Archives for the month of: March, 2014

Kohler is one of the largest producers of household items such as sinks, toilets, bathtubs, furniture, and faucets in the world. The family-run company started in 1873 in Kohler, Wisconsin and has grown to 51 global manufacturing sites, 14 still in the U.S. Bloomberg heads to the company’s flagship porcelain and cast-iron factory to find out why despite higher wages, they’re products are still made in America.

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The battle between Tesla and state car dealership associations continues to rage on, however the tide may be slowly turning in favor of the electric automaker. After New Jersey passed legislation that makes it illegal for Tesla to sell cars directly to consumers, new bills in Arizona and Ohio could legalize the brand’s direct sales model.

Green Halo - Teslas's Direct Sales Business Model - LegalizationTesla has not been able to sell its vehicles in Arizona because the state currently does not allow automakers to sell cars directly to consumers – but that could soon change. A new bill could legalize Tesla’s direct sales model. Why is Arizona changing its mind? Tesla is currently figuring out the final details for its upcoming gigafactory battery factory – including where it will be built. The $5 billion factory could bring thousands of jobs to Arizona, if Tesla decides to build it there, but unfortunately Tesla is not going to build it in a state where it’s illegal for the company to sell its cars.

As a result, Arizona House Bill 2123 was recently amended to strike down laws against Tesla’s sales model. The bill would only allow automakers that only sell electric vehicles to use the direct to consumer sales model. The bill is similar to a compromise between Tesla and the state of Ohio. It was illegal for Tesla to sell its vehicles in Ohio, but the state amended its law so that Tesla can sell its vehicles out of three stores, as long as it continues to sell only electric vehicles.

There are also reports that Texas may change its laws in favor of Tesla in an effort to attract the new gigafactory. Lastly, New Jersey may reverse its decision after all – Assemblyman Tim Eustace has introduced a new bill that would allow Tesla to continue to sell vehicles in the state.

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Regardless of creed, ethnicity, or tax bracket, everyone must breathe the same air. This week, the World Health Organization announced that air pollution was responsible for seven million deaths globally in 2012. It is also the single largest preventable health risk worldwide. Both indoor and outdoor particulate matter is to blame for illnesses such as stroke, heart disease, respiratory infections, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Not just harmful to human bodies directly, much of the pollution also contributes to the acceleration of climate change and its catastrophic affect on agriculture, the economy, and biosphere.

Green Halo - Air Pollution Responsible for 7 Million Deaths in 2012According to the WHO, air pollution is responsible for one death in eight every year. Overall, 4.3 million deaths worldwide were linked in 2012 to indoor pollution primarily due to cooking with coal, dung, or wood stoves. Outdoor pollution from diesel engines and fires were linked to 3.7 million deaths. Many populations are exposed to poor air quality in both settings, causing a degree of overlap within the aggregate figure of seven million deaths. Further chronic health risks such as birth defects and impaired cognitive abilities in children add to the already sobering statistics.

While the entire planet is vulnerable to air pollution, low and middle income countries such as those in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific are particularly hard-hit. In addition to particulate matter expelled from fossil fuel reliant power plants, industrial operations, and auto fumes, burning black carbon for domestic cook stoves can cause diseases that lead to early mortality. By switching to cleaner forms of energy and investing in public transportation, regions most reliant on fossil fuels would see immediate improvements.

“Reducing air pollution, including black carbon soot pollution, can save millions of lives a year, reduce crop losses significantly, and cut the rate of global warming in half and the rate of warming in the Arctic by two-thirds over the next few decades,” according to the WHO. “With this combination of benefits—healthier citizens, higher crop yields, and half the rate of climate change—reducing air pollutants should be a top priority for sustainable development and climate protection.”

To help clear the air, many governments and NGOs are beginning to support the switch to clean cooking stoves, reduce the number of vehicles on the road, and put moratoriums on the construction of new coal fire power plants. As the climate changes and developing nations seek to industrialize, energy production and consumption practices on both local and commercial scales must be adjusted to ensure the health of one of humanity’s most vital shared resources.

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After a few false starts and a lengthy delay, the world’s tallest tower has finally been given a start date to begin construction. When it is completed, the Kingdom Tower will eventually stretch 3,280 feet into the Saudi Arabian sky, but up until now it hasn’t even gotten off the desert floor. In 2012, crews sunk a 330-foot-deep foundation into the sand but not much else has happened since then. Now the project has been given an April 27, 2014 start date and things are finally moving ahead.

Green Halo - World's Tallest Building to Begin Construction Next Month 2The building will cost 1.2 billion dollars to construct and when it is completed, it will be over 550 feet taller than the current tallest building in the world, Burj Khalifa. The developer plans to include a luxury hotel, apartments and condominiums, and the world’s highest observatory. The project will be jointly managed by companies EC Harris and Mace and was designed by the architectural firm Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill.

Although we have a start date, there are still plenty of questions that remain unanswered. The complex will contain 59 elevators and the observatory elevators will travel 32 feet a second. But we aren’t sure how the elevators will work, since current technology only allows for cables that extend 2,000 feet. It is also unclear just how high and how rapidly an elevator can go without having an impact on the human body. We also have no idea what, if any, consequences there are for humans living that high up in the sky.

The tower will be built with energy conservation and life-cycle considerations in mind, and developers hope to achieve something that is both ground-breaking and traditional. Ultimately the building will no doubt have new challenges and requirements that human beings have never addressed before. But building the world’s longest bridges required a leap of faith and the Kingdom Tower won’t be any different.

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Green Halo - 168,000+ Gallons of Oil Spills into Galveston BayA barge moving through Galveston Bay collided with another ship Saturday afternoon, spilling over 168,000 gallons of marine fuel oil. The spill is particularly devastating, even though it isn’t the largest in recent memory, because Galveston Bay is a migratory bird habitat and shorebird season is fast approaching. On top of that, the type of fuel that spilled is particularly difficult to clean up. The ship was being towed when it collided with the other vessel, though there are no details at this point on how the collision occurred.

The ship contained about 924,000 gallons of the thick, tarry fuel known as RMG 380, but officials say that only one of the barge’s tanks was breached. The six crew members on the ship are all accounted for and are in “stable condition” according to the Coast Guard. Although the wildlife habitats that surround the area are at risk from contamination, the nearby town of Texas City is reportedly not at risk.

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Green Halo - World's Biggest DumpsAfrica is home to some beautiful sites…and then there’s Agbogbloshie, Ghana. The town has one of the world’s largest dumps for discarded electronics. Millions of tons of used electronics from all over the world – including the U.S. – are sent to Africa to be re-sold or donated to charity. But much of it is broken or obsolete and winds up in Agbogbloshie. The old electronics are often smashed by scavengers looking for valuable metals inside, such as copper. Back in the U.S., the Puente Hills landfill in Los Angeles County, California, has piles of trash reaching as high as a 40-story building. The landfill, which was the largest in the country, closed this past October after more than 50 years in operation because it reached capacity – about 130 million tons of trash. The landfill will be sealed with a layer of dirt and eventually turned into a park. But the largest trash dump in the world isn’t actually on land – it’s in the Pacific Ocean. Trash thrown into the Pacific is carried by currents to an area north of Hawaii. This floating trash pile is now estimated to be larger in area than the state of Texas. Several private organizations are working to clean it up, which is difficult because of its size and remote location. The good news is that the city of Oslo, Norway has a use for some of that ocean trash: converting it to heat and electricity by burning it. The Norwegians are such good recyclers that they often run out of trash to burn and must import it from other countries. Kudos to the Norwegians for doing their part to prevent Africa – and the rest of the world – from becoming one giant trash heap.

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The country’s first all-electric school bus began transporting students to and from Kings Canyon Unified school district in central California. The new electric vehicle is a modified SST Trans Tech Bus with an electric powertrain from Motiv Power Systems. The electric bus is estimated to save the school district around 16 gallons of fuel a day, which equates to a total annual savings of $11,000. For a school district like Kings Canyon, which serves one of the largest geographical areas in California, these savings are quite significant.

Green Halo - America's First All-Electric School Bus Launches in CaliforniaThe pilot project was the result of collaboration between Motiv Power Systems and Trans Tech Bus Company and the California Air Resources Board, which contributed $400,000 cost-saving vouchers to the ambitious project. Thanks to a federal highway program, three more electric buses are on their way to the Kings Canyon district and similar programs are in the works in both Chicago and New York.

Although the initial cost of an electric bus is much higher than the traditional gas-guzzling bus, electric buses offer long term savings such as lifelong fuel and maintenance costs, not to mention the reduction of harmful greenhouse gases. According to founder and CEO of Motive Power Systems, “The buses cost about twice as much as a comparable gas bus, but cost 1/8 as much to fuel and 1/3 as much to maintain,” he said. “In the life of a school bus, 2-3 times the cost of the vehicle is spent on fuel and maintenance.”

The smaller electric buses hold up to hold 25 students and are equipped with four or five battery packs that allow for a range of 80 to 100 miles. Although the smaller buses were refitted for the pilot program, full-size electric bus fleets are also being considered for an all-electric makeover in the future.

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Hanok Tower is a complex wooden skyscraper that was inspired by traditional Korean houses. The project modifies a traditional building technique to suit one of the today’s most demanding architectural typologies – the skyscraper. Its unique combination of vernacular forms and advanced building technology brought it first prize at this year’s eVolo Skyscraper Competition.

Green Halo - Spectacular Wood Skyscraper That Can be Built Without a Single Nail Wins 2014 eVolo Skyscraper CompetitionArchitect Yong Ju Lee drew inspiration from traditional Korean houses and the versatility of vernacular architecture while designing Hanok Tower. The exposed wooden structural system, generally used for one-story residences, was applied to a high-rise design, and it controls the amount of available sunlight. Wooden connections called Gagu are used below the main rod system where the column meets the beam and girder, eliminating the need for additional parts such as nails. The design was developed using contemporary software which optimizes traditional building techniques.

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in Pittsburg, Calif., on Thursday, March 20, 2014.(Godofredo Vasquez/SFBay)A three-alarm fire blazed dangerously close to a power plant in Pittsburg, CA before being contained Thursday.

The fire burned 35 to 40 acres near the intersection of Willow Pass Road and West 10th Street. Reported around 3:15 p.m., fire crews remained on scene mopping up for several hours.

in Pittsburg, Calif., on Thursday, March 20, 2014.(Godofredo Vasquez/SFBay)The fire charred roughly 40 acres of grass, brush and trees according to fire Capt. Robert Marshall. A few power lines connected to the nearby NRG Energy natural gas power plant were threatened, but no structures were threatened and injuries were reported.

A CalFire helicopter dropped mud on the fire.  “It’s burning on top of the water. Fire on water,” said Contra Costa Fire Inspector George Laing. This is because of its marshland location.

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It may seem like just yesterday that the wildfires in California finally died down, but experts in the state are already worried about the upcoming fire season after a long, hot winter comes to a close. If recent weather is any indicator, the state – and the entire Western U.S. – could be in for an even hotter summer. Almost 95 percent of the state is currently in a drought even after recent rain, and after last year’s fires the budget for fighting fires has been spread thin.

Green Halo - How Will the Western U.S. Prepare for Upcoming Fire Season After Hot Winter & DroughtLast year some of the most destructive fires in California started as early as May and ended later than normal as well. Some experts expect this year to be similar in terms of length. Recent fire maps show only a small portion of the state at risk right now, but over the next few months that risk will spread to cover two-thirds of the state. What’s particularly concerning is that trends are moving in the wrong direction for fires in the west. With the wood getting drier and the weather getting hotter, fires are more likely to start and spread quickly, but there is an added danger as people continue to build more homes in forested areas.

Although fire fighters have learned to expect these sort of extreme fire seasons, their budgets haven’t kept up. Last year’s suppression budget was exceeded by about a half a billion dollars for the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior. That means little money is left over for prevention efforts, which adds another risk factor to the mix. This year lawmakers in the west are hoping to pay for fires out of the federal emergency fund, which is used for other natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes. Regardless of how it is paid for, the area is likely in for a difficult fire season.

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