineers our species can muster.

Why is this so serious?

We already know that thousands of tons of heavily contaminated water are pouring through the Fukushima site, carrying a devil’s brew of long-lived poisonous isotopes into the Pacific. Tuna irradiated with fallout traceable to Fukushima have already been caught off the coast of California. We can expect far worse.

Tepco continues to pour more water onto the proximate site of three melted reactor cores it must somehow keep cool. Steam plumes indicate fission may still be going on somewhere underground. But nobody knows exactly where those cores actually are.

Much of that irradiated water now sits in roughly a thousand huge but fragile tanks that have been quickly assembled and strewn around the site. Many are already leaking. All could shatter in the next earthquake, releasing thousands of tons of permanent poisons into the Pacific. (Note: A relatively small earthquake struck Fukushima prefecture on Thursday, an indication of the inevitable occurrence of larger future ones in the area.)

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