Archive for February, 2010

Following a “60 Minutes” piece last week, promoters of new technology called the Bloom Box, will unveil their latest technology today. It’s basically a box that can be placed in your front yard to power your house. Sounds great and revolutionary, but will it help the environment?

A San Francisco Chronicle blog looks at that question with skepticism:

It’s not the Holy Grail of clean energy: It eliminates combustion, which is great, but it will only be as clean as the fuel it runs on. And if use becomes as widespread as its inventors hope, the boom in deforestation to produce biofuels for the boxes could be catastrophic. And, if the boxes don’t last for a long time, they will wind up as that much more toxic material into landfills.

Right now these boxes are huge (they power 100 houses) and expensive (they cost $700,000) but they eventually will cost $3,000 and just power your house. It’s a leap forward in technology that has been tinkered with for at least a century. And it’s the start of something that could eventually be developed into eco-friendly electricity.

It comes on the heels of last week’s proposed step ahead in nuclear waste recycling, which also came from the private sector. This means that despite the world’s governments dropping the ball in last year’s Copenhagen conference – and despite climate change naysayers pointing to weather to prove they’re correct – we still have smart, motivated people actively working to help stop climate change and solve the energy problem.

The EPA announced a $475 million plan to clean up the Great Lakes (LA Times).  Also in the Times, this article says saving the Amazon rain forest may be a cost-effecitve way of reducing emissions.

This BBC blog posting looks at the resignation of the UN’s top climate official (also see this MSNBC article and this New York Times article).  This Washington Post article says the Copenhagen agreement is already at risk of collapsing.

Last Monday, this Washington Post article said action on climate change has been hindered by UN scientists’ missteps.  This L.A. Times article says clean energy investments are being hindered by political uncertainty.

Military bases have become more proactive in protecting endangered species (NY Times).

A new study says, because of warming, hurricanes are expected to be fewer but stronger in the coming years (MSNBC).

Virginia has challenged the EPA’s finding about the dangers of greenhouse emissions (Washington Post).

The feds are looking to streamline offshore wind power development in the Northeast (Providence Journal).  Meanwhile, Wyoming continues to debate taxing wind energy (NY Times).

And finally, U2′s The Edge has run into some controversy over a proposed house on the California coast (NY Times).

Foam pipe insulation around water pipes keeps water hot longer and reduces water waste.

There are a few inventions that might rival the personal computer for the biggest technological advancement of the 20th century, but the PC is at least in the conversation. That’s why whenever one of the men most crucial to the advances of that technology speaks, we should listen. And Bill Gates certainly made a lot of people’s ears perk up last week.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates called on the tech world last week to help create a global ‘energy miracle.’ He proposed reusing waste from nuclear power as the greatest possibility.

Gates called climate change the world’s most vexing problem, and added that finding a cheap and clean energy source is more important than creating new vaccines and improving farming techniques, causes into which he has invested billion of dollars. … The world must eliminate all of its carbon emissions and cut energy costs in half in order to prevent a climate catastrophe, which will hit the world’s poor hardest, he said.
“We have to drive full speed and get a miracle in a pretty tight timeline,” he said.
Gates
said the deadline for the world to cut all of its carbon emissions is 2050. He suggested that researchers spend the next 20 years inventing and perfecting clean-energy technologies, and then the next 20 years implementing them.

The main problem with nuclear power is the waste uranium that it creates, but Gates has invested in a company that has found a way to use this waste to create more power. According to this article, the technology has more than a few benefits:

The Uranium isotope that’s food for the new nuclear reactors doesn’t have to be enriched, which means it’s less likely to be used in atomic weapons.
The fission reaction in the new process burns through the nuclear waste slowly, which makes the process safer. One supply of spent uranium could burn for 60 years.
The process creates a large amount of energy from relatively small amounts of uranium, which is important as global supplies run short.
The process generates uranium that can be burned again to create “effectively an infinite fuel supply.”

And it looks like President Obama was also paying attention to Bill Gates’ speech as yesterday he announced the creation of the first nuclear power plant in the U.S. in more than 3 decades. Can nuclear power be the answer? If it’s safe? If it’s not wasteful? Would this be the “silver bullet.” Only time will tell.

Paper towels create 3,000 tons of waste a year in the U.S. alone. Switch to reusable cloths.

Recent errors have led to calls for reforming U.N. climate reports (MSNBC, also see this BBC blog post and this Washington Post article).  Meanwhile, the BBC notes that an inquiry into Climategate is underway, while the professor at the center says his data were not well-organized, but stands behind his conclusions.

A foundation in Massachusetts plans to distribute $50 million in grants to fight climate change (Boston Globe).

Interior Secretary journeyed to Nantucket Sound and waded into the Cape Wind controversy (Washington Post).  The Post also reports that Wyoming is considering a tax on wind energy production.

Does the record DC snowfall mean global warming is no more?  This New York Times article looks at the issue.  This column says not so fast (Washington Post).

Arizona backs out of a western cap-and-trade program (NY Times).

For Valentine’s Day, some flowers are greener than others.

If you’ve been living anywhere on the East Coast for the past week, it’s hard to imagine there are still signs of climate change and global warming occurring, but there are. And within days, you’ll see it on just about any one of NBC’s channels.

That’s right, the Olympic committee can pass a truce to get all the world’s countries to stop fighting during the period of the Winter Games, but the committee can’t get climate change to stop. The result is Vancouver has been in a little bit of a lurch.

The 3,000-foot mountain that will be the centerpiece of the skiing competition has been without snow for much of the winter. Officials resorted to flying and trucking in snow this week in order to fill the slopes. And I’m sure snow machines will be working overtime the rest of this month to help keep the mountain snow fresh.

Sadly, skiers who fly across the world to ski in competitions have seen these problems sprouting up more and more, according to this San Jose Mercury News story:

“In Italy we skied on a pile of dirt,” U.S. mogul skier Hannah Kearney said Monday. “This is already an improvement over that. We’ve skied in rain, we’ve skied in snow. Hot weather, cold weather. So, we’re ready for it.”

Perhaps, that’s why this list of environmentally conscious and active Olympic athletes includes skiers. There’s no denying long-term prospects for ski resorts are bleak because of climate change. Current resorts might have to be turned into spas and golf courses in just a few decades. Others might be ghost towns. In New England, we’re likely only going to be able to ski in northern Maine. Our LOGI board member Chris Carlson wrote a national-award-winning story on this very topic a few years ago, which detailed how ski area owners are now looking to ways other than skiing to make money at their resorts.

Of course, this all seems hard to fathom on the East Coast since the weather shows so many signs of winter and our thoughts are local-centric. But that’s why it’s important to remember it’s “climate” change and “global” warming.

California’s global warming law could be challenged by a ballot initiative, writes the L.A. Times, which also has an editorial arguing that Washington is losing heart on fighting climate change.

The Hawaii Senate has saved $1.2 million by cutting back on printing (NY Times).

A leading scientist tells the Rhode Island Science and Technology Advisory Council that there is consensus on climate change (Providence Journal), but a poll in the UK found that skepticism has increased just in the last 3 months (BBC, with commentary here).  Meanwhile, the Penn State scientist at the center of “Climategate” has been largely cleared of scientific misconduct (NY Times).

Whalers and activists again collide off of Antarctica (MSNBC), while environmental advocates want to know what ingredients are in household cleaners (MSNBC).

Massachusetts is on track to meet emissions reduction targets (Boston Globe), while the state’s utilities are seeking green energy (Boston Globe).

The Postal Service wants to make deliveries greener (LA Times).

More than 100-million cell phones go to U.S. landfills each year. Recycle yours instead.

Most of the public has heard the mantra by now that cows’ “emissions” hurt the environment by releasing methane into the atmosphere. But there are greater fixes we can make in terms of what and how we eat that will help the environment more.

Michael Pollan’s bestseller, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” delves deep into the food chain, examining what goes into making: a fast-food meal, a meal from Whole Foods, a meal grown from a local farm, and a meal hunted and gathered by himself. The results are fascinating, but the nuggets of information on the environmental effect of our eating habits and our food industry are not to be overlooked.

In the fast-food meal, Pollan traces the food back to a specific cow, raised in tight quarters in a feedlot with a diet composed of corn. He then follows the government-subsidized corn’s journey to the feedlot where the cow eats it, then he follows the cow through its development until it ends up as a hamburger.

“Follow the corn from this bunk back to where it grows and I’d find myself back in the middle of the 125,00-mile-square monoculture under a steady rain of pesticide and fertilizer. Keep going, and I could follow the nitrogen runoff from that fertilizer all the way down the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico, adding its poison to an eight-thousand-square-mile zone so starved of oxygen nothing but algae can live in it. And then go farther still, follow the fertilizer (and the diesel fuel and the petrochemical pesticides) needed to grow the corn all the way to the oil fields of the Persian Gulf.”

Pollan then estimates that the cow he follows will have consumed in his lifetime the equivalent of 35 gallons of oil (nearly a barrel). His research then discovers that most of the Whole Foods meal goes through a variation of this, but there are small doors available for one cow at a time to spend 2 minutes outside, allowing them to be termed “free range” or the feedlots serve up pesticide-filled grass instead of corn.

In finding a locally grown meal, he goes to a grass farm and sees how the farmer uses all-natural products and allows his cows to be fed off grass roaming free in a pasture (this is how they used to eat, before corn.) Since the farm itself provides a natural ecosystem, there is no need for fertilizer or pesticides. Since it’s grown locally, there is no need to transport it halfway across the world; it is eaten by local consumers. It allows Pollan to create a stunning hypothesis:

“If the sixteen million acres now being used to grow corn to feed cows in the United States became well-managed pasture, that would remove 14 billion pounds of carbon from the atmosphere each year, the equivalent of taking 4 million cars off the road.”

This type of overhaul seems unlikely, but the goal is to simply become more aware. I know, eating locally is costly (because corn is government-subsidized, it lowers the true cost of food), but it’s more virtuous and tastes better. And don’t forget it’s better for the environment – even if the cows sometimes “emit” their own gases.