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As the World Warms
Quick thinking before we slowly fry
The knock on solar aviation has always been that the plane would go down when the sun did. But two different sun-powered planes have proved such objections groundless. The Solar Impulse, developed by Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard, has flown for 26 continuous hours—long enough for the sun to recharge its depleted battery. And an unmanned solar surveillance plane called the Zephyr stayed aloft above the Arizona desert for 14 days, shattering all previous records for aircraft of any kind.
Twenty-two states have authorized Property Assessed Clean Energy programs, which help home owners finance things like solar panels and insulation. But because PACE loans are first in line for repayment, ahead of mortgages, housing-finance
giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac say they won't fund mortgages on properties participating in PACE. Environmental advocates are working all angles to get that decision reversed: California has sued, and pro-PACE bills have been introduced in both houses of Congress.
A Peruvian inventor has begun painting three Andean peaks with environmentally friendly whitewash in the hope of saving their glaciers, a vital source of the region's water. Funded by prize money from the World Bank's "100 Ideas to Save the Planet" contest, Eduardo Gold plans to whiten 173 acres of high-altitude rock. He hopes the pale peaks will deflect the sun's rays, keeping the area—which has already lost an entire glacier—cool enough to save those that remain. —Dashka Slater
Peter and Martha Hoey
ON THE ONE HAND . . .
As they roll off the drawing boards and into the showrooms, electric and quasi-electric cars like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt have the potential to make tailpipe emissions as outdated as the clouds of coal smoke that once blackened London. In California—which gets the bulk of its gigawatts from low-carbon sources like natural gas, nukes, hydroelectric dams, and renewables—electric cars produce one-third the greenhouse-gas emissions of gas-powered models. On average, U.S. drivers who plug in rather than top off will cut their automotive greenhouse-gas emissions in half.
ON THE OTHER . . .
Those electrifying statistics don't apply if you live in states like Indiana or Kentucky, which get 90 percent of their electricity from coal-fired power plants. In much of the South and Midwest, the greenhouse-gas savings achieved by an electric car are no better than those of a hybrid like the Toyota Prius, while the car costs far more. "Clean electric vehicles go with a clean grid," says Roland Hwang, transportation program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "If we can't clean up the grid, then it may not be worth the effort to electrify transportation." —D.S.
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