Saturday, December 26, 2009

"A slow-moving metorite"

Despite the hurtles in disbelief caused by the Gore debacle, climate change is indeed a reality.

Species will now have to shift a quarter mile a year in order to keep up, according to an Environmental News story.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

WCI #12: The power of garbage

Scientific American says: "Trash is loaded with energy trapped in its chemical bonds. Plasma gasification, a technique that has been in development for decades, could finally be ready to extract it."

Apparently, it's pretty darn easy. Electricity is shot through a gas, which can be simply be ordinary air, and creates plasma. Plasma is superheated ionized gas that can reach temperatures of 7,000 degrees Celsius, hotter than the sun's surface. This is essentially what lightning is, and what researchers are doing is creating lightning in a bottle.

The plasma dissociates the molecular bonds in trash contained in the chamber and organic compounds become something called syngas (CO and hydrodren), the detritus of which is called slag.

The syngas can be used as fuel in a turbine to create electricity or used to create ethanol. The slag can be used for building material, something already being done in France and Japan. Although there are heavy metals in slag, the toxicity passes EPA standards but give pause to communities that may host such a plant.

But every ton of trash processes with plasma reduces the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by two tons less than coal.

Creating energy by eradicating land fills.

What's not to like?

It's sad that some people actually think like this

© Joel Pett

Something to think about

"The destruction of this planet would have no significance on a cosmic scale: to an observer in the Andromeda nebula, the sign of our extinction would be no more than a match flaring for a second in the heavens: and if that match does blaze in the darkness there will be none to mourn a race that used a power that could have lit a beacon in the stars to light its funeral pyre. The choice is ours."
      -- Stanley Kubrick

Monday, December 21, 2009

Natural gas again in the spotlight

The Associated Press has gotten on board.

WCI #11: Saltwater crops

More SciAm wisdom.

"As the world's freshwater supply becomes scarcer and food production needs balloon, salt-tolerant crops could ease the burden. Researchers at Australia's University of Adelaide used genetic engineering to enhance a model crop's natural ability to prevent saline buildup in its leaves, allowing the plant to thrive in conditions that would typically wither it. If the same gene tweak works in cereal crops such as rice and wheat - the researchers are testing them now - fallow lands destroyed by drought of overirrigation could become new breadbaskets."

There's a lot of saltwater out there....

Further, according to Wired:

"Saltwater-loving plants could open up half a million square miles of previously unusable territory for energy crops, helping settle the heated food-versus-fuel debate, which nearly derailed biofuel progress last year.

By increasing the world’s irrigated acreage by 50 percent, saltwater crops could provide a no-guilt source of biomass for alt fuel makers and tone down the rhetoric of U.N. officials worried about food prices, one of whom called the conversion of arable land to biofuel crops "a crime against humanity."

While growing crops in saltwater has been on the fringes of horticulture for decades, the new demand for alternative energy has pushed the idea onto the pages of the nation’s most prestigious scientific journal and drawn the attention of NASA scientists.

Citing the work of Robert Glenn, a plant biologist at the University of Arizona, two biologists argue in this week’s Science that "the increasing demand for agricultural products and the spread of salinity now make this concept worth serious consideration and investment."

Glenn has been arguing for the value of all kinds of saltwater farming to a small but growing audience for nearly thirty years, but it is the demand for biomass to turn into fuel that brought NASA calling. His team’s report for the agency estimates that salt-loving crops could be used to produce 1.5 billion barrels of ethanol annually on a swath of new agricultural land almost five times the size of Texas.

"I’m convinced that saltwater agriculture is going to open up a whole new expanse of land and water for crop production," Glenn said. "Maybe the world hasn’t needed a 50 percent expansion in irrigated agricultural land because we’ve had enough food, but now that biofuels are in the mix, I think it’s the way crop production should go."

The world’s population has grown by five billion people since 1900 to an astounding 6.7 billion today. Despite the population explosion, food production — primarily animal feed and commodity cereals like wheat and rice — has been able to keep pace. But the food system has been severely stressed by a variety of factors, including the increasing use of arable land to grow energy crops to turn into biofuels.

Even if energy crops didn’t cause all or even most of the precipitous rise in food prices in 2007, most social and environmental groups agree that the best location for bioenergy crops would be on currently unusable land. That would ensure that land used to grow food crops in poor countries wasn’t converted to growing energy crops to power cars in developed nations.

A key question has remained, though: where exactly will humans find a whole bunch of unused land that is still good for growing crops?

Photo from

Overly salty land could play a large and previously underappreciated role. That’s because there’s plenty of previously uncultivated territory in the world’s coastal deserts, inland salty soils, and over-salinized agricultural land.

After taking into account environmental protections and other factors, Glenn’s report estimates that 480,000 square miles of unused land around the world could be used to grow a special set of salt-tolerant plants — halophytes. Glenn’s team calculated that this could produce 1.5 billion barrels of oil equivalent per year. That’s 35 percent of the United States’ liquid fuel needs.

Halophytes thrive in saltwater. While salt damages most plants, these salt-loving plants actually use the saltwater to draw in fresh water. In essence, they make themselves saltier than the surrounding water, which, through osmosis, drives fresh water into the plant.

These plants are attractive candidates for both food and fuel because they have very high biomass and oil seed yields. The Science authors note that one leading halophyte-candidate, Salicornia bigelovii, produces 1.7 times more oil per acre than sunflowers, a common source of vegetable oil.

"[Some halophytes] yield even more than things like switchgrass and they’ll be grown on land that’s just not used right now," said Glenn.

Of course, turning halophyte biomass into fuel will require further cost reductions in the production of biofuel from cellulose. Research into cellulosic ethanol continues around the world at a breathtaking pace and many industry observers expect the next five years to yield enough breakthroughs to make the technology economical.

Halophytes could also be part of the solution to another environmental problem: heavily-salinated wastewater from large farms. Right now, that water is dumped into manmade wetlands. For example, in California, the Imperial Valley authorities dump their salty water into the Salton Sea.

"That’s a huge ecological problem waiting to happen," said Glenn.

After absorbing 80 years of agricultural runoff, the Salton Sea is 25 percent saltier than the ocean, and is facing serious ecological problems (see also: my review of a documentary about the Salton Sea). Instead of pumping salinized water into these wetlands, the farms could capture that wastewater and use it to grow halophytes. Already, Sharon Benes, a plant scientist at Fresno State, has been planting test plots in the San Joaquin Valley.

But even if halophytes can help solve some of the world’s environmental problems, Glenn is realistic about the difficulties of changing agricultural systems.

"I started in aquaculture back in the early 70s and we thought, golly, aquaculture is going to save the world. Looking back, it’s been 35 years, but over half of the key fisheries products come from aquaculture, it just took longer than people thought," Glenn said. "I think it’s the same thing with saline crop production."

Citation: "Crops for a Salinized World" by Jelte Rozema and Timothy Flowers. Science, doi 10.1126/science.1168572

Image: Salicornica bigelovii and Salicornica virginica growing in Galveston, Texas. flickr/Anna Armitage"

Another highly useful website

Encyclopedia of Alternative Energy and Sustainable Living.

Make it your Bible.

Great website: Build it solar

"The renewable energy site for do-it-yourselfers," Build it Solar, has hundreds of projects for those wishing to become greener.

They don't sell anything, but they do have everything from helpful hints to full-blown plans to give you a blueprint to a greener future.

Check it out, enjoy and get those synapses firing.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Copenhagen: So what actually happened?

Well, the Copenhagen conference on climate change ended on Saturday and it seems all that was really accomplished was an agreement to meet and discuss things further.

Read the Reuters story here.

It's hard to say how much the Gore number fakery debacle affected the outcome of the meetings at Copenhagen, but at least everyone there agreed that global warming is indeed a reality and something needs to be done.

There was a tentative agreement to limit warming to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius over the pre-industrial era, but how is anybody's guess.

It seems like everyone just decided to talk more in Mexico, where the 2010 conference will be held. I don't want to disrespect anyone and I realize that this is a situation that affects everyone in subtly different ways (like the third world - economically, they need to develop but most of the tech they can afford is polluting) but I don't understand how Ban Ki-Moon can even call this "an important beginning."

Although I guess that many member nations of the UN agreeing on something just might be a start.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

WCI #10: Ocean Overhaul

Over 2/3 of the planet is covered by water. Environmental arguments are ubiquitous in this day and age, but one thing almost everyone can agree upon is that our oceans are very sorry shape indeed. Just look at the continent-sized ring of trash in the Pacific Ocean.

Many countries are acting to clean up and protect their coasts, but world leaders are proposing further measure. Namely, marine planning and zoning.

It's basically applying urban planning to water. As the SciAm article points out, "porn shops aren't next to preschools... and drilling rigs aren't the centerpieces of national parks."

Basically, various areas of the seas are designated for a specific purpose such as drilling or fishing.

But one of the problems is lack of oversight.

"In the US for example, one body regulates commercial fishing, usually a single species at a time. Another group manages toxic substances, still another mining, and so on - some 20 federal agencies in all. They tend to make decisions without regard to what the others are doing."

The primary obstacle I can see is policing this. There's a lot of ocean out there. But hopefully most companies can be trusted to follow the boundaries simply because there is so much area to work with.

Duke University marine ecologist says, "We have to treat the oceans holistically, not one system at a time."

Friday, December 18, 2009

WCI #9: The new honeybee

From, you guessed it, SciAm:

"Colony collapse disorder (CCD) has killed more than a third of honeybee colonies since 2006. Farmers who depend on bees to pollinate such crops as almonds, peaches and apples are looking to the blue orchard bee to pick up the slack. One efficient Osmia lignaria can pollinate as much territory as 50 honeybees, but the bees are harder to cultivate because of their solitary nature. These pinch hitters won't completely replace honeybees, but as scientists continue to grapple with CCD, they could act as an agricultural safety net."

A Blue Orchard Bee

Thursday, December 17, 2009

WCI #8: Bus Rapid Transit

Scientific American says that bus lines will "mobilize the urban future."

"For the first time in human civilization, more people now live in urban areas than in the countryside. This shift creates a number of dilemmas, not least of which is how to move people withing the world's rapidly growing metropolises. Pollution and traffic point away from carbon-based options, while light-rail systems are slow to construct and prohibitively expensive. One disarmingly simple - and cheap - possibility is Bus Rapid Transit, which is engineered to operate like a subway on wheels. In these systems, concrete dividers on existing roads separate high-capacity buses from the rest of traffic. Riders pay before boarding, then wait in enclosed stations. When a bus arrives, sliding partitions open to allow riders to board from a platform that is level with the bus floor. The traffic-free thoroughfare, quick boarding times, and modern comfortable stations resemble light-rail systems more than the chaos of typical bus travel. In Bogata, Colombia, which has had seven Bus Rapid Transit lines in operation 2001, the buses handle 1.6 million trips a day. Its success has allowed the city to remove 7,000 private buses from the city, reducing consumption of bus fuel and its associated pollution by more than 59 percent."

Bogota's Transmilenio

Now, to make all those buses hybrid or at least low-emission......

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

WCI #7: Delivering the US from oil

According to December's Scientific American "Plug-in Hybrid Trucks are improving the long view of the short haul."

The ubiquitous cargo trucks that haul everything from mail to produce use about 40 percent of the fuel consumed in the US every year. Many are looking to use vehicles with better fuel efficiency, but a major technological opportunity is being overlooked by most.

"The fuel use of even a small truck is equal to many, many car," says Bill Van (heh) Amberg, senior VP of Calstart, a clean transportation technology nonprofit and director of the Hybrid Truck Users Forum. "A utility truck as a hybrid would reduce more petroleum than nine Priuses."

The article states: "Some 1,300 commercial hybrids on the toad today get up to twice the fuel efficiency of their conventional counterparts. But these traditional hybrids are inherently limited. They make more efficient use of petroleum-based fuel by capturing some of the energy lost during braking.

"Plug-in hybrids, on the other hand, draw energy from the grid. They can drive for miles - in many cases, an entire day's route - without using any fossil fuel at all. This shifts energy demand away from petroleum and toward grid-based sources."

This still leads to carbon usage, as many electrical plants are still coal burners, but last year 30 percent of electric power was supplied by nuclear and other zero-carbon renewables and with more and more responsible companies shifting their paradigm, this number is sure to grow.

Using plug-in hybrid technology for such vehicles just makes common sense in many ways.

"A cargo truck runs a short daily route that includes many stops to aid in regenerative braking. Most of the US Postal Service's 200,000-plus mail trucks, for example, travel fewer than 20 miles a day. In addition, fleet vehicles return nightly to storage lots that have ready access to the 120- or 240-volt outlets required to charge them."

The Department of Energy has recently launched a massive, $45.4 million project to put near ly 400 medium-duty plug-in hybrid trucks on the road in 50 municipalities and utilities. They are working with Ford using the auto-makers F-550 chassis. They will be running in 2011.

Start-up Bright Automotive is going even further, planning to replace 50,000 conventional trucks by 2014. Their prototype, called IDEA, travels 40 miles on battery power, then switches to a four-cylinder engine that manages an eco-friendly 40 mpg. The truck is streamlined and more aerodynamic than most on the road today and only weighs as much as a mid-sized sedan.

Even with the appeal of carbon savings, the vehicles offer a far more practical benefit. Once battery technology improves the price will make it almost idiotic to not have one.

It won't take long for the vehicles to become the economic choice.

As David Lauzman, Brights VP of product development projects, people will soon be saying, "I have to have them because it saves me money."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

WCI #6: Cement as a carbon sponge

From SciAm:

"Traditional cement production creates at least five percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, but new materials could create carbon-neutral cement. Start-up Novacem, supported by Imperial College London, uses magnesium oxide to make cement that naturally absorbs CO2 as it hardens. California-based Calera uses seawater to sequester carbon emissions from a nearby power plant in cement."

Monday, December 14, 2009

WCI #5: Wind power from the stratosphere

The fifth installment of new ideas from Scientific American:

"According to a Stanford University study released in July, the high-altitude winds that constantly blow tens of thousands of feet above the earth hold enough energy to supply all of human civilization 100 times over. California's Sky WindPower has proposed harvesting this energy by building fleets of airborne, ground-tethered windmills (below), while Italy's Kite Gen proposes to accomplish the same feat using kites."

One would hope they are taking flight plans into account.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Taiwan firm recycling newspapers into fashion.

Taiwanese fashion designer Colin Lin is environmentally conscious as well as fashionably forward-thinking.

NPR has the story here.

WCI #4: Save energy with information

From SciAm:

"Studies show that simply making customers aware of their energy use lowers it by 5 to 15 percent. Smart meters allow customers to track their energy consumption minute by minute and appliance by appliance. Countless start-ups are offering the devices, and Google and Microsoft are independently partnering with local utilities to allow individuals to monitor their power usage over the web."

Maybe a little anal, but every little bit helps, right?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Daily Show exposes skeptics' math

OK, so Gore's scientists tweaked some numbers.

A). They are not the only scientists researching the disastrous phenomenon.

B). Let's examine the math of the denialists:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Gretchen Carlson Dumbs Down
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

Oh, and Gretchen Carlson's hypocrisy and downright insulting disingenuousness.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

WCI #3: Hot Nukes

According to SciAm:

"Uranium and Plutonium ar not the only fuels that can power a nuclear reactor. With an initial kick from more traditional fissile materials, thorium can set up a self-sustaining "breeder" reaction that produces uranium 233, which is well suited to nuclear power generation. The process has the added benefit of being resistant to nuclear proliferation, because its end products emit enough gamma rays to make the fuel dangerous to handle and easy to track."

With Copenhagen and the EPA announcing the danger of CO2 and governments taking steps to reduce dirty power plants, nuclear power is the most tested and efficient way to produce energy without sending electric bills through the roof.

Until we perfect solar and all the other natural energy producing methods, that is. As safe as nuclear power has become, there's still room for mistakes. With more natural methods, the biggest disaster would be lack of power.

Friday, December 4, 2009

WCI #2: Affordable solar energy equipment

Yes, we all receive light and heat from the sun free of charge, but the cost of converting that energy into electricity that can run our televisions, computers and video game systems as well as charging all of our on-the-go devices has up to now been almost prohibitively expensive.

According to the Scientific American article "The No-Money-Down Solar Plan," "Installing a rooftop array of solar panels large enough to to produce all the energy required by a building is the equivalent of prepaying an electric bill for the next seven to 10 years - and that's after federal and state incentives."

Some companies have come up with a solution: provide the panels free of charge, then bill the customer for power as it is used. Even though the consumer still has a monthly fee, solar power would be cheaper by the kilowatt-hour than grid-provided electricity as well as offering a negligible carbon footprint.

As SolarCity co-founder Peter Rive puts it, " This is a way to get solar without putting any money down and to start saving money from day one. That's a first."

SolarCity is the largest installer of household solar panels to undertake the system. They lease the panels to customers but there is no charge for the power produced. The overall effect is a highly reduced monthly bill because when the sun isn't out, customers still need utility-provided electricity. The total of the monthly lease and power bill is lower than a pre-panel power bill alone.

Berkeley and Boulder have taken similar strides. Using municipal bonds, they give out loans to residents who want to buy and install solar panels and the city is paid back over the course of 20 years via the homeowners property tax bill. This, again, still winds up costing less than a traditional utility bill.

Using Berkeley as a model, 10 states have already adopted similar programs even though the example is only two years old. And with the Waxman-Markey climate bill passing, the option for cities to do so would become federal law.

Although to current cost of solar panels is still high, it is dropping and forecasters predict grid parity within the next decade (meaning creating enough solar panels to energize the same amount of homes and businesses would cost the same as systems still in place).

But with fossil fuels increasing 3 to 5 percent a year over the last decade and the cost of solar panels falling by 20 percent each time its insulation base doubles, it seems it's only a matter of time before even the most conservative of homeowners will see the advantage of solar.

If you can't make them care about the environment, hit them in the spot they most certainly do care about: their wallet.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

WCI #1: The Gasoline Garden

The next advance in biofuels will be plant life genetically engineered to produce hydrocarbons in addition to its normal function. Using only CO2 and sunlight, the plants will produce fuel, even gasoline. Exxon Mobil has announced that it will spend over $600 pursuing algae that can do just that.

In addition, according to the article, "Joule Biotechnologies claims to have already succeeded, although the company has yet to reveal any details of its proprietary system."

Though the whole climate change phenomenon has apparently been debunked (I'm not completely buying that just yet - the empirical evidence is still too prevalent) let's hope this gasoline will be used in engines designed to have lower emissions.

Whether global warming is a hoax or not, pollution is still pollution.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

From SciAm: 20 World-Changing ideas

A sizable chunk of the December issue of Scientific American is devoted to progressive concepts aimed at making the world a better place.

It includes new advances in energy, transportation, environment, electronics and medicine.

I will be counting them down for you all month long, you lucky ducks. All entries will be entitled WCIs (World-Changing Ideas) with a number.

But not right now 'cuz I'm exhausted and want sleep.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Power transformers, pt. 2: James D. McCalley, electrical and computer engineer, Iowa State University

The Concept: Energy systems analysis

While the energy industry is facing a crisis in the present, the future holds even more conundrums unless they are addressed now.

McCalley is working on computer models to "plan the mix of technologies, the means of distribution and the environmental impact of our energy supply 40 years out."

Meaning he is looking ahead to 2050 right now by researching "optimal energy flow patterns, indentifying infrastructure enhancements to realize the optimal performance and forecasting the influence of the market on energy supply and demand."

His equations include the good stuff: solar, wind, geothermal, nuclear and clean fossil fuels.

He may need to concentrate on the first four as the final one may literally go the way of the dodo by the end of the century. Maybe he should look more closely at biofuels but he idea is sound.

Maybe pre-efficiency will (it certainly should) become the new energy buzzword.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Power transformers, pt. 1: S. Massoud Amin, electrical and computer engineer, University of Minnesota

While the last half-dozen "power broker" entries have outlined our rethinking of the current energy paradigm, the next two spotlight technologies.

S. Massoud Amin's concept: Giving the grid an immune system.

This is a self-healing energy grid that isolates and restores problematic elements to normal routine with little or no human involvement.

It may include multiple energy sources linked by a network that identify malfunctions and relay information to automatic repair devices. This would ensure constant running with no inefficiency.

Problem: Fear of robotic control of resources.
Resolution: Human supervision.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Quick and easy solar-powered generator

Easy and rewarding.

Power brokers, pt. 6: Brooke Coleman, executive director, New Fuels Alliance

From Discover, if you haven't figured that out by now.

Brooke Coleman's "bright idea": let biofuels compete freely with petroleum on the open market.

Verbatim (again):

"Sometime people compare using advanced biofuels to the Internet boom. But no one had control of the Internet market before the Internet existed. The oil companies do have control of the liquid fuels market, however - so at the end of the day, what the biofuel folds are looking to do is to take market shate away from probably the most powerful industry in American, and arguably in the world. It's not an easy thing to do, and it's policy driven.

"So what do you need to do to solve the problem? You have to cut the knot by allowing these fuels to compete in the marketplace on a level playing field. Get flex-fuel vehicles on the roads that can run on any combination of biofuels. In the United States, people pretend it's really difficult. It's not. It's less expensive than putting a seat belt in a car, certainly less expensive than air bags, definitely less expensive than stereos and a leather interior. Comapnies have to attract investment, build plants, and produce gallons ahead of the market, in time for these mandates to kick in.

"Anybody who has lived in this country for the last 18 months knows that when petroleum prices go up and down, you have a variety of indirect carbon effects in the market. If we place controls on carbon in the future, we will have to score each fuel based on specific variables and assumptions that might make or break entire industries. We need to let renewable fuels out of the box so they can compete on a level carbon playing field. If you're going to carbon-score them and compare them on a relative basis, threat petroleum and biofuels alike."

That would show 'em.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bio-engineered plastics

Their neighbors to the north may be under the crushing grip of a megalomaniac with a severe personality disorder, but South Korea is kicking some serious scientific booty.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Tolkein fan builds Hobbit home in Wales

You gotta see this to believe it.

I wanna live here.

Power brokers, pt. 5: Daniel Nocera, chemist, MIT

Again, from Discover

Nocera's "bright idea": Split water to generate hydrogen energy - but do it in a cheap way.

Since he puts it so well himself, this is verbatim:

"Nature is the best solar fuel enerhy storage machine known, so let;s figure out how it works. Light comes in four photons, and then it hits the leaf, and it splits water into oxygen and hydrogen. A leaf makes twice as much hydrogen as it does oxygen, and then it stores the result as a solid fuel. So you've stored the sunlight in a fuel,and the energy is in the chemical bonds. Then you eat that fuel, and you get all the sunlight back out in a time-released way. So you are literally chewing the sun.

"Our lab at MIT invented a process that splits water and performs photosynthesis cheaply, outside the leaf. Lately we've found out we can use the Charles River as a water source. We can use waste streams as water sources. We can use the ocean as a water source. So you can generate hydrogen through artificial photosynthesis whenever you need it. I'm very interested in the nonlegacy world, especially Africa and India. Giving a little kid in Africa 500 watts of energy will change his life. And that's not much energy.

Al Gore has been walking around saying: "Just use the technologies. They're on the shelf. Take them off." But he's gone a bit over the deep end. Yes, we do have the technologies. I have photovoltaics. I can store hydrogen in a fuel cell and get all the energy out. I can build any number of systems for you right now, but guess what? They're too expensive. The reason you need scientists like me to discover my little cobalt phosphate catalyst - the material that can drive photosynthesis outside the leaf and in the lab - is because I'm going to do it cheaply.

"To take care of the average house in a day, you need 20 kilowatt-hours of electricity, which is equivalent to only 5.5 liters of water. To drive that point home, I'm holding the amount of water in my hands that you need to power a very big house on the California coast. That amount of water takes care of that house as well as powering a fuel cell car around town. So that's the future. There's no way to stop it. Nature already did this 2-billion-year experiment and decided on this process, and it's coming soon."

There ya go!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Power brokers, pt. 4: Vivian Loftness, Carnegie Mellon architect

Still from Discover.

Slap an "i" between the two syllables of her last name, and her surname would be synonymous with arrogance and possible hubris, but what Vivian Loftness proposes is more aptly called idealistic - even Utopian perhaps - but infinitely doable and realistic.

Her "bright idea": Use natural light, better airflow and smart design to make buildings more efficient.

It worked for the Mycanaean's. In the 1000s BC, the proto-Greek civilization had developed a form of air conditioning uses nothing more than a crafty series of vents and air holes. Most builders forgot this in the last few hundred years, making AC a must-have, especially in the warmer climes. But universities and colleges and even the House and Senate Buildings in DC were originally designed to let nature provide cooling breezes.

And for lighting in workspaces: the sun, duh. Most work, especially in offices occurs during daylight hours. Using larger ventilating windows would cut down on both the need for an artificial climate and unnatural, soul-killing fluorescent lighting.

Close the ventilation for sun-provided warmth in the winter.

Worker morale would increase as well - studies show that natural lighting is more soothing to the psyche. Plant trees around work spots for shade.

Instead of sending waste heat from furnaces out a chimney, re-route it and use it to provide warmth, cutting back on the amount of heat that needs to be generated. It is self-sustaining and relies on nature.

As she puts it: "If you use daylight as your dominant source of lighting, your work environments are so much more beautiful."

It worked for the ancient Greeks. Now, if we just started exercising a little more, maybe we could run around in the same state of undress without inducing nausea in those around to witness it.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Power brokers, pt. 3: George Huber, chemical engineer at UMass Amherst

From the December issue of Discover magazine.

Huber's "bright idea": Produce ethanol or other renewable fuels from biomass we do not use for food.

This has been addressed in A Cooler world previously. Grassoline is one such fuel, onion skins another. Non-edible plants are known as cellulosic biomass and include wood chips and agricultural waste, all of which can be converted to fuel.

First you break it down to liquid or gas form. Then add catalysts to convert it into a compound. From this basic compound of biomass one can produce gasoline, diesel, even jet fuel.

People could be at the pump and not even know that they are pumping a plant product in their tank; it can be used interchangeably meaning that radical engineering changes in automobile manufacturing won't be necessary.

And it can happen in five to 15 years.

Another bonus: lower to zero admissions when compared to fossil fuels.

Woo hoo!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Power brokers, pt. 2: Ralph Masiello, innovation director at KEMA (

From the December 2009 issue of Discover magazine.

KEMA - A global, leading authority in energy consulting and testing & certification.

Ralph Masiello's "bright idea": Store renewable energy so we can use it when we need it.

One of the main problems with the electrical infrastructure is that there is really no way to store electrical power - "every time somebody in the house turned the light on or off, ultimately the source of electricity - the generation plant - had to wiggle up or down."

But we have finally reached the point that we can put storage on the grid, handling fluctuations and the imbalance between demand and supply.

Right now, plants have to pay someone to send excess energy to, sometimes dropping the price of electricity to -$20/megawatt hour, an expenditure that is passed on to the consumer.

However, batteries are too limited, and Masiello suggests figuring it out as a fuel problem. He calls for a smart grid that only releases energy when asked for, storing it otherwise.

There are some legal and industrial hurdles, but in the long run, it would mean cheaper electricity, and power generated by wind and solar, not coal.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Power brokers, pt. 1: Lowell Ungar, senior policy analyst, Alliance to Save Energy

The December issue of Discover Magazine contains an article called "Power Brokers." In it, "Eight leading thinkers offer visions of how to make our energy supply cleaner, more efficient and more abundant.

Lowell Ungar of the Alliance to Save Energy suggests treating efficiency like a fuel and make it the cornerstone of US energy policy.

He states there are dozens of simple things everyone can do, from merely knowing which lightbulb is the best to use or if a ground source heat pump would work where you live. Is your home adequately insulated, saving energy that could be lost through leakage?

Write your congressman. Let them know you support energy-efficiency policies such as carbon cap legislation. Encourage local builders to use natural lighting and cooling.

Try to buy a more energy efficient home. Some of the foreclosure problems in the country sprang from utility bills - there is good evidence that such bills are the second-leading cause of foreclosures.

Protect your pocketbook while you protect the planet and go Green.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Green Scenics

From Eva Radke of Film Biz Recycling, an organization that reuses set pieces, costumes and everything else in new productions, sells to collectors or gives to charity rather than needlessly using landfills for things that are often near new.

"I just caught up with Marshall Carbee - he has developed some amazing techniques and products - check out his soy gesso and low VOC paints.....made for scenics by a scenic.

Go here to see the products

And here to see his beautiful low-impact art

Here's how he paints these days in his studio in New Hampshire.

1. Wood stretcher bars for stretching the canvas are milled locally with locally grown wood.Our NH forests were cut down 100 years ago, local wood is sustainable.

I have stopped using stretchers for all the Flatbread type paintings.

2. I am using wood scraps from a local lumber yard for small painting panels. There are also composite wood panels that are green. (not made with formaldehyde!)

3. Canvas? I'm using an 18.5 oz. 100% hemp canvas and a certified organic cotton/hemp blend that is 12.5oz.

4. Acrylic or oil based gesso? I've replaced gesso with a soy based product.

5. Commercial paint? Now I make my own paints with low impact earth pigments. No cadmiums, flake white, or other toxic pigments or additives. No petroleum products. Earth pigments rock!

6. Binders? Now using cold-pressed linseed oil, organic linseed oil, walnut oil and a little beeswax.
7. Mineral spirits, turpentine? Don't use them anymore, using an eco-friendly citrus oil thinner with food grade terpenes.

8. No Frames (Unless you want them!) Now, we hang the paintings like banner she studio like we do at all the Flatbreads on harvested saplings, driftwood, or train stricken saplings from behind the studio. Charles is our a framer right here in the factory. Charles is the best framer around and he's right downstairs!

9. Hanging wire Don't use wire anymore, we use hemp chord now.

10. Carbon Footprint? I'm paying down our carbon footprint at Native Energy. Our goal is to get an accurate measurement of the studio footprint and neutralize it with investment in wind energy.

11. I'm making these paintings to help connect us to nature through natural color, nature images, organic forms, patterns and textures.

12. My 100% cotton rags (I use a lot of rags) are refuse from a local custom dying facility. The rags are given to me, they are the company's reject color tests.

And there you go...way to go Marshall - what an inspiration."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cap-and-trade finds a Republican ally

Yes, you read that right. Lindsey Graham of S. Carolina has co-written a bill with John Kerry supporting cap-and-trade and increased nuclear energy.

Story here.

The bill is neutered by some Democrats' standards, but it's a start.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The EPA finds it cojones

According to the Associated Press:

"The Environmental Protection Agency said Friday it planned to use its authority for the first time to revoke a previously issued permit for a West Virginia surface mine.

"Acting EPA Regional Administrator William Early said in a letter sent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Huntington district that the agency is 'taking this unusual step in response to our very serious concerns' that the project could violate the Clean Water Act."

It's about time the government stepped in to ensure the safety of its own citizens. While conservatives may scream that it overstepped its bounds by doing so (as they are moaning about the Healthcare Reform plan), an integral part of this country's makeup is the guarantee of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Having toxin free water is an essential part of this. Now, if we could just convince Senate Republicans that health care is as well.

Thank you, Early. Better late than never.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Local Action Challenge - do it in your city!

This is just a quick note introducing the Local Action Challenge, a local contest that encourages people in Houston, TX to think global, act localand win prizes doing it!

SustainLane is heading up the Local Action Challenge in partnership with Hopenhagen, an international movement to drive action on climate change at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) in Copenhagen this December.

Cities across the country – like Houston, TX – have sent in their top-ten lists of actions they’d like residents to take in order to combat climate change and otherwise care for the planet right in their own communities.

Residents who take their cities’ challenge, complete tasks on the list and upload photos of themselves doing so. They are then entered into weekly drawings to win prizes donated by green business sponsors.

Here’s how to play:

  1. Go to
  2. Choose your city.
  3. Choose a challenge.
  4. Take a photo of yourself in action.
  5. Upload it.
  6. Win a prize.
  7. Repeat.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

"Sustainable" computer cases

I'm lazy and my sinuses are pounding. Story here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Thomas Friedman and the U.S. solar Industry

In today's New York Times, Thomas Friedman spotlights American company Applied Materials and laments the country's lack of support.

Because of AM's nanotech research, CEO Mike Splinter decided to explore solar energy potentials. The result: building machines that build solar panels.

Now Applied Materials has 14 such plants.

None of them are in the U.S.

Because the U.S. does nothing to support the industry. Germany does, making solar second only to auto manufacturing in that country.

This is because the U.S. only subsidizes oil, coal and nuclear, i.e. the industries that do the most lobbying.

Even assuming that global warming is not real (and I don't), aside from nuclear, those resources are dirty and finite and "The world is on track to add another 2.5 billion people by 2050, and many will be aspiring to live high-energy lifestyles. In such a world, renewable energy - where the variable cost of your fuel, sun or wind, is zero - will be in huge demand."

Is everyone waiting for 2012 when the world supposedly ends?

Come on, people now!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Denialists "smear campaign" leads Obama advisor to resign

I'm too irritated to write anything on this.

I'll let Democracy Now tell the story.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

In our backyard

The unfortunate plight of our amphibian friends hits closer to home. The Barton Springs salamander, found only guess where is facing extinction as the oxygen levels in the water drop to to lack of rain.

Story here.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Yup, it's humans

According to the article "Arctic Warming Overtakes 2,000 Years of Natural Cooling," humans are indeed responsible for the current watery state of the Arctic.

The final paragraph states:

"'If it hadn't been for the increase in human-produced greenhouse gases, summer temperatures in the Arctic should have cooled gradually over the last century,' says Bette Otto-Bliesner, an NCAR scientist who participated in the study."

Read the full article here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Valero, whoa-oh-oh-oh! (an open letter)

The Valero oil company is actively campaigning against the cap-and-trade bill, threatening customers with rising prices using signs at their gas stations.

Dearest sweetiekins Valero,

Yes, it is true that gas prices are most likely going to rise slightly due to the bill, but come on Valero, the scare tactics are simply your way of avoiding responsibility.

I love you, but why not encourage your customers to drive more fuel efficient, less carbon emitting vehicles?

I don't want to ruffle your feathers, but why not make your own plants less polluting and more efficient so your own emissions won't cost you the projected $6 billion a year your current output indicates?

The money you'll spend on overhauling your own plants will cut back on the money you spend for carbon allowances and pay for itself in less than a decade, dear.

Ok, now I'm angry and please excuse me, but NOOOOOOO, you'd rather plaster signs (which are probably not made of recyclable cardboard and will probably end up in a landfill) all over your gas stations, filling consumers with misinformed hate.

Do you think they've read the bill? Have you?

When you break something as badly as you've broken the atmosphere, it ain't cheap to fix, honey.

Do your part, Valero instead of just complaining.

With all love and respect,

Mother Nature

Monday, August 31, 2009

Old news but sad news

According to the Care2 website:

"In the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve of Costa Rica, there were so many harlequin frogs that it was hard not to step on them when walking alongside streams. But today, they have vanished.

"About two-thirds of harlequin frogs disappeared in the 1980's and 1990's -- the culprit? Climate change. Research done in Costa Rica shows that global warming makes clouds form higher above the forests where they cannot bring as much moisture to the ecosystems below. Dry spells are getting longer and in turn, many species are disappearing.

"Rising temperatures also shrink the cloud forests, which forces species to live more densely, causing the spread of disease and a fungus that kills some frogs. The harlequin frog is on its way to extinction."

Unfortunately, little Harley isn't alone.

A January 2006 Washington Post article says t
hat 112 species of amphibians are extinct or endangered by climate change.

What does this have to do with our daily lives? Perhaps nothing but it is a harbinger of change that will soon affect all living creatures if things are not done to halt human emissions.

And not to wax too religious, these creatures are prime examples of God's splendor. No human created the magnificent beauty of these semi-aquatic animals. That was nature itself and I would hate to see something as beautiful as a blue dart frog cease to exist for the sake of our own convenience.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Houston petroleum plant sued for emissions

The Sierra Club and Environment Texas are taking the Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. to federal court in order to force it to reduce harmful emissions at its Cedar Bayou chemical plant in Baytown, according to the Houston Chronicle.

It's not unprecedented. In 2003, the groups sued Shell Oil and its Deerpark refinery and petrochemical complex. The company agreed to reduce emissions and paid $6 million for past violations of the Clean Air Act.

A spokesman for Chevron Phillips said that "the company is committed to complying with laws and has reduced emissions."

The violations primarily arise from events called "upsets." Upsets occur "during startup and shutdown, equipment malfunctions, unscheduled maintenance and other unforeseen events." According to the environmental groups, this has occurred hundreds of times over the last six years.

The groups say most of these upsets are preventable if measures are taken and proper technology is installed.

To be fair, this is probably not entirely true.

Situated on the Gulf Coast, the plant has often fallen victim to damage and power outages caused by hurricanes and other phenomena that are beyond the company's capability to control.

Part of the problem, says a representative of Environment Texas, is that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is not doing enough. They want the state to take a harder line.

The TCEQ has fined the company $250,000 since 2003.

The plaintiffs want to see them further penalized and forced to upgrade.

Unfortunately, tying up the courts seems to be the only way to address the issue, especially since Governor Rick Perry, in his infinite and greedy wisdom, has given the leadership of the TCEQ to Bryan W. Shaw, an industry stoolie who doubts the human contribution to climate change.

Gotta keep the oil lobbyists happy, right Goodhair?

Federal courts, however, are less easily bought and will probably fine Chevron Phillips, hopefully reducing the emission-causing upsets.

This is disgusting on so many levels

Nieman-Marcus apparently has ocelot fur-trimmed boots.

This is not only reprehensible; it is illegal - the ocelot is an endangered species.

As the blog says, "Not a good or likely choice for Dallas-based luxury retailer Neiman Marcus."

Well, according to N-M, it's ocelot-printed goat fur but an investigation is still underway.

Still, how disgusting can you get?

To go from this:

To this:Not only would it be against international law and the Endangered Species Act, it is definitely in violation of taste.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Houston workers rallying against climate change legislation

Today, thousands of workers in the energy industry are gathering at the Verizon Wireless Theater downtown at 12:30.

Story here.

These are not necessarily denialists; the organizers believe that the proposed emissions trading bill will negatively affect the economy by eliminating jobs in the fossil fuel industry. They are not, however, taking into account jobs that will be created by ramping up research and development in alternative energy fields.

Granted, the money required to do so is somewhat daunting, but once it is there, jobs will abound.

They also want to see nuclear pushed harder. I agree.

Another argument is that CO2 emissions won't be affected because developing countries are contributing far more to the output and any cutbacks the US makes will be negligible.

Well then, why not make it a cool, hip, American thing to be green? Asians delight in Coco-Cola, Levi's, McDonald's and whatever other ridiculous pop (and often unhealthy) fad we as Americans come up with, so why not set an example in the environmental category as well?

Europeans are kicking our butt in alternative energy but they also enjoy our fast food chains.

Between the EU and the US, leading by example may be the best way to get countries like India and China to literally clean up their acts.

What have we got to lose but industrial stagnation and dirty air?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Please sign these petitions

The right wing is working to support dirty, antiquated energy policies. Among them are Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh who have joined forces with ExxonMobil and other obstructionists to fight meaningful climate warming legislation.

Urge your Senators to resist the obstructionists and pass a strong global warming bill.

The U.S. House has already done its part and passed a bill that would set a legal limit on America's global warming pollution. Now it's the Senate's turn.

But the right wing has millions in dirty money, and with America's clean energy future at stake, we need your help.

Don't let Palin and Limbaugh bring back the "Drill-Baby-Drill" mantra. Send a letter to your Senators urging them to support the strongest possible global warming bill.

Thanks for taking action!

The link above shows many listings for climate petitions sign one or all of them, PLEASE! You may need to register first, and you will be informed of many important progressive petitions and news stories. It is not spam!

Company information below:, Inc.
275 Shoreline Drive, Suite 300
Redwood City, CA 94065

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Ocean temperatures hit record high.

From the Environmental News Network:

Surprise, Sea Temperatures in July Hottest on Record!

The Earth's oceans were the warmest ever this July, according to a study released by the National

Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration yesterday.

The planet's ocean surface temperature was the warmest on record for July, breaking the previous high mark established in 1998 according to an analysis by NOAA's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. The combined average global land and ocean surface temperature for July 2009 ranked fifth-warmest since world-wide records began in 1880.

Interesting statistics from the NOAA analysis:

  • The combined global land and ocean surface temperature for July 2009 was the fifth warmest on record, at 1.03 degrees F (0.57 degree C) above the 20th century average of 60.4 degrees F (15.8 degrees C).
  • The global ocean surface temperature for July 2009 was the warmest on record, 1.06 degrees F (0.59 degree C) above the 20th century average of 61.5 degrees F (16.4 degrees C). This broke the previous July record set in 1998. The July ocean surface temperature departure of 1.06 degrees F from the long-term average equals last month's value, which was also a record.
  • The global land surface temperature for July 2009 was 0.92 degree F (0.51 degree C) above the 20th century average of 57.8 degrees F (14.3 degree C), and tied with 2003 as the ninth-warmest July on record.
  • El NiƱo persisted across the equatorial Pacific Ocean during July 2009. Related sea-surface temperature (SST) anomalies increased for the sixth consecutive month.
  • Large portions of many continents had substantially warmer-than-average temperatures during July 2009. The greatest departures from the long-term average were evident in Europe, northern Africa, and much of western North America. Broadly, across these regions, temperatures were about 4-7 degrees F (2-4 degrees C) above average.
  • Cooler-than-average conditions prevailed across southern South America, central Canada, the eastern United States, and parts of western and eastern Asia. The most notably cool conditions occurred across the eastern U.S., central Canada, and southern South America where region-wide temperatures were nearly 4-7 degrees F (2-4 degrees C) below average.
  • Arctic sea ice covered an average of 3.4 million square miles during July. This is 12.7 percent below the 1979-2000 average extent and the third lowest July sea ice extent on record, behind 2007 and 2006. Antarctic sea ice extent in July was 1.5 percent above the 1979-2000 average. July Arctic sea ice extent has decreased by 6.1 percent per decade since 1979, while July Antarctic sea ice extent has increased by 0.8 percent per decade over the same period.

For more information

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Australia 86s climate bill

In an unsurprising move, Australian parliament has rejected a bill that has been called "the world's most ambitious emissions trade regime," according to a Reuters story.

"This bill may be going down today, but this is not the end," Climate Change Minister Penny Wong told the Senate.

The Green Party wanted tougher emission standards while the conservatives felt that any action should be delayed until after the Copenhagen Climate Conference in December, which expected to amend the Kyoto Protocol.

The culprit causing the dissension is a program similar to the proposed US cap-and-trade system, wherein pollution producing companies are forces to buy carbon permits which they can sell if they switch to cleaner energy sources.

Australia's is the world's largest coal exporter and 80 of its electricity is generated from coal. The emissions standards could wreak havoc with their economy.

From an environmental standpoint, however, Australia has much to gain from lower emission standards.

"Scientists say Australia, the world's driest continent and prone to drought, faces a rapid rate of climate warming."

But the current bill could possibly see up to 20 percent of their power plants shutting down.

Unless they find something else to produce electricity aside from coal.

The infrastructure conundrum again rears its ugly head, but the planet's health and future relies on planning, cut backs and more green initiatives.

Here's to hoping the Copenhagen conference will settle some disputes and gives countries like Australia viable options.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Green jobs floundering, will recovery help?

Speculation is that hiring in the alternative energy industry will increase in the next 12 months but probably won't become a bigger part of the US job market. This is according to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis in an Associated Press story from the second National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas.

What is lacking is investment, which supporters hope to see increase over the next year. This will only happen, however, if people get back to work and pique interest in expanding. Sound like a Catch-22? Solis hopes not.

"There'll be more, hopefully, credit available for this expansion because there will be more confidence because that's what we're lacking right now - that investment and confidence in the market."

That's a big "hopefully."

Former veep Al Gore put in his two cents (of course) by saying: "The economic crisis, the security crisis and the climate crisis are all intertwined, and the common thread running through them is our absurd and dangerous overdependence on carbon-based fuels."

I have no problem with, nay I very much enjoyed and agree with An Inconvenient Truth, but such rhetoric is doing more to alienate potential supporters than it is winning them over.

But despite the above statement, venture capitalists increased investments by 73 percent in the last three months over the previous three (see the KBR blog below) according to Ernst & Young. However, this is far below investments from just a year ago.

Before government initiatives were announced last year, investments were at a record high. That was well before the recession's full impact was felt.

The big downside has been the loss of jobs in wind, solar and other alternative energy companies. Projects were scuttled when credit markets froze and venture capital dried up.

Investments have been slow in coming as those with money conduct research to make the "wisest possible investments."

Union leaders are calling for large federal public works projects due to the fact that commercial and new housing projects are virtually non-existent.

Time will tell, but with the economy in dire need of stimulation and increasing proof of human involvement in global warming, such projects are beyond needed.

That said, give me a job!

Monday, August 10, 2009

KBR researching biofuel manufacturing

Yes, the same KBR surrounded by controversy while providing logistical support to the US military in the Middle East is looking to make biofuel production economically feasible, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Because KBR is headquartered in Houston, one of the centers of the international oil and gas industry, it has the infrastructure in place to scale up biofuel production; one of the problems is that biofuel manufacturing works in the lab but mass production is hampered by lack of funds, technology and space.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 calls for the supply of renewable fuels to grow to 36 billion gallons by 2022.

KBR is backing the construction of a 27 million gallon per year plant in Iowa and is providing engineering support to five more cellulosic ethanol plants.

Exxon and other oil companies already exploring the possibilities of biofuel. Maybe soon, the bloodshed and backstabbing over foreign countries' oil will begin in the American cornbelt. That's actually just sci-fi speculation, but human nature is what it is.

At least the corporate assassins will be doing it over less polluting power sources.

Pond scum gets a good rap

That's right, algae looks to be the new corn when it comes to ethanol production. Recently, it has become apparent that corn is not actually necessary for the production of ethanol - virtually any plant matter will do and now Dow Chemical and Florida's Algenol Biofuels see algae and the Texas Gulf Coast as the prime source and place of new developments, as the Houston Chronicle reported Sunday.

Dow's huge Freeport complex will be the center for this new experiment. The idea is to set up long clear plastic tubes filled with salt water and algae across the flatlands of south Texas and then pump CO2 from refineries and chemical plants in the area through the tubes. The yield: ethanol.

This would promote both ethanol and biofuel production, a much cleaner source of fuel than petroleum and is just as versatile (it can even be used in plastics) as well as capturing and using CO2 in a sustainable way.

By making waste CO2 the carbon component in the production process, it cuts down on emissions. The CO2 output from biofuels is a fraction of that from petroleum.

Let's hope the experiment works.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Twitterers, support A Cooler World

Now you can get your own A Cooler World twibbon!

It's free minus the time spent on Twitter.

Copper Indium Gallium Selenide - not just for solar cells anymore

The heat conversion properties of Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS for short) have long been one of the primary elements of photovoltaic cells.

But according to Discover magazine, the alloy is being put to different uses. They can also be used for, say, converting the heat from factories into the electricity used to run the factories. This doesn't mean that said factories will suddenly become the industrial equivalent of a perpetual motion machine, but it could cut down on outside fuel costs and reduce dependence on ubiquitous and dirty coal-powered electrical plants.

Research is also going into vehicles. CIGS can be used to convert heat from car engines into the electricity needed for radio, AC and other non-locomotive functions of a vehicle, seriously reducing the draw on batteries and saving consumers money and the hassle of needing a jump if the heat-generated power can be stored efficiently.

It isn't quite comic book science fiction Halo technology, but it's step toward fuel efficiency and keeping dirty car batteries out of landfills.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Bad news

Even if we make massive changes now, the damage to out ecosystem may be irreversible, according to a team of US, Swiss and French researchers.

It has already been established that CO2 stays in the atmosphere longer after it is emitted. (For example, emissions from an Edison experiment in the 1880s are still present in the atmosphere.)

"'Current choices regarding carbon dioxide emissions will have legacies that will irreversibly change the planet,' said the report's lead author, Susan Solomon, from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration."

But this doesn't mean that we have gone past the point of no return.

The effect is more like nuclear waste than acid rain, meaning it won't go away but it is manageable.

In other words, the bottom line is that we have to reduce our carbon output or face conditions similar to the 1930s Dust Bowl. Permanently.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Sorting out soot

Common soot from things such as cooking fires is one of the main culprits of climate change. Fortunately, it is also very easily combated.

In the September issue of Discover magazine, the subject of soot is dissected by Peter Fairley.

You see, CO2 is not the only bad guy when it come to ice loss. Common soot, aka black carbon is doing its fair share of damage. It comes from engines, power plants and forest/field clearing as well as the aforementioned open cookstoves of developing countries.

Unlike light-colored sulfates produced by combustion that reflect sunlight and therefore help cool somewhat, soot is is black, settles and absorbs sunlight, heating it and melting any ice it is resting upon.

(Here's where I say to the denialists: "Now tell me humans have nothing to do with rising temperatures and the shrinking of our planet's ice shields." Read on.)

Although sulfates do lend themselves to cooling, measures enacted in the 1970s to combat acid rain have minimized this effect. Worse, when soot and sulfates combine in the atmosphere, they absorb sunlight and enhance the warming effect.

Soot primarily affects the northern hemisphere; the ramifications in Antarctica are negligible because there are almost no major population centers anywhere near it (ahem, denialists?)

It is a different story in the Arctic, however. As the ice cap shrinks, more ships can sail through the waters, adding more soot and shrinking the ice cap further in a positive feedback loop (nothing positive about that). The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts that the Arctic could contain year-round shipping lanes by 2030.

"Then again," according to the article, "by 2030 soot emissions may largely be a thing of the past. Capturing soot is a lot easier than controlling carbon dioxide."

Automakers are even now phasing in "baghouse filters" that act as particle traps, cutting tailpipe emissions from diesel engines.

The positive (this time for real) impact on climate would practically occur overnight because soot has a short life span. CO2, apparently, stays in the atmosphere for quite some time. The article states that the "tiny amount of CO2 relaeased when Thomas Edison cranked up his pathbreaking Pearl Street generator in Manhattan is still circulating 127 years later (yipes! and another reason to refute Edison's so-called "genius.")

And the EPA has already stated in May that "'Eliminating black carbon can immediately slow down the loss of Arctic ice.'"

Hillary Clinton, NASA's James Hansen (the New Yorker's "catastrophist") and Al Gore have all called for immediate action against black soot and Congress is considering legislation aimed at reducing it.

This is good, VERY GOOD, news.

Or, to put it in the words of Fairley:

"In the war on climate change, tackling black carbon may be a relatively simple and powerful fix."

And hopefully one that will be free of the usual political wrangling.

I've been a lazy, lazy boy

Ok, so I haven't been putting hardly any of my own personality into these lately, just posting links and copying and pasting stories. No more, my friends no more! Back to condensing articles with my own voice as the God of Blogs intended.

Back in a few.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The 2009 Millenium Report

A rundown courtesy of ENN:

Millennium Project Report Issued on the Future of the World

A major report issued by the United Nations Millenium Project has just been released. It finds that half the world appears vulnerable to social instability and violence due to increasing and potentially prolonged unemployment from the recession as well as several longer-term issues: decreasing water, food, and energy supplies

per person; the cumulative effects of climate change; and increasing migrations due to political, environmental, and economic conditions. It also finds some good in the global financial crisis, which may be helping humanity to move from its often selfish, self-centered adolescence to a more globally responsible adulthood.

After 13 years of the Millennium Project’s global futures research, it is increasingly clear that the world has the resources to address its challenges. Coherence and direction has been lacking. But recent meetings of the U.S. and China, as well as of NATO and Russia, and the birth of the G-20 plus the continued work of the G-8 promise to improve global strategic collaboration. It remains to be seen if this spirit of cooperation can continue and if decisions will be made on the scale necessary to really address the global challenges discussed in this report.

Major Findings include:

  • The vast majority of the world is living in peace, conflicts actually decreased over the past decade, cross-cultural dialogues are flourishing, and intra-state conflicts are increasingly being settled by international interventions.
  • The world is beginning to wake up to the enormity of the threat of transnational organized crime.
  • Freedom House’s 2009 survey found that democracy and freedom have declined for the third year in a row, and press freedoms declined for the seventh year in a row. It estimates that only 17% of the world’s population lives in 70 countries with a free press, while 42% lives in 64 countries that have no free press.

  • Although government and business leaders are beginning to respond more seriously to the global environmental situation, it continues to get worse. Each day, the oceans absorb 30 million tons of CO2, increasing their acidity. The number of dead zones—areas with too little oxygen to support life—has doubled every decade since the 1960s. The oceans are warming about 50% faster than the IPCC reported in 2007. The amount of ice flowing out of Greenland during the summer of 2008 was nearly three times more than that lost during the previous year. Arctic summer ice could be gone by 2030, as could many of the major Himalayan, European, and Andean glaciers. Over 36 million hectares of primary forest are lost every year. Human consumption is 30% larger than nature’s capacity to regenerate, and demand on the planet has more than doubled over the past 45 years. This growth continues as, for example, more cars are expected to be produced in China in 2009 than in the U.S. or Japan.
  • World energy demand could nearly double by 2030, with China and India accounting for over half of the increase. China uses more coal than the U.S., EU, and Japan combined, but it now has a policy to close an old coal plant for each new cleaner burning plant that turns coal into a gas before burning it. Without major policy and technological changes, fossil fuels will meet 80% of primary energy demand by 2030. If so, then large-scale carbon capture, storage, and/or reuse should become a top priority to reduce global climate change.
  • In March 2009 an asteroid missed Earth by 77,000 kilometers, 80% closer to the planet than our moon is. If it had hit Earth, it would have wiped out all life on 800 square kilometers. No one knew it was coming. The time between its discovery and close approach was very short.
  • Nearly 25% of humanity is connected to the Internet. There are more people using the Internet in China than the total population of the U.S. Mobile phones are becoming handheld computers. Humanity, the built environment, and ubiquitous computing seem destined to become so interconnected that collective intelligences with “just-in-time knowledge”� will emerge for improving civilization. With an increasingly educated world and the majority of humanity connected to the Internet over the next 20 years, new forms of political power may emerge, growing beyond the control of traditional hierarchical structures.
  • The world’s population is 6.8 billion. It is expected to grow to 9.2 billion by 2050, but it could shrink by 2100, creating a world with many elderly people. Nearly all the population increases will be in developing countries; hence, today’s first world will be tomorrow’s elderly world.
  • Infectious diseases are the second leading cause of death worldwide. About half the people in the world are at risk of several endemic diseases. More than 42 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, and 74% of these infected people live in sub-Saharan Africa. For the first time in 40 years, WHO declared a pandemic: the H1N1 influenza (swine flu) rapidly infected 60,000 people in nearly half the countries of the world, resulting in 263 deaths between April and June 2009.

The Millennium Project also explored future possible outcomes using its Real-Time Delphi online software. The RTD is a relatively new and efficient method for collecting and synthesizing expert opinions. According to the report, the value of futures research is less in forecasting accuracy than in focusing attention, planning, and opening minds to consider new possibilities and in changing the policy agenda. The goal is not to know the future precisely (how could that be possible?) but to understand a range of possibilities that lead to better decisions.

For More on this important report: