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Saturday, July 4, 2015

Study: Green space around schools may boost students' mental abilities

This is one of those common sense, "oh course" moments when we realize that green space inspires all mankind, including, obviously, students.

Think about schools as either concrete jungles, with no open, green space, versus mixed use with a true connection to trees, grass, open sky...not unlike any community that aspires to balance and quality-of-life.  Children deserve the same natural environment we all crave.  Creating an oasis, even a small one, around an educational center nurtures a mecca of academic and natural learning, and creates platforms for exercise, breathing cleaner air, lots of urban gardening, practice efficiency of water and space use....

Combine this with utilizing some of the school's old buildings for solar arrays and clean power, rooftop vegetation, hydroponics, and creating better environments within the remaining structures to remediate out toxins  gives schools a whole new look, feel and ability to be a center for excellence.  

Study: Green space around schools may boost students' mental abilities


Children play on an athletic field below as Wade McGillis, professor of Earth and Environmental Engineering at Columbia University, checks on a rooftop carbon dioxide monitor at an elementary school in the Harlem neighborhood of New York. 

NEW YORK  — Putting more green space around an elementary school may help students develop some mental abilities, a study suggests.

Researchers tested students repeatedly over the course of a year on attentiveness and working memory, which is the ability to keep something in mind temporarily for performing a task. Overall, students whose schools were surrounded by more green space improved more than pupils from schools with less green space.

The study tracked more than 2,000 students in 36 primary schools in Barcelona, Spain. The pupils were in the second to fourth grades when the study began.

Green space may help mental development in part by reducing air pollution from vehicles, according to an analysis by the researchers that included pollution data from the schools.

It may also help by reducing noise and encouraging physical activity, researchers said in a paper released Monday by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Policy makers should know that “more green around the school is better for cognitive development and that they should make sure that kids can see and play in green areas,” one author, Mark Nieuwenhuijsen of the Center for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona, said in an email.

Existing urban schools should think about replacing concrete or other hard surfaces with green space, he suggested, and “even a few trees may help.”

The researchers used satellite images to group schools according to how much green space appeared on the school grounds and within about 55 yards of the school property. Their analysis indicated that differences in socio-economic factors between schools did not account for the study outcome.

Sally Augustin, a psychologist in La Grange Park, Illinois, who uses research on how people react to their surroundings to consult on design of buildings, products and services, said the results made sense to her.

Augustin, who did not participate in the new study, said the results fit with previous findings that views of nature help children and adults lower stress and perform mental tasks better.

Manhattan's Solar Powered Underground Park

The old become new under the innovation of building a new economy.  Better to reuse, of course, than build new.  Here's an interesting example of reclaiming an existing underground "city" and harnessing power, perhaps storing it for future access by New York's grid?

The possibilities become very intriguing.  We are excited by all future prospects around clean development.

There’s another city of sorts beneath New York – underground. By harnessing the power of the sun using some clever technology, the world’s first underground park may spring up below the city’s streets.

Opened in 1908, the Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal below Delancey Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan was abandoned 40 years later. Even though it has been neglected for so long, it is still structurally sound.

The Lowline project aims to reclaim this unused space for public good, in the form of a park.

But in order for plants to survive, they need sunlight. The Lowline team have been tinkering with a system to reflect sunlight from a distributor dish underground and in 2012 built a full scale prototype of the technology in an abandoned warehouse in the Lower East Side.

The concept involves a series of reflective parabolic dishes set on a trackers collecting the sunlight, which is transmitted through a fiber-optic cable to a dome that reflects and distributes the channeled sunlight onto the area below.

The team believes the system has the potential to reflect so much light that many different plant species will be able to survive and  a botanical garden right in the middle of New York City can be created.

The next stage of the project will see the installation of three solar collection systems on the roof of an abandoned former warehouse space. These will be connected to a tube-based distribution system and a 12 metre wide canopy inside the building.

This research will be critical to our understanding of how much light can be gathered and filtered into the actual Lowline,” says the Lowline team. “And since we’ll conduct tests for six months, from September 2015- February 2016, we’ll see how this technology works in the fall and the winter.”

To build the “Lowline Lab”, USD$200,000 is required and a KickStarter crowdfunding project has been set up to raise the cash. At the time of writing, nearly $93,000 had been raised from more than a thousand backers, with 15 days to go in the campaign.

We envision not merely a new public space, but an innovative display of how technology can transform our cities in the 21st century. And along the way, we intend to draw the community into the design process itself, empowering a new generation of Lower East Siders to help build a new bright spot in our dense urban environment.
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Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Closer Look at Fossil and Renewable Energy Subsidies

Yesterday, live on the our flagship station, we had a great discussion with Duke Energy, a major developer of renewables, about the tax credit side of different power supplies.  This article is a great follow up.

What are your comments?  Are we doing enough to support investments in wind, solar, hydro and others forms of clean energy?

A Closer Look at Fossil and Renewable Energy Subsidies

A new study by the International Monetary Fund puts the total cost of fossil fuel subsidies at approximately $10 million a minute globally, when health costs and environmental degradation are included, never mind the effects of a destabilized climate in future centuries.

The most perverse of these subsidies are aimed at finding new reserves of oil, gas and coal, even though it is generally understood that these must be left in the ground if we are to avoid catastrophic irreversible climate change.

When drilling for oil was a start-up industry in the 1890s, it cost today's equivalent of $500 a barrel to get it out of the ground, according to UC San Diego's James Hamilton in his study Oil Prices, Exhaustible Resources, and Economic Growth.

The first federal tax break for the oil and gas industry came within its very first years. The Intangible Drilling Costs (IDC) still allows the industry to write off most drilling costs, like the tertiary injectants deduction, in full, immediately, rather than at normal business depreciation rates.

Enacted in 1926, the Percentage Depletion Tax Credit actually increases when prices go up, as it allows companies to deduct a flat percentage of income received from oil or gas wells, frequently resulting in tax deductions in excess of investment.

The Independent Petroleum Association of America describes the tax credit this way: "This deduction is a standard part of the American tax code that supports the development of U.S. oil and natural gas that would otherwise be uneconomic to produce.”

When coal was a start-up industry (in the U.S.) in the late 1700s, it was given tax-free status, smelting was given incentives, and competing old world coal imports were taxed at 10 percent. Four centuries later, coal is still receiving $5 billion in incentives a year. The result is coal-fired electricity at about US $0.04 per kilowatt-hour (when burned in power plants that are already built, the costs of which have already been passed along to ratepayers).

"There are dozens and dozens of tax credits for conventional energy," said SolarReserve CEO Kevin Smith, based on the knowledge he gained in 30 years of building natural gas plants.  "For example, if the Keystone pipeline goes ahead; the refineries who refine that type of alternative fuel get a 50 percent ITC. There are depreciation allowances for wells as they start to degrade, there are just a long list of tax advantages. And all of them are a permanent part of the tax codes.”

These and other oil and gas subsidies total about $7 billion a year in the U.S., according to Taxpayers for Common Sense Understanding Oil and Gas Tax Subsidies.
For centuries, the U.S. Congress has made these sorts of federal investments in each new form of fossil energy.
Permitting, Leasing Inequities, Too
State-level policies increase expenses for renewable energy project developers by making permitting onerous for new projects. In California for example, permitting has historically been almost nonexistent for fossil fuels, but has set a much higher bar for renewable energy.

Permitting solar farms in California can be a three-year multi-million-dollar process. Fossil fuel companies can simply declare on a one page form their intentions to drill next Friday. Further, land leasing costs are higher for solar and wind than for fossil fuels. Land leases for oil and gas were still at 1920s prices in 2009, when the BLM was setting market rates for the renewable industry.

The coal industry pays land rents for natural resource extraction on land that has been undervalued since the 1800s. In the last 30 years, the treasury has lost nearly $30 billion in revenue by undervaluing public lands in Wyoming and Montana where Powder River coal is mined, according to Tom Sanzillo, Finance Director at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).

Make Renewable Subsidies Permanent

It is almost impossible to reverse permanent subsidies in the tax code. It has never happened in the U.S., so some advocates believe that a more practical solution would be: if you can't beat them, join them.

The coal industry's PTC for producing refined coal is $6.71 a ton — in 2015. The wind industry’s $0.023 per kWh PTC keeps flickering out every few years. Renewables have been stymied by stop/start subsidies that almost seem designed to scare off investors, because none are permanently in the tax code the way fossil fuel subsidies are.

Uncertainty alone makes subsidies less effective. If the ITC and PTC were permanent, renewable investment would be more predictable, so supplying equipment for projects and capital cost would be less, bringing generation costs down. While some investors are able to stomach the risk of buying into renewables projects without knowing whether the tax credits will still be there when their projects reach fruition, most cannot.

Because subsidies for fossil fuels are permanent, the effect is much greater, because permanence provides a stable and predictable investment environment not given to renewables.

One way to create a level playing field with fossil fuels would be make the subsidies for wind and solar just as permanent as those for fossil fuels. Either that, or remove all subsidies for all forms of fuel, something very unlikely

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

General Assembly votes for a clean environment by phasing out cesspools

Does your neighborhood still have cesspools in use?  Do you use a cesspool?

RI is now committed, as you will see in this announcement from Audubon, to completely, and quickly, eliminating their use.  Their investment in sewers, started many years ago, has been an economic and environmental boon?  How?

You, too, can help push positive changes by advocating for the same within your city or state.  Waste is a key element (not creating as much, and properly disposing of what is created) in the march towards building a cleaner future.  Our disposal systems are, in many places, old and antiquated.  Population explosions are putting a heavy burden on these decaying systems.

Congratulations to RI and their citizens for pushing ahead with moving away from our old methods and investing in building a foundation of future prosperity.

ewing banner

"You did it!  Your efforts on behalf of Audubon mean aquatic habitat will be protected from cesspools draining into our rivers, streams and salt ponds. 
 Thank you for calling, writing, emailing and advocating for a cleaner environment for Rhode Island. 
Please take a moment to send your representative and senator a brief note thanking them for passing this bill.  They would really appreciate hearing that their understanding the difference between a cesspool and a septic system and of cesspools leaching pathogens was critical. 
Audubon, with your support, continues to fight for a clean environment that benefits humans and wildlife.  We can't do it without you and we are so very appreciative of your help.
The coalition that campaigned for this bill focused on the importance our environment plays in the health of our state - environmental, human, and economic health."

Monday, June 29, 2015

Mud: The world’s next power source?

Sounds odd, but if the process could produce energy to any level, without pollutants or toxins let's look into it.

Mud: The world’s next power source?

For most of us, mud is nothing more than the sludge that ruins our carpets, clothes and shoes. For one California company, however, it could be a revolutionary source of sustainable energy.

MudWatt has built a device designed to harness the energy released by mud-based microbes. "The MudWatt is based on microbial fuel cell technology," Keegan Cooke, MudWatt's Executive Director, told CNBC over email.

"It converts chemical energy found in the sugars and nutrients into electrical energy, and it uses special electric bacteria to drive that reaction," he added. "We don't supply any bacteria in the kit – the bacteria are already in the dirt around you."


According to the MudWatt website, the device uses graphite electrodes, with the anode located in the microbe rich mud, and the cathode placed on top, exposed to oxygen. The microbes consume nutrients within the mud, and then, "deposit electrons onto the anode."

Read MoreBean there: Could soy and canola save the planet?
The electrons then travel through wire and become power. The electrons are able to move back down the wire to the cathode, interacting with oxygen and protons, creating water.

Currently used in locations including schools, homes and colleges, Cooke said that the MudWatt can power everything from sensor packages to small electronics like digital clocks, thermometers and buzzers.

The company is committed to broadening access to sustainable technology and informing the public on how it works, and according to Cooke, around 7,000 MudWatt kits have been sold. A MudWatt Classic Kit, which contains everything needed to get started, costs just under $40.

Cooke said the most power that has ever been produced by a MudWatt is around 500 microwatts, "Which an 8th grader achieved using their local river mud. You'd still need 20,000 MudWatts to light a house LED light bulb, but 500 microWatts can still be used for lot of things, like powering small electronics."

As Cooke said, "you won't be seeing any MudWatt-powered cars anytime soon," but there is potential for this kind of technology to be used on a larger scale, such as in wastewater treatment plants.

"Instead of wastewater treatment plants consuming a bunch of energy… they could become energy producers, putting power back into the grid and becoming part of a broader portfolio of renewable energy technologies," Cooke said.

Read MoreHas the Holy Grail of clean energy been found?
The sustainability of the device and technology is another advantage – no pollutants or toxins are produced during the process, according to Cooke, who also said that new packaging for the device will be made from a paper pulp that can be used by the MudWatt as fuel.

"Nothing gets used up or corroded, and so the system lasts forever, as long as you give it new nutrients, which are a renewable resource," he said.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Parched Southwest looks

We are traveling right not, but not into the Southwest.  last year we spent a lot of time in CA and witnessed, first hand, the drought conditions.

Listen to our most recent interview on our main site--Renewable learn more about Israel's leadership in desalinating water for drinking supplies.  They are consulting in many countries, including the US, on their technology and amazing expertise.

Parched Southwest looks closely at turning salt water into fresh water

Desalination: A solution to California's drought?

It's not just California. Droughts are sapping precious water supplies all across America's southwest.

The region has been suffering from drought for 11 of the past 14 years, according to NASA, directly affecting more than 64 million people.
In Arizona and Nevada, the water level in Lake Mead -- which feeds water to 40 million people across the region -- has plummeted to lows not seen since the 1930s, according to the Los Angeles Times.
And then there's Texas -- which has been battling its current drought for nearly five years.
Long-term weather forecasters predict it could get a lot worse. A NASA study warns that greenhouse gases from fossil fuel emissions might create "megadroughts" in the western U.S. during the coming decades. These events could trigger "events that nobody in the history of the United States has ever had to deal with," NASA climate scientist Ben Cook says.
Without snow and rainfall, what's the alternative? Communities in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada are considering more reliance on two sources: "brackish" or salty water found underground and seawater.
The process is called desalination.
In Texas -- which like California, boasts hundreds of miles of ocean shoreline -- water levels in some reservoirs are extremely low. Farmers in parts of the state have suspended crop irrigation. Communities have restricted water use. Cities need water to generate energy, and thirst for electricity is skyrocketing.
"There's 1,000 people a day moving into Texas and there just won't be enough water unless we do something about creating new resources," says Mark Lambert, CEO of a water treatment firm called IDE Americas.
In San Diego, Lambert's company has built the biggest seawater desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere, a $1-billion facility expected to go online as soon as November, producing up to 50 million gallons of freshwater a day by a process called reverse osmosis. Lambert expects the desalination plant to result in a $5 to $7 spike in average monthly water bills.
In Florida, a desalination plant in Tampa Bay transforms seawater into as much as 25 million gallons of freshwater daily. That's 10% of the company's 2.3 million customers. About a hundred miles south, Cape Coral, Florida, boast the oldest municipal reverse osmosis desal plant in the nation, dating back to 1977.
When it comes to changing seawater to freshwater, Texas is watching.
Texas predicts its population will skyrocket 82% between 2010 and 2060, but its water needs will increase just 22%. The projection factors in declining demand for irrigation and increasing municipal conservation.
"We've certainly spent a lot of time looking at what Tampa Bay has done in Florida with their seawater desal project," says Robert Mace, Texas deputy executive administrator for water, science, and conservation. "And then we're certainly looking very closely at that project that San Diego has for water supply."
For years, Texas communities have used desalination plants to purify brackish water from underground. San Antonio -- the state's second most populated city -- is building a plant for brackish water set to go online in 2016. But Texas has no major plants that desalinate seawater.
Instead of desalination, state water officials are emphasizing conservation, including facilities that transform waste water directly into drinking water.
"There's a great deal of potential in reusing water in Texas," Mace says. The state's "direct potable reuse" facilities have been attracting interest from other states, including California, Mace says.
But experts acknowledge desalination, especially from seawater, will eventually play a large role.
Building more desalination plants "probably should have happened a decade ago," Lambert says.
"I'm not saying desalination is a silver bullet. It's a part of the solution."
Environmental groups have been cautiously supportive. When Texas lawmakers hammered out new legislation in March for seawater desalination plants, the Sierra Club's Ken Kramer told a Texas House committee that each proposed seawater desalination plant should be thoroughly reviewed "to make sure that it is the most viable approach to meeting a true water supply need and ... to avoid or minimize the potential effects on marine life and the environment."
A few basic methods for desalination include:

Reverse osmosis
This process uses high water pressure. Undrinkable salty or brackish water is pushed at high pressure through a membrane filter. Pure water molecules then exit the other side.

This one is all about the heat. When you raise the temperature of the water, it evaporates, leaving the salt behind. The evaporated water condenses in a separate chamber and becomes pure water.

Electricity is the key to this process. Salt in water is made up of atoms called ions that have electrical charges. By sending electricity through salt water and a stack of filters, the process can separate the salt, leaving pure water.
The immediate prospects for Texas seawater desalination are minimal. Next year, a seawater desalination plant is expected to go online in Corpus Christi, Texas. Italian chemical company M&G Resins is building its own private desalination facility for manufacturing. It's expected to pump out 6 million gallons of freshwater a day.
There's also been discussions in communities such as Brownsville and the Galveston-Houston area about building seawater desalination plants.
"Desalting seawater is very expensive compared to other water supplies," Mace says.
"As other water supplies get allocated or used, seawater desal will probably become more desirable."
Lambert agrees. There "will be a time in the relative near future when desalinated water becomes the cheapest source of water" as the price of water from other sources rises, he says.
Overall, expect the search for new water sources in the southwestern U.S. to be permanent, says Lambert. "This isn't a blip on a radar screen."

Mount Everest Could Look

Two articles today (posted Sunday for Monday) that continue to look at possible phsical changes to our most beloved natural landmarks if atmospheric changes continue to warm our planet.

We ran a similar story recently and will continue to look at pending changes.

Mount Everest Could Look Very Different By The End Of The Century


Most of Mount Everest’s glaciers will markedly shrink over the course of this century, as climate change continues to warm the Himalayan region, according to a new study.

The study, published Wednesday in the journal Cryosphere, found that the thousands of glaciers in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region — where Everest is located — could shrink by 70 to 99 percent by the end of this century. The researchers used a model that took into account eight future temperature and precipitation scenarios as well as historical data on temperature, precipitation, and glacial melt.

Since the scenarios varied in terms of warming, the researchers found that total scale of loss will depend on how much emissions rise and how much those emissions affect the climate in the Himalayan region.

“The signal of future glacier change in the region is clear: continued and possibly accelerated mass loss from glaciers is likely given the projected increase in temperatures,” Joseph Shea, lead author of the study and a glacier hydrologist at the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development, said in a statement.

That glacier melt could have major impacts for the people who live in the region and depend heavily on meltwater from the glaciers. More than one billion people in the region depend on water from the glaciers, the Guardian reports, and as the glaciers continue to retreat, the meltwater will become less reliable.

“Changes in glacier area and volume are expected to have large impacts on the availability of water during the dry seasons, which will impact agriculture, hydropower generation, and local water resources availability,” the study reads.

In addition to disrupting water sources, the retreat of glaciers could also create lakes dammed by glacial debris — which, if that dam breaks, could pose a huge risk to communities living downstream to the lakes. Mount Everest also has a unique problem when it comes to climate change: the human poop that’s built up from years of mountaineers trekking up the mountain could spread as Everest’s glaciers melt.

The researchers stress that this study should be seen as one of the first to quantify how glaciers in the Himalayan region will react to climate change, and that since “considerable uncertainties” remain, more research on the subject is needed. Still, that doesn’t mean the study’s findings shouldn’t be taken seriously.

“Glaciers in the region appear to be highly sensitive to changes in temperature, and projected increases in precipitation are insufficient to offset the increased glacier melt,” the researchers write.

“While we have identified numerous sources of uncertainty in the model, the signal of future glacier change in the region is clear and compelling.”

Scientists have warned about climate change’s risks to Mount Everest and the rest of the Himalayan region before. In 2014, a Chinese scientist said that Everest’s glaciers had melted 10 percent in the last 40 years, and that climate change was likely to blame. A 2013 study done by the same scientist — Kang Shichang, glaciologist at Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research — found that the tops of Tibetan glaciers were shrinking, or “virtually being decapitated,” in Schichang’s words.

Other studies have also warned of climate change’s impact on glaciers around the world. Last year, a Parks Canada official said that Alberta’s Athabasca glacier — the most-visited glacier in North America — is melting at an “astonishing” rate, and could disappear within a generation. And this year, a study found that Western Canada could use 70 percent of its glaciers by the end of the century.

“What [glaciers] are telling us is that the climate is changing. The glaciers don’t respond to weather, so they don’t get confused about whether it was a cold winter or a hot summer,” Gary Clarke, professor emeritus at University of British Columbia, told ThinkProgress in April. “When the glaciers are wasting away, we know that the climate isn’t helpful to them.”