A SALT AND BATTERY: The rush to be free of foreign oil's grimy grip is driving us ever more assuredly toward electric cars, but batteries don't grow on trees any more than crude does. As the rise of lithium-ion batteries fuels demand for lithium, the New York Times reports, Bolivia could become the new Saudi Arabia — or maybe the new Venezuela. Bolivia's salt deserts hold nearly half the world's lithium deposits, and a growing nationalism in the country, championed by President Evo Morales, has Bolivians tightening their grip on the mineral. Chile, Argentina and Tibet also have substantial lithium fields, but the real prize is clearly in Bolivia, which is why automakers from France to Japan are lining up there. The United States, however, is conspicuously absent from the lithium rush. (Source: NY Times)

SECOND WIND: The United States toppled Germany last year as the world's biggest wind-power producer, with a 50 percent growth in capacity, up to 25 gigawatts. That's before we've even seen what effect the "Obama bounce" might have on the American wind industry. (Source: Reuters)

SPEED TRACER: Simply being shown how much gas they waste can motivate drivers to cut back on speeding, tailgating and hard braking, officials in Denver have found. The city outfitted 400 cars — half city employees, half volunteer motorists — with accelerometers to track how much gas they wasted. Quantifying their excesses helped the drivers improve gas mileage by 10 percent — not up to Mayor John Hickenlooper's goal of 15 percent, but still enough to spur other cities and private companies to try the program. (Source: The Los Angeles Times

GROWING GRASSROOTS: News yesterday that East Tennessee's coal-ash spill may have contaminated local surface water came not from the EPA, TVA or even a state government entity. The triple team of environmental watchdog groups who conducted the tests and announced the results demonstrates the power of online grassroots organizing, and how quickly it can manifest into action. (Sources: The Knoxville News SentinelThe Chattanooga Times Free Press)

TRACKING CHANGES: Today's Science Times features a report from a Panamanian forest reserve that's installed a new Automated Radio Telemetry System, which uses seven 130-foot-high radio towers to synthesize unprecedented information from tagged animals. Combined with new transmitting devices as light as two-tenths of a gram — small enough to tag and track butterflies and plant seeds — the technology could transform the nature of biological field research. One researcher on the island plans to use the radio telemetry to understand the political relationships among groups of capuchin monkeys, who live in adjacent societies for decades but about which we know very little. (Source: NY Times)

Russell McLendon

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