Straight, a new book by Hanne Blank, examines the “short history of heterosexuality” — a term that was not widely used until the “growth of the metropolis.” “[I]t was coined in Germany only in the second half of the 19th century and was first used in English several decades later with the classical sense of “hetero” (“other, different”), making it initially a term of opprobrium. Only in the first decades of the 20th century did it settle into its present niche, cushioned with overtones of romance, pleasure, health and normalcy,” a New York Times review notes. “Specific sexual behaviors, to be sure, were named, categorized and judged…[but] [s]exual misbehavior was not a marker of some sort of constitutional difference but merely evidence of temptation unsuccessfully resisted.” Straight comes out tomorrow from Beacon Press.
With billion-dollar deals becoming the norm in clean energy, investors have “confidence” in the sector. But after rebounding from the 2008 financial crisis, companies are facing a new range of diverse challenges.
If the 2008 financial crisis was a swift punch to the face for the clean energy industry — and for the whole energy sector — the global uncertainty of 2011/2012 is more like a rolling series of blows to the body. In both cases, the sector continues to stand back on its feet. But it’s still going to be a hard fight to the top.
In the aftermath of the financial implosion in 2009, mergers and acquisitions in the sector fell by one third, venture capital capital investments fell 50%, and total global investment grew by only 4%. Today, as markets have recovered and deal flow has increased, we’ve seen a massive surge increase in investment — with global investment up by two thirds since then.
However, even while leading investors continue to say that companies not investing in clean technologies “risk becoming irrelevant to the marketplace,” there are still plenty of risks involved for companies doing deals. Those risks, which range from Europe’s debt crisis to the political freeze in the U.S., are creating what experts call “rolling uncertainty.”
As the global advisory firm PricewaterhouseCoopers explains in a new report on 2011 mergers and acquisitions in clean energy, decisions are being made with a far more difficult range of options to consider:
The advice in the first half of 2009 was ‘if you don’t have to be in the market, stay out of the market. Wait a few months until things improve and confidence and a sense of calm is restored. Then go with your deal.’
But that all assumes you have a ‘rear view mirror event’. In 2012 there is no equivalent. Instead, there is great uncertainty about whether things will be better or worse in six months time. In this environment, perhaps paradoxically, a complete brake on dealmaking makes less sense. If a deal is highly strategic and mission critical, then parties may feel it is worth doing if it can get done on the right terms.
With the uncertainty over how long the constraints will persist, staying out of the markets just in the hope that things will improve cannot be assumed to be the right strategy.
Surrounded by this swirl of complicated factors, businesses are making tough decisions about how to enter or increase their participation in the fast-moving clean energy market.
For example, the overcapacity in solar has been great for driving down the price of equipment, but it’s made investing in solar manufacturing very tricky. In 2011, the French oil giant Total bought a 66% stake in the high-efficiency solar producer SunPower for $1.3 billion. While SunPower has a strong project development pipeline and the highest efficiency technology on the market, it has been hit hard by the flood of cheap modules like virtually every manufacturer. Total, the 14th largest oil and gas company in the world, says it will “turn around” SunPower. But a chronic oversupply of modules and a constantly changing policy environment make the situation very tenuous — even with SunPower’s strong technology and brand advantage.
This uncertainty hasn’t stopped clean energy deal flows. In fact, they increased by 40% in 2011 to $53 billion, according to the PwC report. And for the first time, efficiency, wind, solar and bioenergy surpassed activity in hydro — a mature sector where enormous (and often environmentally questionable) projects are more common. These “new renewables” are now reaching the scale where billion dollar mergers and acquisitions are more common.
As we predicted in last year’s report, we are seeing particularly strong momentum behind deal activity in the solar and energy efficiency sectors. Buoyed by the increase in big transactions, deal value in these two sectors has nearly doubled year on year. Together, they account for the vast majority (79%) of the US$15.3bn increase in the total value of all renewables deals.
What does all this mean? PwC expects deal flow to increase again in 2012. That means we’re likely to see more consolidation — particularly in the wind and solar sectors — as upstream companies deal with an oversupply of solar panels and wind turbines, Chinese players look to branch out into new markets, and emerging companies hook up with more mature corporate partners.
One other thing to look for in 2012: Expect critics to label some of these challenges — some of which will lead to the downfall or restructuring of companies — as a “failure” of clean energy. In fact, this is just the natural course for a fast-growing, disruptive global industry pushing forward in a tumultuous environment.
Christie Admits ‘Political Climate’ Prevented ‘Referendum’ On Civil Rights, Calls Lawmakers ‘Numnuts’
Chris Christie responded to the growing outrage over his claims last week that New Jersey residents should decide whether gay and lesbian people should be allowed to marry by admitting that public opinion may not be receptive to extending civil liberties to minorities. Christie took particular umbrage at African American leaders who condemned his suggestion that “people would have been happy to have a referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets in the South.” Here are his comments from this morning via Andy Towle:
“Political members of the state legislature comparing me to Lester Maddox and George Wallace shows how desperate the Democrats are,” Christie said…. “The question was raised to me by the mayor of Asbury Park,” Christie recalled. “I think afterwards they all understood and affirmed to me that I was not being critical of the Civil Rights movement. They knew exactly what I meant, which is that the political climate didn’t give them a chance for a referendum.” [...]
Christie said “numnuts like (Assemblyman) Reed Gusciora should be ashamed of themselves” for comparing him to Maddox and Wallace.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) decision to place same-sex marriage on the ballot has drawn some sharp criticism from many in his state. Christie tried to defend the move by arguing that “people would have been happy to have a referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets in the South” – a comparison Newark Mayor Cory Booker and other African American leaders condemned.
Now, New Jerseyans and the tri-state media are pushing back against the proposed referendum, claiming that an issue of equal rights should not be decided at the ballot box:
– NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL: To turn what is a matter of civil rights over to voters would be an abdication of lawmakers’ duty. It would also be a sharp break with New Jersey tradition. The last time the state held a referendum on civil rights was 1915, when a majority voted “no” on granting women the right to vote.
– STAR-LEDGER EDITORIAL: Take race relations. If Southern states could have held a referendum on free speech rights for Martin Luther King Jr., can anyone doubt how it would have turned out? How long would it have taken for voters in Mississippi to integrate its public schools? Gallup has traced attitudes toward interracial marriage for decades. Note that when the Supreme Court struck down Virginia’s ban in 1967, fewer than 1 in 5 Americans supported the court’s position. If Christie’s philosophy had carried the day, the ban would have remained in place until the late 1990s. The point is that minority rights should not be subjected to majority vote. That misses the gist of constitutional rights.
– MYCENTRALJERSEY.COM EDITORIAL: There is, however, a reason we elect representatives, to conduct the business that cannot be done by the masses at every turn. And sometimes, that means transcending public opinion to do what’s right, to overcome prejudice and ignorance that can die hard.
– BERGEN RECORD COLUMNIST ALFRED DOBLIN: Civil rights should not be determined by popular vote. Our nation has failed at that task almost every time. The public is swayed by emotion. Today it is manipulated by slick, expensive advertising campaigns. California’s Proposition 8 that banned same-sex marriage was all about politics and money. I marvel how the governor kept a straight – pun intended – face when he said putting marriage equality on the ballot in a presidential election year would make the issue non-political.
– PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER COLUMNIST KEVIN RIORDAN: In calling for an American Idol-style yea-nay about the private lives of thousands of New Jerseyans, Christie seems to have forgotten something. “We are debating about the lives of real people,” the bill cosponsor, Sen. Loretta Weinberg, told the hearing. Marriage equality, the Bergen County Democrat added, is about “people we all know, love and respect.”
Vermont Considers Fracking Moratorium as Concerns About Groundwater Contamination and Earthquakes Grow
by Zachary Rybarczyk
With concerns mounting that injection wells from natural gas fracking are causing earthquakes and contaminating groundwater, Vermonters appear ready to stop the practice in the state before it starts.
On the heels of a 4.0 magnitude earthquake in Youngstown, Ohio this past New Year’s Eve, and a growing number of reports from around the U.S. that fracking operations have fouled water supplies, the Vermont legislature is considering either a moratorium or complete ban of fracking within its borders.
Last week, the House Water Resources committee approved a bill that would put a three-year moratorium on fracking in Vermont.
Although no one is sure if it’s worth drilling in the area, a number of politicians in Vermont say they support a moratorium or a ban in order to preserve the environmental integrity of the state.
“This is kind of saying, ‘Don’t bother. Close the door on the issue,’” said Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, sponsor of a bill the House Fish & Wildlife Committee is preparing to vote on this week. “It’s about protecting our most precious resource — our groundwater.”
If Vermont goes further and actually bans fracking, it would be the first state to do so. Neighboring New York State, which sits on top of the Marcellus Shale formation, approved a moratorium in 2010 in order to assess the environmental impact of drilling.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, pumps water, sand and a range of chemicals underneath shale formations to force out trapped gas or oil. Last year, France became the first country to ban the practice entirely. Many environmental groups and American citizens with operations in their communities have questioned the safety of the extraction method.
Jake Brown of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, an environmental group in favor of the state bill being voted on next week, explained that a three year ban or moratorium is the best option for protecting public health. “The industry should be the one to prove this is safe,” he noted.
Measurable seismic activity around fracking injection wells has also added to concerns. From Oklahoma to the United Kingdom, earthquakes ranging from 1.0 to 4.0 on the Richter scale have been recorded near fracking sites. While these small earthquakes have not caused structural damage (only annoyance to people living around the wells), Arthur McGarr, geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey, has warned that the risk of anthropogenically inducing large, deadly quakes cannot be ruled out.
by Arpita Bhattacharyya
With two fifths of the world’s population now living within 100 km of the shoreline, keeping our oceans healthy is not just an extraordinarily important environmental issue — it’s also a human development one.
This is the core case of the new UNEP Report, “Green Economy in a Blue World,” which urges protecting the oceans from pollution, overfishing, and climate change, while fueling economic growth through developing new marine industries.
Among other immeasurable benefits, the ocean provides coastal populations food, millions of jobs, a thriving tourism industry, transportation, sites for renewable energy development, and vast carbon sinks. The implications of mismanaging such a bountiful resource are clear and coastal communities cannot afford to do it.
Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director warns that with the growing population, “pressures and impacts [on the ocean] are likely to intensify unless the world becomes more intelligent about managing these essential resources.”
The report outlines management strategies in three main areas: existing industries (fisheries, tourism, and maritime transportation), emerging industries (wave, wind, and deep sea minerals), and ocean nutrient pollution (agriculture, wastewater, and fertilizer).
To existing marine industries, UNEP outlines strategies for smarter fisheries management, which can help reduce carbon emissions, replenish stocks, and help local communities. According to the report, restoring fisheries stocks around the world could add $50 billion a year in value to the fishing industry.
The report also makes a strong case for marine-based renewable energy, including wave and wind, calling on countries to make greater investment in research and development. The marine-based renewable energy sector is an alternative for struggling coastal communities that may have taken a hit by struggling coastal
UNEP estimates that wave energy has the potential to provide almost four times the current global electricity production, while wind has the potential to provide almost double. For these technologies to develop and scale-up, governments need to assist the industry in overcoming technical and cost barriers. The report also calls for the careful exploration of deep-sea minerals as a new revenue stream, ensuring the preservation of the fragile deep-sea ecosystem.
Many countries, including the United States, have begun taking ocean policy seriously. President Obama has established a National Ocean Policy, dedicated to protecting American oceans, coasts, and the Great Lakes. American fisheries are rebounding. Off-shore wind projects like Cape Wind, and Fisherman’s Energy are investing in cleaner energy and economic development.
This report calls for all countries to continue developing policies and practices that ensure healthy oceans and healthy economies for generations to come. It not only sustains one of our most important ecosystems but the livelihood of millions.
Arpita Bhattacharyya is a special assistant on the energy team at the Center for American Progress.
A regional Midwest study showed that, compared to troops who did not deploy, returning U.S. combat veterans had a tough time re-adapting to driving outside of conflict zones. While the study was blind to medical conditions — meaning the role played by issues like post traumatic stress disorder could not be determined — combat vets were “more anxious behind the wheel and displayed significantly worse driving behavior than soldiers who did not deploy,” according to the website Daily Press. The New York Times reported this month that “erratic driving by returning troops is being identified as a symptom of traumatic brain injury or [PTSD] and coming under greater scrutiny amid concerns about higher accident rates among veterans.”