March 29, 2010

Citing irreversible damage, EPA moves to veto Mountain Top Mining Permit

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced its proposal under the Clean Water Act to significantly restrict or prohibit mountain top mining at the Spruce No. 1 surface mine in Logan County, W. Va. Spruce No.1 mine is one of the largest mountaintop removal operations ever proposed in Central Appalachia. The project was permitted in 2007 and subsequently delayed by litigation. The Spruce No. 1 mine would bury over 7 miles of headwater streams, directly impact 2,278 acres of forestland and degrade water quality in streams adjacent to the mine. 

"... we must prevent the significant and irreversible damage that comes from mining pollution -- and the damage from this project would be irreversible," said EPA Regional Administrator for the Mid-Atlantic, Shawn Garvin. "This recommendation is consistent with our broader Clean Water Act efforts in Central Appalachia. EPA has a duty under the law to protect water quality and safeguard the people who rely on these waters for drinking, fishing and swimming."

The EPA will be accepting comments on their proposed veto for the next 60 days. Although this veto will be finalized after a sixty-day comment period, many other projects continue

Submit your comments, identified by Docket ID No EPA-R03-OW-2009-0985, by one of the following methods:
  1. Federal eRulemaking Portal (recommended method of comment submission): Follow the online instructions for submitting comments. Note: There will be a lag time before the Federal Register Notice is published. Until it is, you will not be able to submit comments this way.
  2. E-mail: Include the docket number, EPA-R03-OW-2009-0985, in the subject line of the message.
  3. Mail:
    ''EPA-R03-OW-2009-0985, Spruce No. 1 Surface Mine'' 
    U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
    EPA Docket Center Water Docket, Mail Code 28221T
    1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
    Washington, DC 20460

Island Disappears in Bay of Bengal

In 1974, an American satellite introduced the world to a previously undiscovered island, located in the Bay of Bengal. The island became the subject of an ownership dispute, so it was known by more than one name: the people of Bangladesh referred to it as South Talpatti Island, while it was known as New Moore Island or Purbasha in India.

In 1981, an Indian flag was placed on the island, along with a Border Security Forces base, which was frequently visited by Indian naval gunships. The property dispute between Bangladesh and India is now a thing of the past, thanks to climate change.

New Moore Island in the Sunderbans has been completely submerged, said oceanographer Sugata Hazra, a professor at Jadavpur University in Calcutta. Its disappearance has been confirmed by satellite imagery and sea patrols, he said. "What these two countries could not achieve from years of talking, has been resolved by global warming," said Hazra.

Scientists at the School of Oceanographic Studies at the university have noted an alarming increase in the rate at which sea levels have risen over the past decade in the Bay of Bengal.
Until 2000, the sea levels rose about 3 millimeters (0.12 inches) a year, but over the last decade they have been rising about 5 millimeters (0.2 inches) annually, he said.
Another nearby island, Lohachara, was submerged in 1996, forcing its inhabitants to move to the mainland, while almost half the land of Ghoramara island was underwater, he said. At least 10 other islands in the area were at risk as well, Hazra said.
Professor Hazra predicts that 15 per cent of the Indian Sundarbans region on the northern shore of the Bay of Bengal will be submerged by 2020.

China and India agree to monitor GHG

China and India have now reaffirmed to important domestic audiences that they will that they will report their global warming emissions every 2 years, with the internationally agreed guidelines and transparency provisions defined in Copenhagen. 

So why is this so important from an environmental standpoint?  One of the fundamentals of any environmental policy is a three step process of knowing:
  1. Where you currently are (e.g., how good, bad, or ugly is your current environmental situation);
  2. Where you want to head (e.g., what are you trying to achieve in order to solve the challenge); and
  3. Where you are at various points towards your end goal – point 2 (e.g., in 2 years time are you making good progress towards your goal or not).
Creating a process to improve the assessment of progress.  Before the Copenhagen Accord, the world had an incomplete system of accountability and transparency.  

March 26, 2010

Is Earth Past the Tipping Point?

For 10,000 years, our world seemed endless. The sky was the limit. But today’s world looks much smaller. We’ve cleared, consumed and polluted our way across the globe. The planet is shrinking. Have we pushed Earth past the tipping point? That’s a critical issue we explore in our second Big Question video, which draws on research from “Planetary Boundaries: A Safe Operating Space for Humanity,” published this past fall in the journal Nature.
This video coincides with "Boundaries for a Healthy Planet," IonE Director Jonathan Foley's cover story in Scientific Americanmagazine's April 2010 issue.

March 24, 2010

Arctic Sea Ice Volume

Arctic climate is changing significantly in a number of different ways at a rapid pace and the consequences will be felt on a global scale. One of the drastic changes is the rapid loss of the Arctic sea ice. The aerial shrinkage of the sea ice determined from satellites has been 17-20% during the last decade. However, models indicate that sea ice thickness and volume have decreased possibly twice as much during the same period (Maslowski et al., 2007). Should the present trend of sea ice melt continue, some models suggest that the Arctic Ocean could become near ice free in the summer time within one decade. One could argue that the models shown in the graph below are quite conservative as they are linear extrapolations of recent trends and Arctic Sea Ice volume has been shown to be decreasing non-linearly.  

 Kwok, R., and G. F. Cunningham (2008), ICESat over Arctic sea ice: Estimation of snow depth and ice thickness, J. Geophys. Res., 113, C08010, doi:10.1029/2008JC004753.

Kwok, R., G. F. Cunningham, M. Wensnahan, I. Rigor, H. J. Zwally, and D. Yi (2009), Thinning and volume loss of the Arctic Ocean sea ice cover: 2003–2008, J. Geophys.
Res., 114, C07005, doi:10.1029/2009JC005312.

Maslowski, W., J. Clement Kinney, J. Jakacki, "Toward Prediction of Environmental Arctic Change", Computing in Science and Engineering, vol. 9, no. 6, pp. 29-34, Nov./Dec. 2007, doi:10.1109/MCSE.2007.125.

Maslowski, W., State and Future Projections of Arctic Sea Ice, Changes of the Greenland Cryosphere Workshop and the Arctic Freshwater Budget International Symposium, Nuuk, Greenland, 25-27 August, 2009.

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu - OpEd

Energy Efficiency: Achieving the Potential, Realizing the Savings
by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu
March 19, 2010

For the next few decades, energy efficiency is one of the lowest cost options for reducing US carbon emissions. Many studies have concluded that energy efficiency can save both energy and money. For example, a recent McKinsey report calculated the potential savings assuming a 7% discount rate, no price on carbon and using only "net present value positive" investments. It found the potential to reduce consumer demand by about 23% by 2020 and reduce GHG emissions by 1.1 gigatons each year -- at a net savings of US$ 680 billion.

Boston based Lighting Efficiency Company

Digital Lumens introduced a wireless sensor and software controlled LED lighting system for commercial lighting installations that it claims will reduce energy use by up to 90%. 

Each "Intelligent Light Engine" has a built-in on-board computer – as well as sensors and wireless mesh networking capabilities that share key information across the system.

The Intelligent Light Engines form a Smart Light Grid – a lighting network – that enables all fixtures in the system to communicate with each other, respond to a neighboring fixture's state and/or system-wide programming, and provide usage and occupancy data to the Light Rules management system.

March 13, 2010

We Can Do It!

Just about everything worth doing is worth doing because it's important and because the odds are against you. If they weren't, then anyone could do it, so don't bother.
Innovations and initiatives by any organization work better when the key people agree on the goal, believe that they can achieve it and that the plan will work.
Successful people rarely confuse a can-do attitude with a smart plan. But they realize that one without the other is unlikely to get you very far.
Count me in. Let's go.

Value of Clean Air

Death Rate from Power Plant Particulate Matter Emissions

According to this study over 23,600 people die each year from breathing particulate matter emitted by power plants. The graphic makes it clear that most of these deaths are concentrated in areas surrounding coal plants. The cost of those premature deaths is $150 billion dollars a year. 

The average person living in the Midwest is 20 times more likely to die from power plant particulate matter emissions than someone living in the San Francisco Bay area. 

Source: Power Plant Emissions: Particulate Matter-Related Health Damages and the Benefits of Alternative Emission Reduction Scenarios

Glacier Mass 1980 - 2007

March 11, 2010

Outsourced Carbon Emissions

Image Caption: China is by far the largest “exporter” of carbon dioxide emissions, as seen in this map of the net flow of emissions embodied in trade among the major exporting and importing countries. Arrows indicate direction and magnitude of flow; numbers are megatons (millions of tons). Credit: Steven Davis/Carnegie Institution for Science.

A new study by scientists at the Carnegie Institution for Science finds that over a third of carbon dioxide emissions associated with consumption of goods and services in many developed countries are actually emitted outside their borders. 

The study finds that, per person, about 2.5 tons of carbon dioxide are consumed in the U.S. but produced somewhere else. For Europeans, the figure can exceed four tons per person. Most of these emissions are outsourced to developing countries, especially China.

“Instead of looking at carbon dioxide emissions only in terms of what is released inside our borders, we also looked at the amount of carbon dioxide released during the production of the things that we consume,” says co-author Ken Caldeira, a researcher in the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology.
Caldeira and lead author Steven Davis, also at Carnegie, used published trade data from 2004 to create a global model of the flow of products across 57 industry sectors and 113 countries or regions. By allocating carbon emissions to particular products and sources, the researchers were able to calculate the net emissions “imported” or “exported” by specific countries.

March 9, 2010

McKibben's Call to Action

I saw Bill McKibben speak at Harvard last night. 

He talked about what it would take for human life to flourish. He focused on actions we could take locally. He talked about the moral imperatives for action. He talked about how perhaps the biggest impact of cheap fossil fuels on our lives to date has been to make us lonelier. 

He talked about how important it is to decentralize our production of energy, our production of food, our financial system... if human kind is to flourish. 

While focusing on the value of decentralizing our energy, food and capital, he talked about the value of building meaningful and tight bonds between people and bringing us closer together as communities. He talked about how people have 10 times more conversations with their neighbors at a farmers market than they do at the supermarket. 

He talked about how since the 50's we've been using fossil fuel to build bigger homes that are farther and farther apart. How in the 50's we had twice as many close friends as we do today, how we had twice as many meals with friends and families as we do today, how our personal happiness as a society peaked in 1956 and that while our average income and GDP has increased 3 fold since that time, our happiness is declining. 

That we can build a world where at the same time we are happier with our lives and a world where we use substantially less fossil fuels. He reminded us this is very possible. We need to look no further than the example of Western Europeans who use half the energy per capita as Americans, but are much happier, healthier and live longer.... and they have a lot of room for improvement! 

He suggested that if a financial institution like AIG or Lehman Brothers is too big too fail, the answer isn't bailouts, the answer is that we shouldn't let them get so big that our entire global economy is threatened if they make a few bad decisions.

He talked about how fossil fuels naturally lead to centralized solutions for energy and food production, but how wind and solar power are naturally decentralized and the advantages (and tradeoffs) inherent in that decentralization. 

He talked about how farmers markets are the fastest growing part of the food economy, how people build community and personal relationships at farmers markets, how 100,000 people in Madison, WI shop at farmers markets every week, fundamentally changing how food is grown in that area of the country. 

He announced his next big initiative which is set for October 10, 2010. He announced that day will be a global work party, a day dedicated to highlighting the work that we are all doing at a local level to address climate change and to move towards a sustainable world. 
What actions will we have to show on October 10th

Texas sets wind energy record

March 5 - The NY Times reports that Texas, the nation's wind-power leader, set a new record for wind generation this morning, when — at 6:37 a.m. — about 19 percent of the electricity on the state's main grid was supplied by turbines.

The 6,272-megawatt peak — which does not include turbines in the windy Panhandle because that region is on a different grid — surpassed another record, set last Sunday near midday. 
The state's overall wind average is significantly lower than these spikes: Last year Texas got 6.2 percent of its electricity from wind, according to Dottie Roark, a spokeswoman for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the grid serving most of the state. 

At the same time, Hawaii is moving forward on achieving its goal of generating 70% of its energy from clean energy by 2030. U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced that the Department of Energy has offered a conditional commitment on a $117 million loan guarantee to finance the construction and start-up of an innovative 30 megawatt (MW) wind energy project in Kahuku, Hawaii.

Kahuku Wind Power, LLC will install twelve 2.5 MW wind turbine generators along with a battery energy storage system for electricity load stability. The loan guarantee is being supported by funds made available from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

"This investment will create jobs and cut our dependence on oil, while promoting America's leadership in the global race for the clean energy industries of tomorrow," said Secretary Chu.

March 4, 2010

Fact vs. Fraud

These groups say the danger of manmade global warming is...

U.S. Agency for International Development American Petroleum Institute

United States Department of Agriculture

US Chamber of Commerce
National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration National Association of Manufacturers

National Institute of Standards and Technology

Competitive Enterprise Institute
United States Department of Defense Industrial Minerals Association

United States Department of Energy

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association
National Institutes of Health Great Northern Project Development

United States Department of State

Rosebud Mining
United States Department of Transportation Massey Energy

U.S. Geological Survey

Alpha Natural Resources
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Southeastern Legal Foundation

University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

Georgia Agribusiness Council
National Center for Atmospheric Research Georgia Motor Trucking Association

National Aeronautics & Space Administration

Corn Refiners Association
National Science Foundation National Association of Home Builders

Smithsonian Institution

National Oilseed Processors Association
International Arctic Science Committee National Petrochemical and Refiners Association

Arctic Council

Western States Petroleum Association
African Academy of Sciences

Australian Academy of Sciences
Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Sciences and the Arts

Academia Brasileira de Ciéncias
Cameroon Academy of Sciences

Royal Society of Canada
Caribbean Academy of Sciences

Chinese Academy of Sciences
Académie des Sciences, France

Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences
Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina of Germany

Indonesian Academy of Sciences
Royal Irish Academy

Accademia nazionale delle scienze of Italy
Indian National Science Academy

Science Council of Japan
Kenya National Academy of Sciences

Madagascar’s National Academy of Arts, Letters and Sciences
Academy of Sciences Malaysia

Academia Mexicana de Ciencias
Nigerian Academy of Sciences

Royal Society of New Zealand
Polish Academy of Sciences

Russian Academy of Sciences
l’Académie des Sciences et Techniques du Sénégal

Academy of Science of South Africa
Sudan Academy of Sciences

Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
Tanzania Academy of Sciences

Turkish Academy of Sciences
Uganda National Academy of Sciences

The Royal Society of the United Kingdom
National Academy of Sciences, United States

Zambia Academy of Sciences
Zimbabwe Academy of Science

American Academy of Pediatrics
American Association for the Advancement of Science

American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians
American Astronomical Society

American Chemical Society
American College of Preventive Medicine

American Geophysical Union
American Institute of Physics

American Medical Association
American Meteorological Society

American Physical Society
American Public Health Association

American Quaternary Association
American Institute of Biological Sciences

American Society of Agronomy
American Society for Microbiology

American Society of Plant Biologists
American Statistical Association

Association of Ecosystem Research Centers
Botanical Society of America

Crop Science Society of America
Ecological Society of America

Federation of American Scientists
Geological Society of America

National Association of Geoscience Teachers
Natural Science Collections Alliance

Organization of Biological Field Stations
Society of American Foresters

Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics
Society of Systematic Biologists

Soil Science Society of America
Australian Coral Reef Society

Australian Medical Association
Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society

Engineers Australia
Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies

Geological Society of Australia
British Antarctic Survey

Institute of Biology, UK
Royal Meteorological Society, UK

Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences
Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society

European Federation of Geologists
European Geosciences Union

European Physical Society
European Science Foundation

International Association for Great Lakes Research
International Union for Quaternary Research

International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

World Federation of Public Health Associations
World Health Organization

World Meteorological Organization

“FACT” organizations from "Is There a Scientific Consensus on Global Warming?",

“FRAUD” organizations are petitioners v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Findings for Greenhouse Gases under Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act.

March 1, 2010

Google's Mirror Could Cut Solar Costs in Half

CNBC reports that Google has developed a prototype for a new mirror technology that could cut the cost of building a solar thermal plant in half, the company's green energy czar said on Friday.

Bill Weihl said that if development and testing go well, he could see the product being ready in one to three years. "Things have progressed," Weihl said in an interview. "We have an internal prototype."

In solar thermal technology, the sun's energy is used to heat a substance that produces steam to run a turbine. Mirrors focus the sun's rays on the heated substance.

The Internet search engine company, which has been investing in companies and doing research of its own to produce affordable renewable energy, wants to cut the cost of making heliostats, the fields of mirrors that track the sun. "There is a decent chance that in a small number of years, we could have a 2-X reduction in cost," he said.

Next time you hear the naysayers telling you that solar power is too expensive, let them know that we are well on our way to cutting solar power costs in half just by the very fact that some smart people have started working on creating the future we want to live in.