Satellites have long been used to detect and monitor environmental change, but capabilities have vastly improved since the early 1970s when Landsat images were first revealed to the public.
Today Google Earth has democratized the availability of satellite imagery, putting high resolution images of the planet within reach of anyone with access to the Internet.
In the process, Google Earth has emerged as potent tool for conservation, allowing scientists, activists, and even the general public to create compelling presentations that reach and engage the masses. One of the more prolific developers of Google Earth conservation applications is David Tryse. Neither a scientist nor a formal conservationist, Tryse's concern for the welfare of the planet led him develop a KML for the Zoological Society of London's EDGE of Existence program, an initiative to promote awareness of and generating conservation funding for 100 of the world's rarest species.
The KML allows people to surf the planet to see photos of endangered species, information about their habitat, and the threats they face. Tryse has since developed a deforestation tracking application, a KML that highlights hydroelectric threats to Borneo’s rivers, and oil spills and is working on a new tool that will make it even easier for people to create visualizations on Google Earth. Tryse believes the development of Google Earth is a watershed moment for conservation and the environmental movement. …
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
James Murray, BusinessGreen, Tuesday 31 March 2009 at 00:00:00
New report praises efforts of London's Westfield shopping centre and highlights how building techniques can promote flora and fauna while boosting the economy
London's giant Westfield shopping centre will be praised today for utilising an emerging green building trend designed to improve biodiversity in our towns and cities....
Sunday, March 29, 2009
BY GEORGIA TASKER
Maybe the fish are on to something. Don Hammond, who catches, tags and releases dolphin-fish (also known as mahi-mahi), says those Florida natives are being hooked in some unusual places.
Like Massachusetts and Canada.
People who study South Florida's environment say global warming is starting to have a significant impact on Florida's fish, fowl and flora.
Among those beginning to see the signs is Hammond, a private researcher in Charleston, S.C., who retired after 35 years with that state's Department of Natural Resources. He now runs a company called Cooperative Sciences Services. His fish, tagged in waters between South Florida and North Carolina, appear to be migrating farther north. Last year, one in five were hooked anew between North Carolina and Massachusetts, and one swam its way to the waters off of Nova Scotia.
''I have to wonder that as northern waters are warming and tropical waters are getting hotter, will the [fish] populations shift north?'' he said. …
CHANGES IN FLORIDA
Of course, there is scientific data and there are conditions that can be readily observed, especially in environmentally sensitive places like the Keys. Here are some of the changes that have been observed:
• Sooty terns and brown noddies (dark-colored terns) are nesting earlier in the Dry Tortugas.
• Buttonwoods and pines are dying as saltwater rises and does not drain away after hurricane storm surges.
• Salt-loving mangroves and saltwater habitats are advancing inland.
• Scientists had to lure beach-nesting roseate terns to a new beach three years ago after Pelican Shoals in the Keys was washed over and left under water by Hurricane Wilma.
• Half the corals in the Keys have been killed by disease, hurricanes and bleaching in hot water; those remaining are vulnerable to ocean acidification.
• Nine species of dragonflies have moved into Florida from Cuba and the Bahamas, following similar migrations by butterflies, birds and mammals. …
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama is launching a "Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate" to help facilitate a U.N. agreement on global warming, the White House said on Saturday.
Leaders from 16 major economies have been invited to a preparatory session on April 27 and 28 in Washington to "help generate the political leadership necessary" to achieve an international pact to cut greenhouse gas emissions later this year, it said in a statement.
It said the meeting would spur dialogue among developed and developing countries about the issue, "and advance the exploration of concrete initiatives and joint ventures that increase the supply of clean energy while cutting greenhouse gas emissions."
The major economies include: Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and the United States.…
The NYT columnist Tom Friedman has another terrific global warming piece today, “Mother Nature’s Dow.” He is the only major national columnist or reporter consistently warning the public of what science now tells us is likely result of continuing on our current greenhouse gas emissions path — unmitigated unconscionable catastrophe. And he is the only one laying out the solution in detail. In this post I will endeavor to annotate his column for new and old readers who want more.
Friedman begins by noting, “I’m convinced that our current financial crisis is the product of both The Market and Mother Nature hitting the wall at once.” This piece is in some sense a sequel to his one from three weeks ago, see “Is the global economy a Ponzi scheme?” He then lays out the climate realist position, noting:
If you follow climate science, what has been striking is how insistently some of the world’s best scientists have been warning — in just the past few months — that climate change is happening faster and will bring bigger changes quicker than we anticipated just a few years ago.
He cites two scientific sources:
- Christopher Field, director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University, whose extended views can be seen here.
- M.I.T.’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, whose full analysis can be seen here: M.I.T. joins climate realists, doubles its projection of global warming by 2100 to 5.1°C.
For more sources on this climate realist position, see “An introduction to global warming impacts.”
Then he lays out the five key policies needed to avert this catastrophe, the “climate bailout.” He cites Hal Harvey, CEO of “a new $1 billion foundation, ClimateWorks, set up to accelerate the policy changes that can avoid climate catastrophe by taking climate policies from where they are working the best to the places where they are needed the most”:
To all those deniers, cranks, wingnuts and spoilsports who said they were going to turn on their lights, that the generators have to keep running anyways, and that Earth Hour will make no difference, suck on this:
1) Gas and coal fired plants dial up and down all the time to adjust for peak load, so an event like Earth Hour is actually turning down the dirtiest fossil fuel burners, taking it right off the top.
Save the comments about the CO2 from candles, we know.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
The Algae Biofuels World Summit concluded this week in San Francisco. I was on-hand and on assignment for Triple Pundit Monday at the day long pre-conference briefing featuring leaders in research, government, and business involved in pushing the infant industry toward commercial-scale production.
It was a sobering day for me, as it became clear that much of what is bandied about on blogs and in the mainstream media (to the extent algal biofuel research gets any coverage in the mainstream media) is wild-eyed optimism and pure hype. No, you can not produce 15,000 gallons of algae biofuel per acre per year; no, algae biofuel will not replace oil all by itself - and the list goes on.
The plain reality is that producing algae biofuel at a commercial scale is not a given, it will not be cheap or easy, and a lot more R&D needs to be done before any real hope of algae biofuel being more than an experimental or "boutique" fuel is realized. …
Rather than use energy more efficiently than traditional industries, newer types of manufacturing processes — solar panel production, for example — are outrageously energy-inefficient, according to a new analysis from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Timothy Gutowski of MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering led the analysis, which examined the materials and energy consumption of 20 different manufacturing processes.
“The seemingly extravagant use of materials and energy resources by many newer manufacturing processes is alarming and needs to be addressed alongside claims of improved sustainability from products manufactured by these means,” Gutowski and his team write in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. …
Photo via iLoveButter
Forget clean energy for a moment. If climate change alters the earth's ecosystems and rainfall levels to the point that we can't rely on usual methods or locations for water and food supplies, then that means food and water production will need to be the focus of clean tech. Nicholas Parker of the Cleantech Group argues this point in a presentation given yesterday at the Entrepreneurial Energy Expo at Babson College. ...
Cathy Zoi, CEO of Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection, has been nominated by President Obama to serve as Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE) under Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
Zoi has a unique combination of expertise in clean energy and high level federal government experience — she was Chief of Staff in the Clinton White House Office on Environmental Policy, managing the staff working on environmental and energy issues (full bio here, recent writing below). Since I have known Zoi for nearly 2 decades and since in 1997 I held the job she is now nominated for, I can personally attest she will be able to hit the ground running in the crucial job of overseeing the vast majority of the development and deployment of plausible climate solutions technology.
What does EERE do? You could spend hours on their website, here, exploring everything they are into. Of the 12 to 14 most plausible wedges the world needs to stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm — the full global warming solution — EERE is the principal federal agency for working with businesses to develop and deploy the technology for 11 of them!
The stimulus and the 2009 budget dramatically increases — more than doubles — EERE funding for technology development and deployment. Zoi’s most important job is deployment, deployment, deployment. And again she is a uniquely qualified to get clean energy into the marketplace. Zoi was a manager at the US Environmental Protection Agency where “she pioneered the Energy Star Program,” which was the pioneering energy efficiency deployment program launched in the early 1990s.
So we know Zoi gets energy efficiency. Here’s what she wrote last year about “Embracing the Challenge to Repower America“:
Friday, March 27, 2009
At the Aspen Environment Forum today, MIT professor Dan Nocera gave a revolutionary picture of the new energy economy with an assertion that our homes will be our power plants and our fuel stations, powered by sunlight and water. And it’s not science fiction.
Nocera stated that even if we put all available acreage into fuel crops, all available acreage in wind power, and build a new nuclear power plant every 1.5 days, and we save 100% of our current energy use (yes, you read that correctly), we will still come up short by 2050. His estimate is that we will need 16 TW of energy production by then, and with our current methods, we won’t get there.
But there is a solution. And we don’t need to invent anything new to get from here to there.
Nocera said that MIT will announce its patent next week of a cheap, efficient, manufacturable electrolyzer made from cobalt and potassium phosphate. This technology, powered by a 6 meter by 5 meter photovoltaic array on the roof, is capable of powering an entire house’s power needs plus a fuel cell good for 500 km of travel, with just 5 liters of water. …
This classic American home is the end result of smart planning, high performance materials, and passive design techniques. Designed on a $100,000 dollar budget by the Michigan firm of Dominick Tringali Architects, the project is set to be a prototype for the next generation of Habitat for Humanity homes. Lets take a closer look. …
In this post I will lay out “the solution” to global warming, focusing primarily on the 12 to 14 “stabilization wedges.” This post is an update to “Is 450 ppm (or less) politically possible? Part 2: The Solution.”
I have argued that stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide at 450 ppm or lower is not politically possible today, but that it is certainly achievable from an economic and technological perspective (see Part 1). I do, however, believe humanity will do it since the alternative is Hell and High Water.
It would require some 12-14 of Princeton’s “stabilization wedges” — strategies and/or technologies that over a period of a few decades each reduce global carbon emissions by one billion metric tons per year from projected levels (see technical paper here, less technical one here). The reason that we need twice as many wedges as Princeton’s Pacala and Socolow have said we need was explained in Part 1. That my analysis is largely correct can be seen here: “IEA report, Part 2: Climate Progress has the 450-ppm solution about right.”
I agree with the IPCC’s detailed review of the technical literature, which concluded in 2007 that “The range of stabilization levels assessed can be achieved by deployment of a portfolio of technologies that are currently available and those that are expected to be commercialised in coming decades.” The technologies they say can beat 450 ppm are here. Technology Review, one of the nation’s leading technology magazines, also argued in a cover story two years ago, “It’s Not Too Late,” that “Catastrophic climate change is not inevitable. We possess the technologies that could forestall global warming.”
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Solyndra, the first recipient of a loan from the Department of Energy, told us that it thinks it will produce solar panels at a price that's competitive with standard sources of energy in the next 2-3 years.
"We see a clear path," says Kelly Truman, the VP of marketing, sales and business development, "and in 2-3 years we'll hit grid parity."
We spoke with Truman yesterday who said the $535 million loan from the DOE will finance 73% of a new factory, though he declined to say how the company would pay for the remainder of the project. The current factory is going to be able to produce 110 MW of solar panels, with each panel able to produce 200W of energy each. The next factory will be able to produce 550MW of solar panels annually. That's enough energy to power almost 200,000 homes. Solyndra hopes to have the new factory shipping panels by 2011. …
Put this in your smokestack: No country emits more greenhouse gases than China, and nothing emits more greenhouse gases in China than buildings. It's true that China's traditional architecture has been green for centuries, and that the rest of its buildings use a fraction of the energy of their equivalents in the West. But as the country continues to urbanize and raise its standards of living, China's building footprint could easily make the US blush. As the government seeks to promote its own green building standards, projects that are certified by foreign-born systems like LEED (118 buildings have sought or are seeking accreditation) are becoming increasingly appealing to high-end developers.
Until the cost savings and brand-name appeal of green building can spread among Chinese architects and developers – and move beyond the major cities – China has these impressive models to follow. And their lessons aren't just for China. …
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
By David Fogarty, Climate Change Correspondent, Asia
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Global warming is more than a third to blame for a major drop in rainfall that includes a decade-long drought in Australia and a lengthy dry spell in the United States, a scientist said on Wednesday.
Peter Baines of Melbourne University in Australia analyzed global rainfall observations, sea surface temperature data as well as a reconstruction of how the atmosphere has behaved over the past 50 years to reveal rainfall winners and losers.
What he found was an underlying trend where rainfall over the past 15 years or so has been steadily decreasing, with global warming 37 percent responsible for the drop.
"The 37 percent is probably going to increase if global warming continues," Baines told Reuters from Perth in Western Australia, where he presented his findings at a major climate change conference.
Baines' analysis revealed four regions where rainfall has been declining. The affected areas were the continental United States, southeastern Australia, a large region of equatorial Africa and the Altiplano in South America.
But there were two areas in the tropics where rainfall has been increasing -- northwestern Australia and the Amazon Basin. …
Photo via Sustainable Design Update
Texas produces more wind power than any other state in the US. Now, it's looking to be a leader in solar power as well. And Lone Star State legislators aren't wasting any time. The New York Times describes an "avalanche" of bills that create or improve incentives for solar power hitting the state senate. There are so many solar power bills rolling in that they've actually taken to calling this entire session of congress "the solar session." …
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
by Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian - published under license by, BusinessGreen
President says $129bn that has been allocated for environmental plans is off limits to Congress
Barack Obama yesterday declared the billions of dollars he is planning to spend on renewable energy projects off-limits to the usual bartering over the next few weeks with Congress....
Even if each time the words ‘solar refrigerator’ come in the news it sounds like a groundbreaking story, truth is the idea of using heat to create cold is pretty old. A French inventor came up with a concept to do this as far back as 1858, there are records that show a machine prototype from 1935, and the concept of evaporative cooling has been widely explored, as Lloyd notes in a previous article. …
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Nobel Peace Prize winner and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore will publish a follow-up to his global warming awareness bestseller An Inconvenient Truth on November 3.
The book will be called Our Choice and will describe solutions to global warming, the environmental crusader and U.S. publisher Rodale Inc. said in a statement on Tuesday.
An Inconvenient Truth reached millions of people with the message that the climate crisis is threatening the future of human civilization and that it must and can be solved," Gore said.
"Now that the need for urgent action is even clearer with the alarming new findings of the last three years, it is time for a comprehensive global plan that actually solves the climate crisis. Our Choice will answer that call," he said. …
by George Monbiot
Whenever you hear the word miracle, you know there's trouble just around the corner. But however many times they lead to disappointment or disaster, the newspapers never tire of promoting miracle cures, miracle crops, miracle fuels and miracle financial instruments. We have a bottomless ability to disregard the laws of economics, biology and thermodynamics when we encounter a simple solution to complex problems. So welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the new miracle. It's a low-carbon regime for the planet which makes the Atkins Diet look healthy: woodchips with everything.
Biomass is suddenly the universal answer to our climate and energy problems. Its advocates claim that it will become the primary source of the world's heating fuel, electricity, road transport fuel (cellulosic ethanol) and aviation fuel (bio-kerosene). Few people stop to wonder how the planet can accommodate these demands and still produce food and preserve wild places. Now an even crazier use of woodchips is being promoted everywhere (including in the Guardian(1)). The great green miracle works like this: we turn the planet's surface into charcoal.
Sorry, not charcoal. We don't call it that any more. Now we say biochar. The idea is that wood and crop wastes are cooked to release the volatile components (which can be used as fuel), then the residue - the charcoal - is buried in the soil. According to the magical thinkers who promote it, the new miracle stops climate breakdown, replaces gas and petroleum, improves the fertility of the soil, reduces deforestation, cuts labour, creates employment, prevents respiratory disease and ensures that when you drop your toast it always lands butter side up. (I invented the last one, but give them time). …
This miracle solution has suckered people who ought to know better, including the earth systems scientist James Lovelock(3), the eminent climate scientist Jim Hansen(4), the author Chris Goodall and the climate campaigner Tim Flannery(5). At the UN climate negotiations beginning in Bonn on Sunday, several national governments will demand that biochar is eligible for carbon credits, providing the financial stimulus required to turn this into a global industry(6). Their proposal boils down to this: we must destroy the biosphere in order to save it. …
So far, listening to what Toshiba is up to in terms of fuel cells has been an exercise in patience. And while we are still waiting for that fuel cell-powered phone they promised would arrive this month, it seems they're getting real about mass producing the fuel cells. ...
Monday, March 23, 2009
By Juliet Eilperin
The Environmental Protection Agency sent a proposal to the White House on Friday finding that global warming is endangering the public's health and welfare, according to several sources, a move that could have far-reaching implications for the nation's economy and environment.
The proposal -- which comes in response to a 2007 Supreme Court decision ordering EPA to consider whether carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases should be regulated under the Clean Air Act -- could lay the groundwork for nationwide measures to limit such emissions. It reverses one of the Bush administration's landmark environmental decisions: In July 2008 then-EPA administrator Stephen Johnson rejected his scientific and technical staff's recommendation and announced the agency would seek months of further public comment on the threat posed by global warming pollution.
"This is historic news," said Frank O'Donnell, who heads the public watchdog group Clean Air Watch. "It will set the stage for the first-ever national limits on global warming pollution. And it is likely to help light a fire under Congress to get moving." …
We Technophiles have talked about this very thing on several occasions. And with entire suburban neighborhoods being abandoned, we could probably buy a whole cul-de-sac for cheap.
All over the world, people are losing their jobs. In America, there are millions of homes in foreclosure. The suburban areas are particularly hard hit, and many are asking how the suburbs will be reinvented. The Cul-de-Sac Commune project may be a solution. …
New report expected to show insurance industry has underestimated financial cost of climate change damage
Insurance companies are reportedly poised to increase their estimates for future premiums as scientific predictions about the impacts of climate change continue to worsen. ...
From Climate Progress:
The Department of Energy announced on Friday that the first energy loan guarantee authorized by the 2005 (!) Energy Policy Act went to a plant that manufactures solar panels:
"We are done with metals," says Cemal Basaran
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- In the quest to pack ever-smaller electronic devices more densely with integrated circuits, nanotechnology researchers keep running up against some unpleasant truths: higher current density induces electromigration and thermomigration, phenomena that damage metal conductors and produce heat, which leads to premature failure of devices.
But University at Buffalo researchers who study electronics packaging recently made a pleasant discovery: that's not the case with Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes (SWCNTs).
"Years ago, everyone thought that the problem of cooling for electronics could be solved," said Cemal Basaran, Ph.D., professor in the UB Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering and director of the Electronics Packaging Lab in UB's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. "Now we know that's not true. Electronics based on metals have hit a wall. We are done with metals."
Single Walled Carbon Nanotubes are extremely thin, hollow cylinders, measuring no thicker than a single atom. Thousands of times stronger than metals, they are expected to one day replace metals in millions of electronic applications.
Basaran and his doctoral student Tarek Ragab have spent the past four years performing quantum mechanics calculations, which prove that in carbon nanotubes, higher current density does not lead to electromigration and thermomigration; it also produces just one percent of the heat produced by traditional metals, such as copper. …
Sunday, March 22, 2009
The polar bear range states - Canada, Denmark/Greenland, Norway, Russia and the United States - in 1973 signed the legally binding Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears, agreeing to protect the white bears and their habitat. They gathered in Tromso for three days this week, their first meeting since 2007.
"We are very encouraged by the final declaration from this meeting,” says Geoff York, polar bear coordinator for WWF International’s Arctic Program.
"We were concerned that some countries were lagging behind the others in their commitment to dealing with climate change, but ultimately, the parties recognized climate change as the primary threat to the future well-being of polar bears," said York.
"They also recognized formally "the urgent need for an effective global response that will address the challenges of climate change,” to be addressed at gatherings such as the meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in December in Copenhagen where a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol is expected to be finalized. …
Grounds for deportation from Turkey. Photo via IISD Reporting Services
There weren't any naked protesters rushing the stage, or thousands marching in the streets, like there were at previous World Water Forums, but activists haven't wavered in their conviction that the triennial event is an "elitist," "undemocratic," and "illegitimate" forum for addressing
In what is being hailed as a victory for indigenous groups in the Brazilian Amazon, Brazil's Supreme Court sided with Indians from the Raposa Serra do Sol reservation in a 30-year land dispute with large-scale farmers in the northern state of Roraima, near the border with Venezuela, reports the Associated Press.
The 10-1 decision puts the 1.7 million hectare (4.2 million acre) reserve under legal control of some 18,000 indigenous Amazonians including members of the Macuxi, Wapichana, Ingariko, Taurepang and Patamona tribes. Agricultural and industrial interests had sought to break up the reservation and exploit the land for farming, logging, and mining.
Nevertheless observers say the ruling is unlikely to end sometimes violent conflict that has plagued the area — farmers, some of whom has occupied the land since the late 1980s, say they will fight for the land. Up to 600 people could be displaced. …
Friday, March 20, 2009
The Independent features a fascinating story this week about the first person awarded Employment Equality rights for his “philosophical belief” in climate change.
Tim Nicholson was sacked last summer from his job as an environmental policy officer at Grainger plc. During an employment tribunal in London this week, a judge ruled Nicholson had the right to claim protection from discrimination based on his conviction that climate change is society’s greatest environmental threat.
Nicholson says he tried to get Grainger management to better reflect the firm’s stated environmental policies in its actual practices. At the employment tribunal, he presented a list of examples in which the company did not live up to its expressed goals.
They included instances in which senior staff declined to provide him with data to enable him to calculate Grainger’s carbon footprint, and an unwillingness on the part of executives to respond to his call for less corporate air travel.
A full hearing on the matter is set for 4 June.
Photo via Reuters/Jonas Borg/UPPA/Photoshot
An extraordinarily realistic, extraordinarily expensive robotic fish has been created to patrol the open sea and sniff out pollution. They're a lot like the robofish we talked about last year, only these things look very real. Check out the video of one swimming:
Photovoltaics are wonderful, but there are some far cheaper ways to harness the power of the sun to do good work for us. Capturing the sun's heat with solar water heaters, for example, is a far cheaper way to reduce your electricity bills than trying to turn that power into electricity.
Well, a new company called Practical Solar wants to take that up another step, and simply use mirrors to focus sunlight on your home, to keep it warm in the winter. Of course, this only works for people who get direct sun in their yards, and who live in sunny but cold places, but that's not an insignificant number of people.
Two of these Practical Solar-controlled mirrors focused on a room (preferably through a window) would have the same effect, roughly, as a space heater. Use ten of them, and you could burn your house down! (Note to Practical solar...please password protect the control system to protect against vengeful neighbors.)
The devices also provide natural lighting at almost all times of the day, so one could save power that way as well. Of course, having a little sun in your yard shining white-hot light into your eyes might detract from the view out of your window, but it's better than a high heating bill!
A crash in oil prices has confirmed the dominance of fossil fuels, Opec ministers and other energy producers said today at a seminar, but they also stated their commitment to fighting the pollution they generate.
"Fighting climate change cannot realistically mean fighting oil. Fighting climate change means fighting emissions," Yvo de Boer, head of the United Nations climate change secretariat, told the conference.
"Low oil prices are the enemies to research into alternative sources," Reuters quoted Eni chief executive Paolo Scaroni telling the conference. "What affects oil prices affects other energy sources. Oil must be at the centre of any concept of sustainable development."
Iran, for instance, was "supportive of any (environmental) measures, including carbon capture and storage", the country's Oil Minister Gholamhossein Nozari said.
"Opec members have an important role to play in researching clean sources of energy... It would put opec at the cutting edge of the transition to lower emissions technology," de Boer told reuters.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
NASA: Environmental disaster avoided on ozone loss
By SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Here's rare good news about an environmental crisis: We dodged disaster with the ozone layer. A NASA study about ozone-munching chemicals from aerosol sprays and refrigeration used a computer model to play a game of what-if. What if the world 22 years ago didn't agree to cut back on chlorofluorocarbons which cause a seasonal ozone hole to form near the South Pole?
NASA atmospheric scientist Paul Newman said the answer is a "bizarre world."
By 2065, two-thirds of the protective ozone layer would have vanished and "the ozone hole covers the Earth." And the CFCs, which are long-lived potent greenhouse gases, would have pushed the world's temperature up an extra 4 degrees.
In mid-latitudes like Washington, DNA-damaging ultraviolet radiation would have increased more than sixfold. Just 5 minutes in the summer sunshine would have caused a sunburn, instead of 15. Typical midsummer UV levels, now around 10 or 11, would have soared to 30. Summer thunderstorms in the Northern Hemisphere would have been much stronger.
"It is a real horrible place," Newman told The Associated Press.
But that dreadful scenario was "a world avoided," according to the paper published this week in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.
After scientists raised warnings in the early 1970s — later earning a Nobel Prize — 193 nations agreed in the1987 treaty called the Montreal Protocol to cut CFC emissions. CFCs had been used in air conditioning, aerosol sprays, foam packaging and other products.
Newman, the co-chair of the protocol's scientific panel, said the study provides hope that the world can do the same thing on another looming but even harder to solve environmental problem: Global warming.
"There's a huge lesson to be learned here," said Paul Wapner, director of Global Environmental Politics at American University. "In significant cases, human beings can get together and arrive at international or global principles and avoid ecological catastrophe."
On the Net:
NASA's ozone study: www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/world_avoided.html
The United Nations' ozone page: ozone.unep.org/
Chief executives of European electricity companies this week pledged to make their industry carbon-neutral by 2050.
CEOs from companies in 27 nations — representing more than 70 percent of Europe’s power generation — issued their declaration on the eve of EU discussions focused on the economy, energy and climate.
The declaration states, “We will progressively make use of all available and economically sound low-carbon and carbon-free options when investing in power generation assets, taking into account national energy policies: renewable energies, nuclear power, high-efficiency combined heat & power, and efficient clean fossil technologies including carbon capture & storage (CCS). In addition, we will continue seeking to operate our plants and grids in the most efficient way, while investing to develop innovative low-emitting technologies.”
The statement also called on European policy-makers to help pave the way for carbon-free energy by increasing support for research and development, moving forward on regional integration of electricity markets, simplifying licensing procedures, working with industry to set electrical vehicle standards and providing adequate public information and education.
(Michigan State University) Prenatal exposure to an insecticide commonly used up until the 1970s may play a role in the obesity epidemic in women, according to a new study involving several Michigan State University researchers.
More than 250 mothers who live along and eat fish from Lake Michigan were studied for their exposure to DDE – a breakdown of DDT. The study, published as an editor's choice in this month's edition of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, analyzed DDE levels of the women's offspring.
Compared to the group with the lowest levels, those with intermediate levels gained an average of 13 pounds excess weight, and those with higher levels gained more than 20 pounds of excess weight.
"Prenatal exposure to toxins is increasingly being looked at as a potential cause for the rise in obesity seen worldwide," said Janet Osuch, a professor of surgery and epidemiology at MSU's College of Human Medicine, who was one of the lead authors of the study. "What we have found for the first time is exposure to certain toxins by eating fish from polluted waters may contribute to the obesity epidemic in women."
Though DDT was banned in 1973 after three decades of widespread use, the chemical and its byproducts remain toxic in marine life and fatty fish. The study was funded by a $300,000 grant from the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
Osuch said the study's findings can have a huge impact on how researchers treat – and seek to prevent – obesity. The research team has been awarded a $1 million grant from the same federal agency, the ATSDR, to assess the impact of pollutants and toxins on a wide variety of disorders by determining the importance of second- and third-generation health effects.
"This line of research can transform how we think about the causes of obesity and potentially help us create prenatal tests to show which offspring are at higher risks," she said. …
James Murray, BusinessGreen
Companies with annual premiums over $500m will have to complete risk survey
The US National Association of Insurance Commissioners has this week adopted new mandatory rules requiring US insurers to disclose to regulators the risks they face as a result of climate change. …
The World Water Forum brings together 25,000 experts this week in Istanbul, Turkey to discuss the water challenges facing a growing world. According to a compilation of case studies by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which is sponsoring the event, one of the simplest and least expensive ways to have ample water for a growing human population is to protect watersheds. Not only do protected watersheds provide clean and easy-access water for many of the world's largest cities, their protection also saves billions of dollars.
“Many of the world’s big cities have understood that protecting their catchment areas makes economic sense. Rather than chopping down the forests or draining their marshlands, they are keeping them healthy and saving billions of dollars by not having to pay for costly infrastructure to store water, clean it or bring it from elsewhere,” says Mark Smith, head of IUCN’s Water Programme.
The IUCN points to Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, which sources its water from 60 rivers that originate in Gunung Gede Pangrango National Park. The free water is worth an estimated $1.5 billion dollars.
The capital of Venezuela, Caracas, also relies on rivers in national parks. Guatopo and Macarao National Parks provide the city's 5 million residents with a constant supply of freshwater.
Improving degraded river systems can also have huge impacts on the availability of freshwater. Better water management in South Africa's world famous Kruger National Park has improved the availability of water both for humans and animal.
“Kruger’s main five rivers have suffered from pollution and unsustainable water use upstream which led to some of them drying up completely. After implementing a large river-related programme with the agriculture, forestry and mining industries, we have seen an improvement in flows. Previously disappeared species have re-colonised, and fewer unnatural fish kills have occurred,” says Harry Biggs, Programme Integrator at South African National Parks and leader of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas Freshwater Task Force. …
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
TreeHugger has touted how cool the Pelamis wave power device on a number of occasions, as well its implementation in the €9 million Aguçadoura project in Portugal. Well, that 2.5 MW adventure has come to an end. Citing technical and financial setbacks, what would have been the world's current largest commercial wave power project has been taken offline indefinitely. …
More on the near-extinction of US freshwater turtles here.
TALLAHASSEE, Florida, March 13, 2009 (ENS) - Florida state wildlife staffers today proposed a draft rule would ban the commercial take or sale of wild freshwater turtles.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission staff will present the draft rule at the commission meeting in Tallahassee on April 15. The draft rule is a first for any state.
"Staff is proposing a draft rule that represents the most comprehensive set of protections and conservation measures for freshwater turtles in the United States," said Tim Breault, the FWC's director of Habitat and Species Conservation.
"Few places in North America have the rich diversity of turtles that we have here in Florida, and this proposed rule ensures their long-term survival," he said.
The draft rule would prohibit taking turtles from the wild that are listed on Florida's imperiled species list, as well as species that look similar to the imperiled species, which include common snapping turtles and cooters. In addition, the collection of eggs would be prohibited. …
by MARTIN MITTELSTAEDT
Eating fish has always been touted as an excellent dietary source of protein, with Health Canada's food guide recommending everyone eat two servings a week. The recent craze over the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish has only added to the allure.
But is eating fish the best choice for health and the planet?
Although negative views about fish consumption are almost never expressed, a group of medical and fisheries experts is making an argument against eating the seafood in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
In an analysis being released Tuesday, they say that the purported benefits of fish for such things as cardiovascular health have been overstated, while the growing demand among health aficionados for the food is destroying global fish stocks.
“The public view is that fish are good for you. There is plenty of it and let's go for it,” said David Jenkins, a nutrition professor at the University of Toronto and lead author of the journal article. “I don't think either of those views should be as strongly held as they are.”
The pitch against fish consumption because it is environmentally tainted had one unusual author, for a medical journal. The well known Canadian nature writer Farley Mowat reviewed the analysis and decided to lend his imprimatur to the call against seafood.
“I'm just desperately worried about what's happening to the life in the ocean, as everybody should be who thinks about it at all,” Mr. Mowat said in an interview.
While Mr. Mowat personally loves to eat fish, he takes the problem seriously and seldom has it on his dinner plate now.
“The fish population is declining so rapidly that I try not to lean on it any harder than I have to,” he said. …
Monday, March 16, 2009
By RENEE SCHOOF, McClatchy Newspapers
As a candidate, President Barack Obama promised that his Department of Energy would work on a way for the United States to continue to get power from coal without dumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
The work is already under way, and has been boosted with $3.4 billion in the stimulus plan. The DOE is expected to announce soon whether it will use $1 billion of that money to revive FutureGen, a planned coal-fired power plant in rural Illinois that would be the first in the world to capture its carbon dioxide emissions and bury them deep underground.
Universities and businesses have been testing carbon capture and storage in other places, including Southern Co.'s project at a plant in Mississippi and research in oil and gas wells in Texas, but FutureGen would be the first commercial-scale demonstration.
Experts say that demonstrations such as FutureGen are needed to answer questions about what the best technology would be and how to lower the technology's cost so that it wouldn't result in much higher electricity bills.
The stakes are high, and so are the costs.
If the United States and international partners can find a cost-effective way to remove carbon from coal, the coal industry would be guaranteed a future even if the world takes steps later to prevent severe global warming. Finding the right technology, however, and proving that it can be widely used won't happen quickly or cheaply. …
Global photovoltaic installations reached a total capacity of 5.95 gigawatts in 2008, according to a new report from the California-based energy consultancy Solarbuzz.
That marked an increase of 110 percent over the previous year, the report states.
Europe accounted for most of the world’s photovoltaic market — 82 percent — with Spain’s rapid growth rate of 285 percent pushing previous leader Germany into second place, Solarbuzz says. The US took the third-place spot in photovoltaic installations last year, followed by Korea, Italy and Japan. …
ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish police fired teargas to disperse a group of about 100 protesters gathered at the start of a global water forum in Istanbul on Monday and detained 17, state-run news agency Anatolian reported.
Government ministers from 120 countries, scientists and campaigners are meeting in Istanbul this week to discuss how to avert a global water crisis and ease tensions between states fighting over water resources.
Nearly half of the world's people will be living in areas of acute water shortage by 2030, the United Nations has warned.
Protesters accused the forum of being a platform for water privatization, and shouted "water for life, not for profit," Reuters television showed.
Four heads of state are expected to attend the World Water Forum. …
A quick search on TreeHugger shows that 'solar power' most often occurs in connection with producing electricity and only secondarily in connection with solar water heaters. That's unfortunate, according to scientists at the Dr Panjabrao Deshmukh Agricultural University in India, because using the sun's power to heat water is a far more efficient ...
Saturday, March 14, 2009
The near-death of one of India’s most distinguished scientists has halted work on a major hydroelectric dam in the Himalayas. Professor AD Agarwal, 77, former dean of the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi at Kanpur, has been on hunger strike for 38 days in protest against a project that would dam the waters of a Ganges tributary.
"The water ... is not ordinary water to a Hindu. It is a matter of the life and death of Hindu faith," Agarwal said, before beginning his fast in January.
This is his second fast in the past year, which he called off last week only after the Indian government agreed that it would look into electricity generation that would not impede the flow of the holy Ganges. The river must run free in order to maintain its sacred status.
However, this dam project is only one of the hundreds planned to for the Himalayan foothill regions of India, Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan. The power needs of these nations are rising, but according to a recent report by the NGO International Rivers, many are being carried out with little environmental assessment. …
Greenpeace & Senator Sanders: How to Solve Global Warming for Half the Cost and Twice the Jobs as Dirty Energy
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Greenpeace, the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC), and Dr. Joseph Romm of the Center for American Progress today released a report commissioned from the German Aerospace Center (the German equivalent of NASA) that shows how the United States can meet the energy needs of a growing economy and achieve science-based cuts in global warming pollution – without nuclear power or coal. The report, entitled “Energy [R]evolution,” is co-authored by Greenpeace and EREC and includes a foreword by Dr. R.K. Pachauri, chairman of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The report finds that off-the-shelf clean energy technology can cut U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels by at least 23 percent from current levels by 2020 and 85 percent by 2050 (equal to a 12 percent cut by 2020 and an 83 percent cut by 2050 from 1990 levels) – at half the cost and double the job-creation of what it would take to meet U.S. energy needs with dirty energy sources. …
“What this report shows is that doing what science says is necessary won’t just provide the planet a living future, it actually will create far more jobs and save far more money than business as usual,” said Greenpeace Global Warming Campaign Director Steven Biel. “And it will do it without exposing us to the unnecessary risks and pointless boondoggles that would come with any further investments in nuclear or coal.”
The blueprint details the specific technologies and timetables necessary to achieve these goals, such as:
- By using the most energy efficient technologies, total primary energy demand will decline by 24 percent by 2050, while under the reference scenario demand will increase by 40 percent.
- Renewable energy will grow from just 8.9 percent of U.S. electricity generation in 2005 to 95.2 percent in 2050.
- Electricity from nuclear, coal, and oil will be completely phased out by 2050.
- The savings in fuel costs under the clean energy scenario is nearly double the additional up-front investment needed to end our reliance on fossil fuels.