Category Archives: Thinktanks

Gates Foundation: Human excrement would make a good fuel for the poor


Residents carry water brought from a well just yards away from a river of human waste and garbage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. UMA Press/Newscom/File

Human excrement is “a concentrate of organic material with high energetic value,” the Gates foundation says.

The world is experiencing a “sea change” in the way human waste is regarded and used.

csmonitor.com | Jun 15, 2011

By Gregory M. Lamb

It’s not enough just to keep human excrement out of water supplies and other places where it’s not welcomed. Not putting it to practical use is, well, a waste.

Now a Columbia University professor of environmental engineering has teamed up with a social enterprise in Accra, Ghana, to turn “fecal sludge” into biodiesel or methane fuel. The project, called the “Next-Generation Urban Sanitation Facility,” is in cooperation with Waste Enterprisers and is being underwritten by a recently announced $1.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“We are delighted to be awarded this project,” says Dr. Kartik Chandran in a news release from Columbia University. “And we are especially pleased that the Gates foundation has recognized the critical importance of sustainable sanitation by investing in our pioneering project. Thus far, sanitation approaches have been extremely resource- and energy-intensive and therefore out of reach for some of the world’s poorest but also most at-need populations. This project will allow us to move forward and develop practical technologies that will be of great value around the world.”

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Half the people in the developing world – some 2.5 billion people – lack access to safe sanitation, according the Gates foundation. “1.2 billion people practice open defecation, meaning they have no sanitation facilities at all, and 1.3 billion people use unsafe latrines. Most of these people live in rural areas, but as urbanization increases, the crisis is spreading to towns and cities as well.”

Human excrement is “a concentrate of organic material with high energetic value,” the Gates foundation says. “Energy can be derived through digestion, extraction, or combustion, simultaneously reducing the volume of sludge that must be disposed.”

The Gates foundation is focusing on improving sanitation in poor regions, seeing it as one of the “Grand Challenges” facing the world.

Dr. Chandran and his partners are developing methods to convert organic compounds in human waste into usable fuels. That will keep the waste out of the environment, where it’s a contributing factor to disease, and provide an alternative fuel source.

Chandra’s work is part of a project by Engineers without Borders, which taps engineering expertise to address human needs.

The world is experiencing a “sea change” in the way human waste is regarded and used, Chandra says. “In fact, the term ‘wastewater’ is already archaic,” he says. “Wastewater is, after all, just water with a different chemical and biological composition.”

World’s most powerful group meets in St Moritz


Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains. Bilderberg Group meetings are definitely not held over a picnic at the lake of St Moritz (Keystone)

Dominique Baettig from the Swiss People’s Party has filed a motion denouncing the “opaque supranational governance”.

swissinfo.ch | Jun 8, 2011

by Nicole della Pietra

The Bilderberg Group, a controversial invitation-only gathering of the world’s power brokers, is set to meet in the Swiss resort of St Moritz on Thursday.

Critics denounce the four-day conference, which is closed to the prying eyes of the media and doesn’t issue any press releases, for having a deleterious influence on world politics.

Previous guests include kings, presidents, captains of industry and heads of international organisations. United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has attended, as have Microsoft founder Bill Gates, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and current Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke.

Another regular is Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the International Monetary Fund, currently facing criminal charges.

“The Bilderberg Group is like a restricted circle of guests from the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos,” said Sergio Rossi, economics professor at Fribourg University.

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He said the regulars at Bilderberg – named after the original conference held at the Hotel de Bilderberg in the Netherlands in 1954 – find the WEF a “hectic beanfeast”.

At Bilderberg, “one is at Hermès”, noted Pascal Lamy, director-general of the World Trade Organization, referring to the French luxury goods maker.

Invitees appreciate being able to discuss “openly and freely” the issues facing the world, such as the health of the euro or the greenback.

Pascal Couchepin, a former Swiss cabinet minister who regularly attended Bilderberg meetings, proudly compared the annual get-together to a “university seminar for people with experience”.

But not all Swiss politicians are so welcoming. Dominique Baettig from the rightwing Swiss People’s Party has filed a motion denouncing the “opaque supranational governance”.

“This type of meeting, between powerful global players, is contrary to our principles of sovereignty,” he said. “What’s more, they don’t publish the costs for the taxpayer.”

Local thrill

The allure of the ultra-select club is not fading, as proved by the private jets landing at nearby Samedan airport, the lines of limousines with tinted windows and phalanxes of bodyguards.

And above all, the relatively discreet arrival of VIPs – something that delights the local authorities.

“We’re thrilled that these key figures have chosen to meet in Graubünden,” said Martin Schmid, president of the cantonal senate.

Which key figures exactly are gracing Graubünden with their presence is impossible to say, but, as every year, the guest list is exclusively reserved for decision-makers from Europe and North America.

In an unusual step, Swiss minister Doris Leuthard, who holds the environment, transport, energy and communications portfolios, admitted she would attend this year.

It’s the fifth time that the planet’s most exclusive conclave has met in Switzerland: it was held three times in Bürgenstock above Lake Lucerne and once at Bad Ragaz in canton St Gallen.

Conspiracy theorists

This year, some 130 movers and shakers are expected. As with Davos and the WEF, St Moritz will be heavily fortified – one difference, however, being the total lack of information on security or how much taxpayers will have to cough up.

Barbara Janom-Steiner, head of cantonal justice and police, is keeping her lips sealed.

For conspiracy theorists, Bilderberg is nothing more than an “International Schemers’ Association” whose aim is to create a “secret world government”.

They point to the total lack of transparency which characterises discussions, since every participant swears never to reveal any contents of conversations.

However, this has not prevented titbits from leaking out – last year for example the discussions apparently focused on Iraq, Greece and the health – or lack of it – of the euro.

Coincidence?

Bilderberg never results in any form of resolution or agreement, nevertheless some people see a decisive influence on global political affairs.

Among what they consider previous troubling coincidences: in 1991, Bill Clinton, then a mere governor, was said to have been set up as future US president; in 2002, Donald Rumsfeld, then US secretary of defense, was said to have planned the intervention of coalition forces in Iraq.

In 2003, former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, then president of the Convention on the Future of Europe, allegedly unveiled a preview of the European Constitution.

But as the world’s media peer into the tinted windows of St Moritz, Sergio Rossi believes Bilderberg could be just the tip of the iceberg.

“There might be other groups – less institutionalised, with a more recent history and above all less well-known than Bilderberg, even in developing countries – whose members meet without anyone knowing anything about it.”

Bilderberg 2011: The polished blue line


Privates on parade: the Bilderberg security takes position. Photograph: M Petrisch

Charlie Skelton arrives in Switzerland ahead of Bilderberg to find a different style of policing but enhanced cleanliness

guardian.co.uk  | Jun 8, 2011

by Charlie Skelton

You know you’re in Switzerland when the public lavatory at the multi-storey car park is cleaner than your own bathroom. And the streets! My God, you could eat your dinner off the pavement in St Moritz. I’m seriously thinking of writing to Tower Hamlets council suggesting they come here on a fact-finding tour. Although what the hell are they doing on a freebie junket to Switzerland when they’re busy cutting our rubbish collections? It’s a disgrace! I’m going to write to Tower Hamlets council to complain.

I don’t know quite what I was expecting from a Swiss Bilderberg. I was expecting it clean, but I wasn’t expecting the Bilderberg I’ve found. For one thing, I was imagining a rather muted atmosphere, stern even – batons up, visors down – but there’s a happy buzz around the venue: the conference doesn’t kick off until Thursday but already there’s a growing crowd of journalists, bloggers and activists. The social justice group We Are Change are here in force. And (praise be!) representatives of the mainstream media are rolling up.

One of them is Anna Caprez, a journalist from Radio Rumantch, the Swiss radio station. She’s putting together a series of reports about the conference. “It’s a big story”, she says. “But only in March or April did we realize what Bilderberg is, or even that there is a Bilderberg conference.”

She says it’s unusual to have the press descend on St Moritz like this. “We’re used to letting people do what they want here in the valley, in the Engadine. St Moritz is a special place. VIPs can be incognito, we’re used to famous people – who cares? – they can act and react without the press crawling over them. But this is different. This is important. And the media in Switzerland has finally woken up to it. The Swiss TV are coming, Swiss Radio, the Italian media. And it is thanks to him.”

Anna nods towards a man smoking a cheroot, enjoying a rare glimpse of alpine sun. “It is thanks to Manfred”. The Manfred in question takes a peek down a foot-long camera lens, which he’s focusing down on a security briefing in the hotel lobby. “There must be 300 security, easily” he growls.

Manfred Petrisch is a Swiss blogger and a long-time Bilderbotherer. This year, the conference is on his home turf, and he’s been lobbying politicians and the mainstream press for weeks.

“We put pressure on the media, we ask: “Why aren’t you reporting this?” – and now at last they have started. Of course, some of what they write is the usual, you know: just a meeting of some old guys sitting round, having a cup of tea.” He snorts his derision: “Come on! A four-day cup of tea, with heads of global companies, heads of state, EU commissioners, leaders of Nato, bank CEOs, people with a full schedule. They are not here for a cup of tea!”

Manfred has pulled strings with politicians, and questions have been asked in the Swiss parliament. “We asked and asked again: who is paying for all this? If we are to have a huge police force protecting a private meeting, as usual, then who is paying? The taxpayer? We made it a political problem.”

And the pressure seems to have paid off. “Look at what has happened! There is no police line, there is only private security. And they are not armed, not threatening, like in Greece or Spain. They are quite friendly. Of course, there are police here, inside the hotel, and secret services, lots of them, but they are in the background. This is a big victory.”

And it’s true – at first glance, this year’s conference could hardly be more different from Spain 2010 or Greece 2009. We’re standing, unharrassed, on a pavement not 50 metres from the hotel. Last year, in Sitges, the press was kept a kilometre away, at the business end of a machine gun. In Vouliagmeni the cordon was even wider, maybe a kilometre and a half, with (literally) hundreds of pumped-up policemen strip searching and camera snatching. St Moritz may be further from the beach, but apart from that it’s a gigantic improvement. “This is Switzerland!” explains Manfred. “That sort of thing cannot happen here. This is a democracy.”

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Bilderberg 2011: All aboard the Bilderbus


St Moritz: Preparing to host Bilderberg. Photograph: Tom Jenkins for the Guardian

As the Bilderberg conference heads towards Switzerland there’s still time to book your seat on a minibus to St Moritz

guardian.co.uk | Jun 3, 2011

by Charlie Skelton

As Europe groans, and austerity bites, as defaulting looms, and once proud nations fall to their knees in debt, there’s only one annual conference of bankers and industrialists that can step in and save us all…

Bilderberg!

Next week, in Switzerland, Henry Kissinger and his brave band of corporate CEOs, high-wealth individuals and heavyweight thinktankers will lock arms with Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and David Rockefeller, and stand their ground against the economic contagion.

The last thing a bunch of bank bosses and multinational executives wants is for the nation-states of Europe to collapse, allowing their assets to be bought up on the cheap. Right?

Besides, if anyone can lay claim to fathering the EU, it’s Bilderberg. Sixty years ago, Europe was a mere Bilderbaby, conceived in a solemn ceremony on Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands’ mattress. It grew into a fine young Bilderboy, but the years have caught up with it, and now it seems its knees are creaking and its heart is weak.

Perhaps the clear mountain air of St Moritz will prove just the tonic. The Bilderberg Group is gathering there between 9-12 June, at the Hotel Suvretta House, described on its website thus: “Like a beautiful fairytale castle, our hotel is embedded in the fantastic alpine landscape of the Upper Engadine.” No mention of the magical rooftop snipers or the fairytale ring of armed riot police, but maybe they’ll be updating their website in time for the conference.

The hotel promises that the Privatsphäre of the guests will be utterly respektiert, which goes for the conference, as well: the press will be lucky to get a whiff of Kissinger’s toast in the morning. It’s a shame the attendees are still so phobic of attention, seeing as how this year there’s shaping up to be more press interest than ever. People and the media have finally started noticing this quiet little conference at the centre of the storm. The last two countries to play host to the meeting were Greece and Spain, both of whom waved goodbye to Bilderberg and said hello to austerity and unrest. Happy Christmas, Switzerland.

This year, a bunch of less-than-happy Brits are heading out to St Moritz by minibus, to voice their concern at the policies being thrashed out at the conference. They’ve dubbed their fifteen-seater the Bilderbus, and it leaves Nottingham on Tuesday after work. There are still ten seats to fill: it’s £95 return, and camping’s cheap when you get there. And I can’t stress this enough: it really is a sight to behold. (The conference, not the minibus).

There are two seats free on the bus, since Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Ken Clarke have both been forced to cancel. Which is good news for the chamber maids at the Suvretta House (because Ken is so very untidy – cigar stubs and Ornette Coleman CDs everywhere …)

If you’d like to book a place on the minibus, you can email the organisers at this address: bilderbus@hotmail.com. And if you’re interested to see what crops up on the official Bilderberg agenda, then keep an eye on their website. Jockeying for position are the crisis in the eurozone, the Arab Spring, the Fukushima fallout (with Germany backing away from nuclear), and of course, what to do about the internet. That old chestnut.

Maybe this year they’ll hold a press conference like, I don’t know, grown-ups might. I won’t be holding my breath. But I will be sniffing the air of St Moritz. If I find out one thing this year, it’s going to be what Kissinger has for breakfast. Live eels snatched from a bucket? Or ducklings? Suddenly I’m imagining ducklings. And a mallet.

ASU hosts model North American Union legislature

University student participants from Mexico, the United States and Canada participate in a week-long simulation exercise simulating a congressional meeting between North American legislators.

asu.edu | May 26, 2011

The North American Center for Transborder Studies (NACTS) at Arizona State University will co-host the 2011 “Triumvirate” at the Tempe campus.

The sixth edition of the Triumvirate, the only trinational inter-parliamentary student simulation in North America, will take place from May 29 through June 3. Organized by ASU and the North American Forum on Integration (NAFI) from Montreal, the event will bring together about 50 students from seven American, Canadian and Mexican universities.

“The Triumvirate, is a unique, one-of-a-kind event,” NACTS director Rick Van Schoik said.

University student participants from Mexico, the United States and Canada participate in a week-long simulation exercise simulating a congressional meeting between North American legislators. Student delegates are assigned one of the three roles: legislator (representing a country other than their own), journalist, or lobbyist. The legislators will debate themes of a political, economic and environmental nature, while lobbyists will attempt to influence the legislators’ decisions and the TrilatHerald journalist team will analyze the evolution of the debates.

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For five days, participants will discuss hot political topics affecting North America: immigration and guest worker programs, green building practices, corporate social responsibility in the mining industry, and the promotion of North American trade corridors.

As a pioneer on the political scene, the Triumvirate seeks to bring together future North American leaders to increase their awareness of the issues that characterize North American relations while enabling them to develop a better knowledge of democratic institutions and the realities of the member countries of NAFTA.

Triumvirate seeks to strengthen a sense of belonging to North America and discuss regional integration issues. “The event is a bull’s-eye target for NACTS’ work and commitment to social and economic development in the Americas,” Van Schoik said.

“The simulation enables participants to delve into the heart of the North American political dynamics and to negotiate draft bills that, we hope, will inspire our political leaders,” Christine Fréchette, executive director and founder of NAFI, said.

Schwarzenegger: It’s Time to Terminate Skepticism on Climate Change

‘What is best in life?’  ‘To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of the women.’

InnovationNewsDaily | Mar 1, 2011

by Stuart Fox

Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks at ARPA-E. (Credit: Martin LaMonica/CNET)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a room full of scientists, and with a slate of Nobel Prize winners and bureaucrats scheduled to speak, it took a movie star to demand that everyone stop playing make-believe. Giving the keynote address at the APRA-E Energy Innovation Summit here today (March 1), Arnold Schwarzenegger issued forth a call to end the false debate over climate science, to stop assuming China will provide new green tech cheaper and faster than the United States, and to stop pretending that global warming won’t affect people for decades.

Using analogies to leverage every aspect of his history, Schwarzenegger made the case that transitioning to a green economy, fixing the environment and ending political stalemate over carbon legislation fell well within the power of today’s technology and today’s political climate.

“We want a new era of energy independence, a new era of green technology and green jobs, a new era of better health from a cleaner environment, and a new era of American inventiveness,” Schwarzenegger said.

The former governor and action-firm superstar compared the current debate over climate change to the state of bodybuilding when he entered that sport in the late 1960s. A pervasive fear of weightlifting’s effects led celebrities to disavow their own exercise routines, and produced euphemisms when discussing the activity. However, scientific evidence eventually came to support the health benefits of weightlifting, and today talk about abs and pecs is common. Confident in having brought weightlifting to the mainstream, Schwarzenegger told the audience he hopes to do the same for climate science.

Schwarzenegger also linked a future green economy to the current unrest in the Mideast, both literally and figuratively. He suggested that the overthrow of foreign dictators seemed impossible a month ago but now seems inevitable. Similarly, he believes that defeatism about the ability of a green revolution to change America will soon look absurd as well.

More directly, the former California governor also pointed to the recent volatility in oil prices resulting from Middle Eastern revolutions as a perfect example of why the U.S. needs to wean itself off foreign oil.

“Why should a dried-up desert country with a crazy dictator like Libya play havoc with America’s energy future?” said Schwarzenegger.

In a closing point that struck the deepest chord with the audience, the erstwhile Terminator, who first made his mark in action films as Conan the Barbarian, identified the ARPA-E attendees as the primary agents for the change he advocated.

“I’ve made a lot of action movies in the past, so I know about action. And you are the true people of action,” Schwarzenegger said. “Conan was asked, ‘What is best in life?’ He answered, ‘To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of the women.’ Now, my views have evolved since. But my point is that Conan was not big on philosophy or navel-gazing. He was big on action, just like you.”

The ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy) summit runs through tomorrow (March 2).

Lloyd’s Warns Of Increasing Fossil Fuel Risks, Urges Green Focus

NU Online News Service | Jun 21, 2010

By CAROLINE MCDONALD

As fossil fuel supplies are stretched thinner, risks similar to the British Petroleum oil spill will increase, according to a new report from Lloyd’s and a U.K. think tank that urges businesses to rethink their approach to energy.

The report, “Sustainable Energy Security: Strategic Risks and Opportunities for Business,” by Lloyd’s 360 Risk Insight and U.K. think tank Chatham House, found that reliance on fossil fuels is pushing the search for reserves into more difficult and risky territories.

Declining production from easily accessed oil reserves combined with rising demand from developing economies can result in events such as the current Deepwater Horizon Oil Platform spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the report said, adding that the BP spill could push the transition to more cost-efficient clean and renewable energy systems.

The study predicts that price spikes and supply disruptions will become more frequent due to rising consumption, insufficient investment, and threats to installations and transport.

These factors, the report notes, combined with political pressure to reduce greenhouse gases and protect our environment, will force businesses to be more efficient consumers of energy and adopt clean and renewable technology.

Richard Ward, Lloyd’s chief executive, said in a statement that business leaders “need to rethink their approach to energy risks or be left behind as energy becomes less reliable and more expensive. The environmental and economic cost of our reliance on fossil fuels is too high. We need a long-term plan to reduce consumption and diversify our energy sources.”

Mr. Ward said the report “should cause all risk managers to pause,” adding that it outlines “that we have entered a period of deep uncertainty in how we will source energy for power, heat and mobility, and how much we will have to pay for it.”

Bernice Lee, research director at Chatham House, noted, “Businesses across the board need to make a serious assessment of their vulnerability to change and volatility on the energy scene. There are huge opportunities as energy systems evolve to include users and increase resilience and efficiency. There is also the potential for heavy or even catastrophic financial and environmental losses.”

The expected level of investment in renewables and clean energy—up to $500 billion per year by 2050—holds tremendous opportunities for businesses, but the lack of global agreement on carbon reduction is inhibiting commitment and investments, the report states. Ultimately, this will make catching up or adapting to energy shortages much more expensive for all, it notes.

The report calls on governments to set clear policies and create certainty in the transition to a low carbon economy.

The study also warns that preparations must be made for a new set of risks as our energy system changes. Many renewable technology systems, for example, use rare materials, and the increasing reliance on electricity and IT could raise vulnerability to cyber attacks, according to the report.

The report advises businesses to reassess global supply chains and increase the resilience of their operations.