March 20, 2008

US Power Plant CO2 Emissions - Fastest Growth in a Decade

Robert W Scherer Power Plant is a coal-fired plant just north of Macon, Georgia.
It emits more carbon dioxide than any other point in the United States.

WASHINGTON, D.C. March 18, 2008
poor progress report on efforts to rein in greenhouse gases:

Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from U.S. power plants climbed 2.9 percent in 2007, the biggest single year increase since 1998, according to new analysis by the nonprofit and nonpartisan Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) of data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Now the single largest factor in U.S. climate change pollution, the electric power industry’s carbon dioxide emissions have risen 5.9 percent since 2002 and 11.7 percent since 1997.

“The current debate over global warming policy tends to focus on long-term goals, like how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent over the next fifty years. But while we debate, CO2 emissions from power plants keep rising, making an already dire situation worse. Because CO2 has an atmospheric lifetime of between 50 and 200 years, today’s emissions could cause global warming for up to two centuries to come.”

A Low Carbon Diet Can Help the Economy!

A recent study from Yale University concludes:

"... that even under the most unfavorable assumptions regarding costs, the U.S. economy is predicted to continue growing robustly as carbon emissions are reduced,” said Repetto. “Under favorable assumptions, the economy would grow more rapidly if emissions are reduced through national policy measures than if they are allowed to increase as in the past.”

And they've created a website where you can see that for yourself!

“As Congress prepares to debate new legislation to address the threat of climate change, opponents claim that the costs of adopting the leading proposals would be ruinous to the U.S. economy. The world’s leading economists who have studied the issue say that’s wrong — and you can find out for yourself,” said Robert Repetto, professor in the practice of economics and sustainable development at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies who created the site.

The interactive website,
synthesized thousands of policy analyses in order to identify the seven key assumptions accounting for most of the differences in the model predictions. The site allows visitors to choose which assumptions they feel are most realistic and then view the predictions of the economic models based on the chosen assumptions.

March 19, 2008

Engineers Without Borders Bring Tech to Villages Without Power

An estimated 1.6 billion people worldwide are without electricity, and many of them are forced to light their homes with kerosene. Using one kerosene lamp is like smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, says the World Bank, and the lamps present a significant fire risk. That's why many startup companies, such as d.Light, are trying to bring cheaper LED lights to homes, but they still need a solution for producing power locally.

A group of volunteer engineers are finishing the design for a home-brewed wind turbine that will bring electricity to off-the-grid Guatemalan villages by this summer.

After the U.S. engineers finish the design, local workers in the town of Quetzaltenango will manufacture the small-scale turbine. It will produce 10-15 watts of electricity, enough to charge a 12-volt battery that can power simple devices like LED lights.

The engineering team had to make their design simple enough that it could be assembled from cheap and widely available components. As a result, their plans call for building the turbine out of hard plastic (or canvas) bolted on to a steel-tube structure. The rotor, which creates mechanical energy from the movement of the blades, runs into an alternator (actually a cheap DC motor running in reverse), which converts the mechanical energy into electricity.

[The] goal is not just to bring cheap wind-powered generators to Guatemalan villages, but also to build self-sustaining businesses that are well integrated with the local economy.

March 17, 2008

UN says that Glaciers are Melting Faster

Glaciers Melting Faster

ZURICH, Switzerland (AP) -- Glaciers are shrinking at record rates and many could disappear within decades, the U.N. Environment Program said Sunday.

Scientists measuring the health of almost 30 glaciers around the world found that ice loss reached record levels in 2006, the U.N. agency said.

UNEP warned that further ice loss could have dramatic consequences particularly in India, whose rivers are fed by Himalayan glaciers.

Haeberli said glaciers lost an average of about a foot of ice a year between 1980 and 1999. But since the turn of the millennium the average loss has increased to about 20 inches.

March 8, 2008

Diet for a Small Planet

I've been reading about the links between hunger and the health of our planet from Lester Brown's new book.
Plan B 3.0 Mobilizing to Save Civilization

The Himalayan glaciers that feed the rivers that irrigate the rice fields of China and the wheat fields of India are disappearing at a rate of 7% a year. - "Global Outlook for Ice and Snow" UN Environment Program Nairobi 2007

Crop withering heat waves have lowered grain harvests in recent years. Record high temperatures in 2002 and 2003 reduced the world grain output 90 million tons or 5% below actual grain consumption.

In 7 of the last 8 years, world grain production has fallen short of consumption. Worldwide carryover stocks are at their lowest level in 34 years. We are eating into our grain reserves.

Worldwide grain production peaked at 342 kilograms per capita in 1984, dropping to 302 kilograms per capita in 2006.

When oil prices rose above $60 a barrel, corn based distillation of ethanol became enormously profitable. The United States is now the largest producer of Ethanol, eclipsing Brazil in 2005.

81 million tons of the 2007 US corn harvest was used to create ethanol. This is 20% of US corn production. It generated less than 4% of US automotive fuel.

The grain required to fill one 25 gallon tank with ethanol will feed one person for a year.

The 2 billion poorest people in the world use 60% of their income to buy food.

As the share of US corn production dedicated to ethanol increases, it is driving up food prices around the world. In September 2007, the price of corn was nearly double what it was 2 years before. Wheat prices have also doubled and soybean prices have gone up by more than 50%.

Four years ago a study by Runge and Senauer of UMinn projected the number of hungy people decreasing to 625 milllion in 2025. An update of those projections, based on the massive diversion of grain to ethanol production, shows the number of hungry and mal-nourished people rising to 1.2 billion by 2025.

The competition between the owners of the world's 860 million automobiles and the 2 billion poorest people in the world is uncharted territory for humanity.

Although there are no alternatives to food for people, there are alternatives to using ethanol for vehicles. For example, the 4% of automotive fuel supplied using ethanol could be replaced several times over by increased fuel efficiency standards. And at a cost much lower than we are spending on ethanol.