Thursday, December 31, 2015

Earth in 'uncharted territory'

We now know how the talks turned out.  The world is now in agreement on the need to radically cut carbon levels.  This winter we are seeing extremes from 50 degree warming in the Arctic to nearly 17 million people in MS threatened by floods.  Extreme conditions are more common and, certainly, expected worldwide.

The data reported below is numbing.  Our acceleration of the planet's atmosphere, has, as eloquently stated here "put mankind in uncharted territory ".  As we begin a new year, how comfortable do we sit launched, with much of a safely net, into the churning waters of climate change?

Together, perhaps battered and bruised, we can work our way out of this crises.  We have the intellect, tools, growing recognition and desire to cut our dependence on fossil fuel.  

We hope your New Year's resolutions includes reducing your own carbon footprint.

Earth in 'uncharted territory' on global warming

By Marlowe Hood with Nina Larson in Geneva

Smoke billows from a chimney of a sugar cane processing factory in Juan Vinas, on the outskirts of San Jose, Costa Rica, on April 20, 2012


Paris (AFP) - Earth has heated up by one degree Celsius (1.6 degrees Fahrenheit), Britain's weather office said Monday, as greenhouse gases hit record levels just weeks before a crucial climate summit in Paris.

Other reports forecast rising seas were set to swamp large swathes of New York and Shanghai, and that global warming would drive millions of people into poverty worldwide.
The slew of fresh planetary warnings came as ministers gathered in Paris to search for common ground on divisive issues ahead of the summit, which runs from November 30 to December 11.
French President Francois Hollande, meanwhile, called for the creation of an "environmental security council" to verify and enforce measures to be adopted at the summit.
"I hope that binding measures emerge from the agreement in Paris" to curb dangerous levels of global warming, he told a scientific gathering in the French capital.
But verification remains a problem, he said. "So the next step is to have an organisation in the form of an environmental security council."
If the planet heats up by four degrees Celsius -- double the targeted UN ceiling -- oceans will swallow land inhabited by more than 600 million people, said a study by Climate Central, a US-based research group.
Even a two-degree jump would submerge land currently occupied by 280 million people, it said.
At the same time, the World Meteorological Organization reported that the level of climate-altering gases in the air punched through the psychological barrier of 400 parts per million.
"Concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are now reaching levels not seen on Earth for more than 800,000, maybe even one million years," WMO chief Michel Jarraud told reporters.
"This means we are now really in uncharted territory for the human race," he warned.
- 'Life on Earth threatened' -
Britain's Met Office announced Monday that local mean surface temperatures were set to reach 1 C above pre-industrial levels for the first time -- half-way to the 2 C threshold which scientists say humanity must not cross.
Environment and energy ministers in Paris are groping for convergence on issues dividing the 195 nations negotiating a climate rescue pact which must be inked at the upcoming summit.
A World Bank study Sunday said there could be "more than 100 million additional people in poverty by 2030" unless action is taken to stem climate change.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, hosting ministers and climate envoys from 70 countries to prepare for the summit over which he will preside, issued his own dire warning.
"It is life on our planet itself which is at stake," he said at the start of talks Sunday. "There is absolute urgency" to achieve the 2 C goal, he said.
The summit will be opened by some 100 heads of state and government, among them US President Barack Obama, China's Xi Jinping, Narendra Modi of India, and 's.
It is meant to produce the first truly universal pact to rein in climate change by curbing emissions from burning fossil fuel. It is also tasked with helping poor countries adapt to climate impacts already in the pipeline.
Ministers are the ones who will ink the deal at the end.
- Wrangling over finance, fairness -
For now, the draft agreement -- prepared in advance by rank-and-file negotiators -- remains little more than a laundry list of often directly opposing national options for dealing with the challenge at hand.
Countries remain sharply divided on issues of fairness and finance.
Developing countries insist rich ones should lead the way in slashing emissions as they have polluted for longer.
They also want assurances of finance to make the shift from cheap and abundant fossil fuel to greener energy sources, and to shore up defences against climate change-induced superstorms, drought, flood and sea-level rise.
But industrialised countries point the finger at emerging giants such as China and India spewing carbon dioxide as they burn coal to power expanding populations and economies.
As the bickering continues, the UN last week issued a fresh warning that national carbon-curbing pledges submitted to date set the stage for warming of about 3 C, or more.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Pizza- A Pollution Problem Out of Control?

This is an interesting story from our main network site posted yesterday--Renewable  Is it possible wood-fired pizza shops add significantly to air pollution in urban centers such as this city in Italy?  It appears, sadly, they do.

So, are we willing to change parts of our lifestyle, in this case, our love of pizza, to help reduce air pollution and the health risk air containments  carry?  The bigger picture question, in our mind, is can we simply reduce emissions in other places, large scale like shutting down fossil-fuel fired power plants, and make room for wood-burning commercial uses on a small scale?

Clearly there's trade offs to reducing our carbon footprint, individually and collectively.  Densely populated centers have extremely difficult cuts to make.  Yet, technology and innovation allow us to ride, work, play and eat in a much healthier, smarter fashion.  If your home, commercial building, mode of transportation and how you buy and dispose of goods is eco-friendly, then you should be able to enjoy a wood-fired pizza without much guilt and or impact on your neighbor.

Cows have gotten a pretty bad rap for their unintentional release of greenhouse gas, but now, could it be pizza that going to make that list of notorious pollutants that some of us can’t live without?

San Vitaliano, a town of 6,000 inhabitants north of Naples, has one of the highest rates of air pollution in Italy. Last year residents spent a whopping 114 days breathing air that contained levels of polluting particulates above safe levels.

To put that into perspective, the citizens of Milan, Lombardy's industrial capital, spent 86 days breathing unsafe air. So what's polluting San Vitaliano? A new ordinance from the mayor's office blames its innumerable pizzerias.

Convinced that the traditional wood-burning pizza stoves are clogging up the lungs of his citizens, Mayor Antonio Falcone has decided to outlaw them as a precautionary measure.

“As of today, in spite of several tests carried out by the environment agency, Arpac, we are still unsure of the cause of the pollution,” wrote the mayor. “But the situation has got worse during the winter and we need to take maximum precautions to ensure the problem doesn't deteriorate."

“Agricultural, artisans, industrial and commercial producers are hereby forbidden from burning solid biomass such as wood, woodchips, coal and charcoal. The only exceptions are for those which have filter systems in place that will guarantee the elimination of 80 percent of all polluting Pm10 particulates.”

The new legislation came into force on December 17 and will apply until June 30th next year. The measures will cease to be active over the summer months but will come into force again in October 2016.

The move will cause the town's many pizzerias and artisan bakeries to change their fuel sources or install costly filters to reduce pollution – a fact which has angered local business owners.

Those caught breaking the ban will face fines of between €200 and €1,032.

“Shocking, it's so ridiculous. They don't want us to make pizza?” Massimilliano Arichello of the locally famous pizzeria Taverna 191 told local paper Il Mattino.

“We make about 34 pizzas a day, how do they think we are responsible for the pollution problems around here?”

Well, now these pizza makers may be feeling a bit like the cows, but definitely smelling a whole lot better.
- See more at:

Chambers of Commerce to CE: ‘Minister of Business’ and Press Freedom/Step up green initiatives

Yesterday we recorded a radio show that explored the right balance, in growing a green economy, between incentives and "friendly" legislation and too much government interference.  If we are going to successfully migrate away from a fossil-fuel economy, governments will need to set the right playing field without interfering with the game.

Here we see the same debate going on in Hong Kong.  Clearly they have some catching up to do in terms of base sustainability practices to other Asian countries.  Good, balanced regulation can help move that process along.

Next year is another pivotal 12 months for all nations on Earth.  We hope they move forward, not backwards, and spring board off the Paris talks into a worldwide, concerted effort to build a clean, green, efficient, smart global marketplace.

The HKSAR Government should step up green initiatives and ensure a business-friendly regulatory environment according to the Canadian and British Chambers of Commerce. Press freedoms and new ideas are also on their mind.

Foreign business communities in Hong Kong have put forward their suggestions to CY Leung regarding the upcoming Policy Address. HT looks at the ideas  proposed by The British Chamber of Commerce (BCCHK) and The Canadian Chamber of Commerce (CCCHK), which focus on Hong Kong’s business regulatory regime, green initiatives and education policies. 
February will tell if the CE is listening to international business that contributes so much to Hong Kong’s development. 
Chambers of Commerce to CE: ‘Minister of Business’ and Press Freedom
On business
It is not surprising that the BCCHK and CCCHK prioritise  business-related issues in their submissions to the administration.
To begin with, the BCCHK steals the spotlight by recommending the appointment of a ‘Minister of Business’ who would be comparable to a ‘mayor’ for the business community to enhance competitiveness, efficiency and effectiveness in the sector. The role would also be responsible to nurture small and medium-sized enterprises and start-ups.
Meanwhile, both Chambers express concerns over an increasingly excessive regulatory regime, with the CCC stating:
“[N]ew requirements on information exchanges, tax, Anti-Money Laundering and investment suitability have impacted client experience, increased the need for compliance resources and investment on system automation. Some of the requirements have become excessive.”
It suggests the Financial Services Development Council should coordinate various regulatory requirements to avoid overlap while its British counterpart proposes the establishment of a “transparent and cross-sector regulatory impact assessments” with a format similar to the Environmental Impact Assessment system.

On an international scale, the Government is urged to seek accession to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (should it be ratified) and to further the interests of the business sector upon introduction of the Automatic Exchange of Information and Common Reporting Standards enhanced by the OECD.
On green initiatives
Another focus of the two Chambers is Hong Kong’s green policy. The CCCHK looks at environmental issues in terms of air pollution, building energy efficiency and waste management. In particular, it claims Hong Kong is “one of the most wasteful, least recycling, population centres in North-East Asia, with Taiwan, South Korea and Japan being far ahead in achieving world-class waste management practices”. Recommendations includes greater focus on electronic road pricing, pedestrian zones, more comprehensive cycle paths, building design, energy efficient appliance application and adoption, and a waste charging system.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Zero emission vehicles by 2050 in Maryland

Who saw this coming this quickly?  Four countries, eight states, one Canadian province, committing to only sales of zero-emission vehicles by 2050.  In a part of the world in which transpiration adds 25-30% of our green gas levels, this is a true game changer and a remarkable goal to set.

Not only does this mandate help reshape the marketplace, but it gives incentive to consumers to start looking now at those cars.  The infrastructure to charge EV's and hybrid plug-ins is being fully built out.  These cars are improving in range, price, performance.  The stars are aligning to cut fossil-fuel vehicles out of the production, still preserving the auto industry and the related jobs.

Electronics is now driving much of our lifestyle.  Welcome to your new car.

 BY: Gina Coplon-Newfield

Maryland is among eight states pledging for all new passenger cars to be zero emission by 2050.

The major international climate agreement made waves recently as world leaders committed to limiting pollution leading to the earth's rising temperatures. But one important announcement in Paris barely broke headlines. Four countries, one Canadian province and eight U.S. states — including Maryland — announced a pledge for all new passenger cars sold by 2050 to be zero-emission vehicles. This was a big symbolic announcement. Indeed, transportation accounts for 25 to 30 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. and Europe, and most of these emissions are from the oil we burn in our vehicles.
The governments that made this historic vehicle declaration say their commitment will reduce transportation sector climate emissions by more than 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year by 2050. In Europe, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway will work to ensure petrol stations are only a memory. Here in the U.S., California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont joined Maryland in committing to a fleet-wide switch to plug-in electric vehicles (EVs).
Even factoring in emissions from the electricity used to power today's EVs, these cars are cleaner than conventional vehicles, about 25 to 80 percent lower in emissions, depending on location. EVs get even cleaner over time as we shift to more renewable electricity sources.
The changes to set EVs in motion are beginning. EV charging stations are popping up at freeway rest-stops, restaurants and apartment parking lots; and earlier this year, Baltimore moved to add roughly 20 charging stations in its municipal parking garages, doubling the current number. Cities like Oakland, Worcester and Eugene have zero emission transit buses. PepsiCo has hundreds of electric delivery trucks on the road. In California alone, there are more than 160,000 plug-in vehicle drivers delighted with their cars.
Federal light-duty vehicle standards put in place by the Obama administration ensure cars will average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, a policy pushing automakers to innovate with new EVs. Additionally, 10 states follow even stronger zero emission vehicle standards. BMW announced plans to have plug-in versions of just about all its models within the next 10 years. Volvo announced that in two years, 10 percent of its global car sales will be electric. Tesla recently began production of the first plug-in SUV. And many other more affordable models, like the Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus EV and Chevrolet Volt, are edging EVs toward the mainstream.
But today, EVs make up less than 1 percent of total monthly auto sales. To reach 100 percent EVs sold by 2050, we have our work cut out for us. Recently, the Sierra Club, Acadia Center and Conservation Law Foundation released a report, "Charging Up,"highlighting vital steps to put EVs in the fast lane.
For example, before EVs are truly mainstream, consumer incentives that make EVs less expensive and more convenient are essential and should be expanded and promoted. In states like Connecticut, California, Massachusetts and Maryland, consumers receive a government rebate or tax credit of $1,500 to $3,000 when they purchase or lease an EV, in addition to the federal tax credit of up to $7,500. In Los Angeles, low-income residents will soon be able to use an EV car-sharing program. In California, Maryland and Long Island, solo EV drivers can breeze through the carpool lane.
Additionally, the utility industry nationwide should incorporate EVs into their programs by offering lower rates for off-peak EV charging, installation of charging stations and grid efficiency load management. San Diego Gas & Electric is a leader with plans to install new public charging stations, including at workplaces and apartment complexes.
Government agencies can lead by example, too. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is adding 288 plug-in vehicles to the city's police, fire and water department fleets. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that 2,000 New York City fleet vehicles will be electric by 2025. Other cities and states should take up the challenge too.
Finally, automakers and auto-dealers should make a much more concerted effort to sell EVs. If they put the same kind of zeal into inventory, advertising, training and sales efforts for EVs as they do for SUVs and pickup trucks, we'd be closer to a plug in every car.
The destination has been set. Now we need to map out how policy-makers, automakers, auto dealers, utilities and drivers will accelerate EV adoption and reach the end of the road for dirty transportation.
Gina Coplon-Newfield directs Sierra Club's national Electric Vehicles Initiative; Twitter: @GinaDrivingEV.

Interpol highlights crimes

An often overlooked part of the destruction of our natural capitol.  How can we fail to police and enforce these laws?

All of us, even in a small way, commit crimes against nature and financially benefit from our commerce.  Yet, serious and willful exploitation is sinful and heinous.  Let's prosecute and remediate, with the criminal's money and resources, 

Abuse of all kinds must end and end quickly.  Why can't we protect Mother Earth from these pirates?

Interpol highlights crimes against the environment ahead of COP21

by Sebastian Seibt       


 Crimes against the environment – such as illegal deforestation, wildlife trafficking and toxic waste dumping – now bring in as much as $213 billion a year, but Interpol officials say the problem is not getting enough attention.
International experts gathered in the French city of Nimes for three days of discussions on environmental crimes this week ahead of the upcoming UN climate summit in Paris (November 30 to December 11).

Delegates highlighted a startling figure: After drug trafficking, counterfeiting and human trafficking, crimes against the environment have now become the fourth-largest money-maker for organised crime, generating between $70 billion and $213 billion per year, according to estimates.

The issue is nevertheless barely on the agenda of the key United Nations climate talks in Paris, also known as the COP 21.

The relative lack of interest in environmental crimes is a source of worry for Cees Van Duijn, Interpol’s Environmental Crime Programme project leader, who jointly organised the Nimes conference with the France-based International Forum on Technology and Security (FITS).

He spoke to FRANCE 24 on the sidelines of the meeting about his concerns.

FRANCE 24: Why are environmental crimes largely missing from the COP 21 agenda?

Cees Van Duijn: I regret that this issue is being overlooked at the international climate conference. We need stronger political support in order to address these types of crimes, but to get that political support we need people who have firsthand knowledge of the problem to be invited to speak at major meetings.

The consequences of drug trafficking are immediately visible, but this is not the case with environmental crime, which can seem an abstract phenomenon – so it is hard to it make it a priority.

Yet we are all victims of crimes committed against the environment, even if they occur on the other side of the planet.

FRANCE 24: Are environmental crimes increasing?

Van Duijn: It's difficult to say, because it remains a relatively recent field of investigation and we have few references for comparison. But it is undoubtedly gaining ground.

In any case, it is a sector that is destined to grow. Most resources – like timber, rare wildlife or fossil fuels – are becoming scarcer. They represent lucrative opportunities for criminal organisations.

FRANCE 24: Can we say this represents a new territory for the mafia?

Van Duijn: The mafia, in the traditional sense, is in fact active in this field. We have seen this already in waste trafficking cases in Italy. However, the groups that are most active in the field of environmental crime are far less structured than the mafia. There is no group of bosses giving orders down the line. These are much more flexible organisations, which makes them all the more elusive.

FRANCE 24: Some people have evoked links between environmental crime and terrorism. What can you tell us about this?

Van Duijn: We do not have conclusive evidence of widespread cooperation but there are, indeed, increasing reports of links between environmental crimes and terrorist networks. Our own investigations have only centred on rebel groups, mostly in Africa, who engage in ivory trafficking or illegal fishing. We are also exploring whether these environmental crimes help fund terrorist movements.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Bill Nye the Science Guy

Good reminder, particularly this time of  year, to refocus our efforts on our own personal commitment to sustainability.  

Bill Nye the Science Guy Knows How to Fix Climate Change

We’ve already got everything we need, says Nye. We just need to do it.                                                

Bill Nye brought science into kids’ lives and made us laugh. He inspires memes, has his own bow tie line and has appeared on numerous television shows, including, earlier this month, alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger, National Geographic Channel’s Explorer series. He’s even been a guest on Dancing With the Stars.
But under the stardust is a serious scientist who started life as a humble mechanical engineer at Boeing and is now on a mission to combat scientific ignorance and fight against climate change. His new book, Unstoppable: Harnessing Science To Change The World, mixes science and his trademark humor to rally a new “Greatest Generation”—ours—to solve a global climate change crisis that he believes is more threatening to our survival than World War Two.
Speaking from his home in Los Angeles, he recalls how he fought a good-natured “eco war” with his celebrity neighbour, Ed Begley Jr.; how climate change deniers can be defeated; and why the upcoming UN summit in Paris can be a turning point for our battle against global warming.   
You started life as an engineer and are best known as The Science Guy. Can we engineer ourselves out of the global climate change crisis?

Absolutely! [Pause] Anything else? [Laughs]. There’s enough energy in most places—wind, solar, tidal and geothermal—to run the whole world. What we need is to DO IT. We need to get started. What we want to do is provide electricity, worldwide communication via the Internet, and clean water to everyone in the world. This is absolutely doable from an engineering standpoint. But to get it done in a timely fashion we have to enact a fee on carbon dioxide production and the release of methane. If we had this policy change, we could change the world.

You describe an epiphany in Beijing that focused your mind on climate change. Recall that moment for us.
The Planetary Society participated in the International Aeronautical Conference in Beijing a few years ago. I was talking physics and planetary science with a young guy and I said, “I really want to go to the famous Peking duck restaurant.” He said, “How do you want to get there, it takes a long time.” I asked if we could ride our bikes. It was only five or six miles away. So I borrowed his dad’s bike and rode down to the restaurant. The reason this bicycle, which was in beautiful shape, was available, was because his dad now had a car. He didn’t ride his bike to work anymore, which he had for 20 years of his professional life. I realized, there’s the change happening right there! This guy was living through the transition from bikes to cars and the 24/7 gridlock and pollution it brings with it.
Developing countries like China or India want all the benefits of modern life. Surely, we don’t have the right to prevent them from enjoying the kind of energy intensive lives we have had for so long?

It’s not about “right.” What we want to do in engineering terms is give them a higher quality of life than we have in the developed world by using less energy; to do more with less. This is in everyone’s best interest. We want the developing world to skip the fossil fuel/carbon dioxide/ methane-producing step and go right to renewable energy, so they won’t have to go back and clean up the environment they will have destroyed or degraded because of fossil fuels.
You call your home in Los Angeles “Nye Labs.” Tell us about the innovations you have introduced and your good-natured “eco-war” with your neighbor, the actor Ed Begley Jr.

Until a few weeks ago, he lived three doors down the street from me. He had nine kilowatts of solar panels on his house. I had four. The reason I had four was that a different neighbor’s house blocked the sun at certain times of the day. I’ve thought about cutting that part of her house down [laughs] but it probably wouldn’t be the most neighborly thing.

I have as many conventional photovoltaic panels as my roof will allow, given the sun conditions in the city. This lowers my electric bill to about $10 every 60 days. And because I make more energy than I use I earn credits for that spare energy. I also have a solar hot water system. This is not rocket science, as I like to say. It’s just plumbing.
Begley had a hot water system, which I didn’t think was all that good. Mine’s better than his was. [Laughs] The other big investment I made was energy efficient windows. They cost about as much as a nice car but the benefits are very immediately evident. Over the course of about seven years, they will pay for themselves. And if you sell the house, the buyers will pay the premium.
Millions of Americans, backed by some very powerful organisations, still deny that man-made global warming exists. What do you say to them, Bill?
We have to eliminate the influence of climate deniers. We have to address it; chip away. The example I give everybody is of a guy who claims he is able to walk on fire because of his spiritual preparedness. It is really science, though. But the first time I show him this he’s not going to be convinced. He’s going to be in denial about it. But after a few months or a couple years of reminding him that this is just science, I predict he will change his mind. In the same way, by continually chipping away at the science of climate change, the deniers will change their minds.   
You just did an Explorer episode for the National Geographic Channel, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger counselled you on “climate change grief.” What was that all about?
Oh, God, that was such fun! [Laughs] Keep in mind, Arnold Schwarzenegger is a very conservative politician. He has busts of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan, or “Saint Reagan” as conservatives call him; he’s a libertarian, likes guns and so on. But, he’s very concerned about climate change.

When he was governor of California he worked hard to enact climate change legislation. So as a way to engage viewers, we got Arnold to play this part. He understood the importance of it immediately and is a consummate professional. We did a sketch with me being a climate change denier and Arnold as a therapist helping me overcome it [Laughs]
Americans hate taxes and regulations. Yet you believe climate change can only be solved with new laws and regulations. Make your case.
As I like to say, if you don’t like regulations now, just wait till climate change gets serious! The example I give is World War II. My dad was a POW; my mom was in the U.S. Navy working on the Enigma Code, on this side of the pond. They had regulations that in today’s world we would have trouble understanding. You couldn’t get tires for your car, meat, eggs and gasoline. Those regulations were put into effect because everybody saw the greater danger of not addressing the war. But they did address it, and they solved the problem and won the war.
We could do this again. By “we,” I mean the people of the world. The idea is that people who produce carbon dioxide right now by burning fossil fuels - and I’m one of them - don’t pay for producing that carbon dioxide. We dump CO2 into the atmosphere, affecting the climate of the whole world, but nobody pays for it.
If we did, a number of things would happen. First of all, it would discourage the use of fossil fuel. People would burn less, which would then encourage the development of more efficient technologies. Car manufacturers would make cars that burn less gas. People who ship goods across the ocean would use ships that use less fuel or cleaner fuel. This would discourage the intercontinental shipment of goods and encourage local manufacture, enabling people in the developing world to have successful businesses at home. The potential is great. What’s not working right now is Cap & Trade. It’s just too easy for deals to be made and play the system.

You are a huge fan of space travel. But one space shuttle launch used to consume the equivalent of about two minutes of the total gasoline consumption of the United States. Surely, that amount of pollution can’t be justified.The reason the space shuttle was retired was mostly because of its cost, about $1.5 US Billion per flight. It actually had a hydrogen engine, helped by solid fuel boosters.

Most rockets today use kerosene in RocketPropulsion 1 fuel (RP1). Jet A fuel is also kerosene. And these cause large amounts of pollution. What we want to do is not only transform rocketry to hydrogen and oxygen-based propulsion but move jet aircraft to hydrogen fuel, as well. Hydrogen would be produced by separating water into hydrogen and oxygen, using electricity through conventional electrolysis. Hydrogen turbines are manufactured once in a while for experimenting but it would be a big change in our infrastructure.

One of the solutions you discuss is  “Geo-engineering.” Explain what that is—and why the idea of blowing bubbles into water is not so crazy as it sounds.
It’s a term people have embraced for engineering the climate of the whole planet. It sounds a little bit like science fiction but we do already engineer the environment on enormous scales. Think of the Hoover Dam.  
One of the ideas I find intriguing is to ever so slightly increase the reflectants of the Earth’s albedo—which is from the Latin word for white—by introducing tiny bubbles into cooling ponds at power plants, reservoirs, and behind dams like Hoover Dam, Glen Canyon, and Grand Coulee Dam. The wildest extension of this idea would be to have bubbles behind cargo ships that persist for days, like the way motes of dust hang in the air. 
In a tiny bubble, the viscosity is quite high and this would reflect a bit of sunlight into space, which could potentially cool the earth off ever so slightly. Would it affect ocean ecosystems, would it mess them up, would it help them by producing more oxygen for phytoplankton? These are things that are susceptible to analysis. But it’s the kind of idea I want people to at least think about because we’re going to need that kind of “blue sky” thinking in the future, where humankind controls the temperature of the world in these subtle, global ways.
A huge UN conference on climate change will kick off in Paris at the end of this month. Are you optimistic that it can achieve real change or do you think individuals, not governments, will solve the problem and what can we do?
I think it has the potential to be the tipping point for a global discussion of climate change. Once the world is talking about it in a constructive way, things will get done. I think the U.S. President now has enough people behind him to lead the world in reducing emissions here in the U.S., by promoting wind turbine technology and, to a lesser extent, concentrated solar power, or photovoltaics, as it is known. Germany, for example, still exports coal like crazy, but they’ve also gone to almost a third of their electricity being produced renewably. I’m not saying by December 11th (the end of the conference) the world will be unrecognizable, but this could be the turning point.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Environmental Costs of Hydroelectricity

Even clean energy has an environmental costs.  The question becomes, can we minimize it and enjoy the long-term, dependable flow from these power sources.

Environmental Costs of Hydroelectricity

by Frederic Beaudry
GlenCanyon_MatthewMicahWright_LonelyPlanet_Getty.jpg - Matthew Micah Wright/Lonely Planet/Getty

The Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River.  Matthew Micah Wright/Lonely Planet/Getty

Hydroelectricity is a significant source of power in many regions of the globe, providing 24% of the global electricity needs. Brazil and Norway rely almost exclusively on hydropower. In the United States, 7 to 12% of all electricity is produced by hydropower; the states which depend the most on it are Washington, Oregon, California, and New York.

Hydropower is when water is used to activate moving parts, which in turn may operate a mill, an irrigation system, or an electric turbine (in which case we can use the term hydroelectricity).
Most commonly, hydroelectricity is produced when water is held back by a dam, led down a penstock through a turbine, and then released in the river below. The water is both pushed by pressure from the reservoir above and pulled by gravity, and that energy spins a turbine coupled to a generator producing electricity. The rarer run-of-the-river hydroelectric plants also have a dam, but no reservoir behind it; turbines are moved by the river water flowing past them at the natural flow rate.
Ultimately, the generation of electricity relies on the natural water cycle to refill the reservoir, making it a renewable process with no input of fossil fuel needed.
Our use of fossil fuels is associated with a multitude of environmental problems: for example, the extraction of oil from tar sands produces air pollution; fracking for natural gas is associated with water pollution; and the burning of fossil fuels produces climate change-inducing greenhouse gas emissions. We therefore look to sources of renewable energy as clean alternatives to fossil fuels.
However like all sources of energy, renewable or not, there are environmental costs associated with hydroelectricity.
Cut down a bit of your belly every day by using this 1 weird old tip.
Here is a review of some of those costs, along with some benefits.


  • Barrier to Fish. Many migratory fish species swim up and down rivers to complete their life cycle. Anadromous fish, like salmon, shad, or Atlantic sturgeon, go upriver to spawn, and young fish swim down river to reach the sea. Catadromous fish, like the American eel, live in the rivers until they swim out to the ocean to breed, and the young eels (elvers) come back to freshwater after they hatch. Dams obviously block the passage of these fish. Some dams are equipped with fish ladders or other devices to let them pass unharmed. The effectiveness of these structures is quite variable, but improving.
  • Changes in Flood Regime. Dams can buffer large, sudden volumes of water following spring melt of heavy rains. That can be a good thing for downstream communities (see Benefits below), but it also starves the river from a periodic influx of sediment, and prevents the natural high flows from regular re-countering of the river bed, which renews habitat for aquatic life. To recreate these ecological processes, authorities periodically release large volumes of water down the Colorado River, with positive effects on the native vegetation alongside the river.
  • Temperature and Oxygen Modulation. Depending on the design of the dam, water released downstream often comes from the deeper parts of the reservoir. That water is therefore much the same cold temperature throughout the year. This has negative impacts on aquatic life adapted to wide seasonal variations in water temperature. Similarly, low oxygen levels in released water can kill aquatic life downstream, but the problem can be mitigated by mixing air into the water at the outlet.  
  • Evaporation. Reservoirs increase a river’s surface area, thus increasing the amount of water lost to evaporation. In hot, sunny regions the losses are staggering: more water is loss from reservoir evaporation than is used for domestic consumption. When water evaporates, dissolved salts are left behind, increasing salinity levels downstream and harming aquatic life.
  • Mercury Pollution. Mercury is deposited on vegetation long distances downwind from coal-burning power plants. When new reservoirs are created, the mercury found in the now submerged vegetation is released, and converted by bacteria into methylmercury. This methylmercury becomes increasingly concentrated as it moves up the food chain (a process called bio-magnification). Consumers of predatory fish, including humans, are then exposed to dangerous concentrations of the toxic compound.
  • Methane Emissions. Reservoirs often become saturated with nutrients coming from decomposing vegetation or nearby agricultural fields. These nutrients are consumed by algae and microorganisms which in turn release large amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. This problem has of yet not been studied enough to understand its true extent.


  • Flood control. Reservoir levels can be lowered in anticipation of heavy rain or snowmelt, buffering the communities downstream from dangerous river levels.
  • Recreation. Large reservoirs are often used for recreational activities like fishing and boating.
  • Alternative to Fossil Fuels. Producing hydroelectricity releases a lower net amount of greenhouse gases than fossil fuels. As part of a portfolio of energy sources, hydroelectricity allows greater reliance on domestic energy, as opposed to fossil fuels mined overseas, in locations with less stringent environmental regulations.

Some Solutions

Because the economic benefits of older dams wane while the environmental costs mount, we have seen any increase in dam decommissioning and removal. These dam removals are spectacular, but most importantly they allow scientists to observe how natural processes are restored along the rivers.
Much of the environmental problems described here are associated with large-scale hydroelectric projects. There is a multitude of very small scale projects (often called “micro hydro”) where judiciously placed small turbines use low-volume streams to produce electricity for a single home or a neighborhood. These projects have little environmental impact if properly designed.

Climate Change May Lead to Water Crisis: What's The Current Picture?

Potentially scary stuff coming out of our changing environment.  Water is our most precious resource.  Seeing data on just the spread of water-related illnesses makes you feel "sick".

What if 650 million living in places that have little water available becomes 1 billion?  How will the world respond?

Pope Francis makes clear we are compelled to help our "less fortunate" brothers and sisters.  Now is the time to deal with this pending crises.  From it we shall learn many valuable lessons, and bring renewed social and economic equity to our most stressed areas of the world.

Climate Change May Lead To Water Crisis: What's The Current Picture?

by Ted Ranosa

The melting of snow deposits in areas in the northern hemisphere threatens the supply of water for more than two billion people. Scientists believe this is caused by the disruption of winter precipitation as a result of global warming.

hemisphere may face an impending water crisis as the snow deposits that help provide them with much needed water supply are beginning to decline as a result of climate change.

In a study featured in the journal Environmental Research Letters, scientists from Columbia University have discovered that increasing levels of winter precipitation are falling as rain instead of snow because of warming temperatures.

This in turn severely limits the buildup of snowpacks in mountainous regions, which are relied on by farmers in low-lying areas for water during growing seasons.

"Snow is important because it forms its own reservoir. But the consequences of reduced snowpack are not the same for all places--it is also a function of where and when people demand water," Justin Mankin, a researcher from Columbia's Earth Institute and lead author of the study, said.

"Water managers in a lot of places may need to prepare for a world where the snow reservoir no longer exists."

Mankin and his colleagues found that out of the 421 drainage basins in the northern hemisphere that they examined, 97 of them have at least a two-thirds chance of experiencing declines in snowpacks.

The melting snow from these basins provides water for around two billion people living in the region.

Drainage basins that are particularly prone to snowpack declines include the Ebro-Duero basin in Europe, the Atlas basin in northern Africa, the Rio Grande and Colorado River basins, and northern and central California basins.

While the researchers estimate that the current amount of rainfall will continue to provide water supply to meet the demands of human populations for the time being, they believe the reduction of snowpacks could result in more frequent forest fires and the destruction of important ecosystems.

What You Need to Know About the Water Crisis

According to statistics from, there are around 650 million people living in less developed nations who currently have little to no access to clean water supplies.
These include countries in Africa (332 million); South, West, and Central Asia (155 million); Southeast, East Asia and Oceania (131 million); and Latin America and the Caribbean (32 million).
In developed countries, as much as 13 million people still do not have access to water.

Effects on Populations

The lack of access to usable water is believed to be one of the primary causes of epidemics, particularly in less developed countries. It also compromises the safety and well-being of the people.
The United Nations said as much as 80 percent of diseases are associated with poor water and sanitation conditions in poor nations.

The water crisis also serves to limit the access of poor people to education and economic opportunities, preventing them from reaching their full potential.

The UN's 2006 Human Development Report revealed [pdf] that around 443 million school days are lost annually because of the spread of water-related illnesses in different parts of the world.