November 28, 2011

North America's Most Sustainable Building

The University of British Columbia has opened the most sustainable building in North America, a $37-million “living laboratory” that will help to regenerate the environment and advance research and innovation on global sustainability challenges.

The Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) is one of only a handful of buildings worldwide that will provide “net positive” benefits to the environment. It reduces UBC’s carbon emissions, powers itself and a neighboring building with renewable and waste energy, creates drinking water from rain and treats wastewater onsite.

CIRS will be an international centre for research, partnership and action on sustainability issues, including green building design and operations, environmental policy and community engagement. Researchers will study users’ interactions with the facility to improve building performance, maximize the happiness, health and productivity of its inhabitants and advance best green building practices at UBC and beyond.

Public Support for Climate Policies

Here are the highlights from a new survey by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication

  • 70 percent of Americans say global warming should be a very high (12%), high (25%), or medium (33%) priority for the president and Congress, including 44 percent of registered Republicans, 72 percent of Independents and 85 percent of Democrats.
  • 90 percent of Americans say developing sources of clean energy should be a very high (30%), high (35%), or medium (25%) priority for the president and Congress, including 82 percent of registered Republicans, 91 percent of Independents, and 97 percent of Democrats.
  • 54 percent of Americans say that a candidate's views on global warming will be either the "single most important issue" (2%) or "one of several important issues" (52%) in determining their vote for President next year, including 39 percent of registered Republicans, 55 percent of Independents, and 65 percent of Democrats.
Revenue Neutral Carbon Taxes
  • 65 percent of Americans support a revenue neutral carbon tax that would "help create jobs and decrease pollution," including majorities of registered Republicans (51%), Independents (69%), and Democrats (77%).
  • Likewise, 60 percent of Americans support a $10 per ton carbon tax if the revenue were used to reduce federal income taxes, even when told this would "slightly increase the cost of many things you buy, including food, clothing, and electricity." This policy is supported by 48 percent of registered Republicans, 50 percent of Independents, and 74 percent of Democrats.
  • 49 percent of Americans support a revenue neutral carbon tax if the revenue was instead returned to each American family equally as an annual check. Only 44 percent support this policy if the revenues were instead used to pay down the national debt.
Opposition to Subsidies
  • 69 percent of Americans oppose federal subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, including 67 percent of registered Republicans, 80 percent of Independents, and 68 percent of Democrats.
  • 54 percent of Americans oppose subsidies to the ethanol industry to make fuel from corn, including 56 percent of registered Republicans, 65 percent of Independents, and 49 percent of Democrats.
Support for Other Policies
  • Public support remains high for regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant (73%), signing an international treaty to cut emissions (66%), and requiring electric utilities to produce at least 20% of their electricity from renewable energy sources, even if it costs the average household an extra $100 a year.
  • Since May of 2011, there has been a decline in "strong support" for research into renewable energy sources (-9), tax rebates for people who purchase energy-efficient vehicles or solar panels (-11), and building more nuclear power plants (-5). However, overall public support (strongly and somewhat support) for the first two policies remains high (78% each). Overall public support for nuclear power now stands at 42 percent.
  • Despite ongoing concerns about the economy, 66 percent of Americans say the U.S. should undertake a large (26%) or medium-scale effort (40%) to reduce global warming, even if it has large or moderate economic costs.
  • 85 percent of Americans (including 76% of registered Republicans, 83% of Independents, and 90% of Democrats) say that protecting the environment either improves economic growth and provides new jobs (54%), or has no effect (31%). Only 15 percent say environmental protection reduces economic growth and costs jobs.

World's Largest Marine Reserve

Protecting the pristine: Australia announces the world's largest marine reserve. It will be almost 1 million square kilometers in size. 

The proposed park will start 60km from the coast, extending out 1100km. Recreational and charter fishing would be permitted on its western side.

"Australia's vast oceans provide a source of food and resources, and are a place of recreation. But we cannot afford to be complacent," the minister said in a statement.

"In the space of one lifetime, the world's oceans have gone from being relatively pristine to being under increasing pressure."

Mr Burke said the Coral Sea's environmental significance lay in its diverse array of coral reefs, sandy cays, deep sea plains and canyons. It contains more than 20 outstanding examples of isolated tropical reefs, sandy cays and islands.

He said there was no other part of Australia's territory where so much came together - pristine oceans, magnificent coral and military history.

But some important species found in the Coral Sea were under pressure from over-harvesting and habitat degradation. "Australia has a unique opportunity to protect this precious marine environment for future generations," Mr Burke said.

Renewable Power Investments Exceed Fossil Fuel Investments

Electricity from the wind, sun, waves and biomass drew $187 billion last year compared with $157 billion for natural gas, oil and coal, according to calculations by Bloomberg New Energy Finance using the latest data. Accelerating installations of solar- and wind-power plants led to lower equipment prices, making clean energy more competitive with coal.

The findings indicate the world is shifting toward consuming more renewable energy even without a global agreement on limiting greenhouse gases. 

Wind operators are likely to install 43 gigawatts of generating capacity this year and 48 gigawatts next year, up from 36 gigawatts in 2010, GWEC estimates.

Greenhouse Gas emissions accelerating

The top three greenhouse gas concentrations are climbing rapidly - CO2, Methane and Nitrous Oxide  And the rate of increase is accelerating. 

Methane contributes about 18% to the overall global warming impact. Since 1750, it has increased 158%, mostly because of activities such as cattle-rearing, rice planting, fossil fuel exploitation and landfills. Human activities now account for 60% of methane emissions. 

Nitrous Oxide (N2O) contributes about 6% to the overall global warming impact. It has grown at an average of about 0.75 parts per billion over the past ten years, mainly as a result of the use of nitrogen containing fertilizers, including manure, which has profoundly affected the global nitrogen cycle. Its impact on climate, over a 100 year period, is 298 times greater than equal emissions of carbon dioxide. It also plays an important role in the destruction of the stratospheric ozone layer which protects us from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun.

Coal Companies and Clean Air

Coal companies say they don't have the money to spend on clean air while sitting on $5 billon in cash. 

But they can spend $35 million fighting EPA plans to reduce emissions of mercury, arsenic, acid gases, and other toxic chemicals. The EPA notes that these safeguards will reduce premature deaths by 17,000 people annually as well as prevent 12,000 hospital visits and 120,000 cases of aggravated asthma. The economic benefits could outweigh the costs by up to $14-to-$1.

McKibben thinks global warming an election issue

Conventional wisdom has it that the next election will be fought exclusively on the topic of jobs. But President Obama's announcement last week that he would postpone a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline until after the 2012 election, which may effectively kill the project, makes it clear that other issues will weigh in — and that, oddly enough, one of them might even be climate change."

Here's the link to the whole article - which is quite encouraging.

Religious voices heard loud and clear on Keystone XL

Voices from people of faith joined the cries against the construction of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline the Keystone XL at the protest at the White House earlier this month, starting with Bill McKibben, the face of the Tar Sands Action group and a Methodist Sunday school teacher.

On November 6, an estimated two dozen congregations from the D.C. area were among the protesters. And in August, more than 60 religious leaders—rabbis, Buddhist monks, Catholic priests, and members of green Muslim and Evangelical environmental groups—risked arrest at demonstrations against Keystone XL. Influential faith leaders such as the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have called on the president to say no to the pipeline and build a legacy of "energy that sustains the lives and livelihoods of future generations."
The protests also united progressive and conservative faith groups alike, and they highlight the ongoing "green religion" movement that has faith groups seeking real action from Congress and the president on climate and energy.

Energy Star Congregations - First Parish Needham

I visited First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Needham last week. They have a large Energy Star plaque prominently displayed when you walk in the door of the church. I encourage you to look at their Green Building webpage that describes the process. It is a great story.  

They are the first church in Massachusetts and the 6th in the nation to be certified as an Energy Star church. 

They tell the story of how a renovation project reduced their overall energy bills by 50% and their carbon footprint by 43% resulting in a "beautiful new, larger, and environmentally progressive" space. 

Here are a few excerpts from their webpage. 

The new Parish Hall is a sparkling air-conditioned space ideally suited for receptions and parties, artistic performances, art shows, and, of course, coffee hour. Sun-drenched by day, intimate at night, Parish Hall has excellent acoustics and a beautiful maple floor harvested from sustainable forests. An adjacent modern pantry facilitates the final preparation of food and beverages to be served in Parish Hall. The ground floor was completely rebuilt giving us well-equipped classrooms, a music room, and the beautiful Oakman Parlor. Similarly, the office wing was completely renovated and now houses modern offices, a copy and mail room, and the Wyeth Conference Room. Water use in the new building is down 40% from pre-renovation levels.

Elements that contribute to the remarkable energy efficiency of the new building include:
  • High-efficiency argon-filled windows
  • An improved ventilation system that allows for heat recovery
  • High-efficiency air conditioning, with eco-friendly refrigerants
  • Separate temperature control for all spaces
  • Extensive passive heating in Parish Hall, along with "free-cooling" using CO2 sensors
  • High efficiency light fixtures throughout and motion-controlled switches in many rooms
  • Energy Star appliances
  • High R-rated insulation
  • Low-flow toilets, with separate settings for liquid and solid waste and automatic low-flush flush urinals
  • Retention of storm water onsite, reducing load on the public sewer system

Renewable Natural Gas

Interesting idea - use sunlight, waste water and CO2 to create renewable natural gas - No fracking required 

HyperSolar says its technology is inspired by photosynthesis. It is developing a novel solar-powered nano-particle system that mimics photosynthesis to separate hydrogen from water. The free hydrogen can then be reacted with carbon dioxide to produce methane, the primary component in natural gas.

There is a frantic search for natural gas at the moment, which has become a cause of concern amongst environmentalists. The film Gasland, which shows the hazards associated with fracking, was even nominated for the Best Documentary category at the Oscars earlier this year. HyperSolar's idea is to provide a clean alternative, with an eye on the billions of dollars invested in natural gas infrastructure.

"We believe natural gas as a primary fuel is a reality. However, the environmental risks associated with the extraction and usage of conventional natural gas is also a reality", Mr. Young added.

The promise is to eliminate the harmful aspects of extracting natural gas and preserve its existing delivery infrastructure and economy by fundamentally changing the source of natural gas from underground to above ground.

You have choices now...

David Crane, the CEO of one of the nation's largest electric companies, has become a leading proponent of renewable energy.

"The fundamental issue of our day [is] climate change…. The people who were opposed to climate change legislation used one of two tactics. They either said, "Well, we don't believe it's happening." Which, of course, is just a bald-faced lie.

Or the second part of the one/two punch is, "We can't afford to do anything about it because a synonym for the word "green" is "expensive." But looking forward, electric vehicles will be far cheaper to operate than internal combustion engine vehicles. And solar panels on the roof will provide power more cheaply than taking power from the grid.

You don't just have to settle for using electricity in your house that is supplied by coal-fired power plants on the grid. And you don't just have to put oil that comes from the Middle East in your gas tank. You can buy an electric car. You can put solar panels on your roof. You have choices now….."

Excellent interview from a CEO who had to write off a $481 million investment in nuclear power after experiencing $4 billion dollars in cost over runs and production delays.  Solar is looking pretty good to him.

November 12, 2011

Humpback whales rebounding

In a time of great concern over the environment, it appears that at least one creature, the humpback whale, might not be as threatened as previously thought.

While still in danger, the population of humpback whales seems to be growing, which is wonderful news in light of the decline of most species. This is a great testament to the resiliency of life. It shows that, even on the brink of the collapse of the whole species, the population can be stabilized and extinction avoided. This information is excellent news considering the number of endangered plant species and animal species that seem to be on the proverbial brink.

Though the increase in humpback whales in the North Pacific might seem to be a small success, it shows that something can be done, even when it seems that all hope is lost. Protecting endangered species can actually help to stabilize their populations and bring them back in greater numbers.
These whales were hunted almost to extinction, but thanks to conservation laws and bans on the hunting of humpbacks, in a mere forty years, the population has gone from around 1,400 to 21,000. This is direct evidence that these laws do have the ability to stem the tide of extinction and protect even the most endangered of species.

In a world where it seems like we hear nothing but bad news, this is a great illustration of how protection of species, and a changing of our ways of doing things, can actually fix a problem of our own creation. All hope is not lost for endangered species.

In just forty years, the population of humpback whales in the North Pacific has gone from near extinction to over 21,000 animals. It is true that this is still just a fraction of their original population, but it is a significant improvement and it stands to reason that, if protection is continued, the populations will continue to rebound. This is one of the rare success stories in a sea of bad news.

We're Not Broke

So, is the U.S. really broke? We are the richest nation in the world, right?
But those riches aren’t exactly creating healthy, equitable wealth.  The money is going to the 1% for bailouts and to subsidize the “dinosaur economy.”  Our wealth is continuing to prop up a “throw away economy,” says Annie Leonard, host of the popular internet film “The Story of Stuff.”

November 5, 2011

Tar Sands Action November 6th

by Michael Brune   Sierra Club's executive director 
A year ago, few people had heard of the Keystone XL or even knew what tar-sands oil was. Today, thanks to lots of hard work and grassroots actions, the decision of whether to permit this pipeline -- a decision that Obama has acknowledged is his alone to make -- is a flashpoint issue not just for environmentalists but for anyone who believes our leaders should still be capable of making critical decisions based, not on some political calculus, but on right versus wrong.
There's no question the Keystone XL pipeline would be wrong.
Wrong because all the risks of the pipeline would be borne by the American people, while the profits further enrich the wealthiest corporations on the planet -- Big Oil.
Wrong because the inevitable toxic oil spills could contaminate the Ogallala aquifer-- which provides irrigation for 27 percent of U.S. croplands as well as drinking water for millions of people.
Wrong because extracting tar sands oil is the petroleum equivalent of mountaintop-removal mining -- a scorched-earth, wholesale destruction of North America's boreal forest.
Wrong because digging up and then burning Canada's tar-sands oil would create enough carbon pollution to make stopping runaway climate disruption nearly impossible.
Wrong because the refining of dirty tar sands oil dumps even more cancer-causing chemicals, particulate matter and other toxics into the air, further poisoning communities where the air is unsafe to breathe.
And wrong because to bury our heads in the tar sands would be to pretend we don't have what it takes to move our country Beyond Oil and build a clean-energy economy based on renewable energy and efficiency.
These moral stakes compel us to bring our message directly to the president's doorstep.
One of my favorite insights about public policy comes from my friend Bill Barclay, an energy analyst with Rainforest Action Network. Bill once told me, "You want to know the best way to tell the future? Look at our investments in energy infrastructure. What we're building now will be around for the next half-century." 
Our energy future is determined by the decisions we make today. If we want a future where our country's economy is based on clean, safe, and secure energy, then we need to work for it. Because we can indeed break our dependence on oil -- one car, plane, and pipeline at a time. The alternative is more pipelines (and thus more spills), fouled water, dirty air, and an increasingly unstable climate.
The Keystone XL decision is not just about a pipeline. If it were, nine Nobel Peace Prize laureates   would not have publicly urged President Obama to reject it. This is about whether right and wrong still matter. Thousands of us will be at the White House Sunday because we believe they do. (And if you can't, here's how you can still help.)

Global CO2 emissions rise 6% in 2010

The AP reports that the "global output of heat-trapping carbon dioxide jumped by the biggest amount on record, the U.S. Department of Energy calculated, a sign of how feeble the world’s efforts are at slowing man-made global warming."

The Department of Energy figures put global emissions higher than the worst case projections made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007, which forecast that global temperatures would increase between 4ºF and 11ºF by the end of the century, with 7.5ºF being the best estimate. 

It is a “monster” increase that is unheard of, said Gregg Marland, a professor of geology at Appalachian State University, who has helped calculate Department of Energy figures in the past.

One commenter said
"And in the end, the irony of the great human tragedy wasn’t that their scientists lacked the necessary knowledge and understanding; or that the scientists didn’t try to warn the public and the politicos; or that the technologies needed to stave off the cataclysm didn’t exist; or that there weren’t early warnings of the imminent catastrophe; but mankind’s greed sealed their doom.''

Time for an education revolution

A 16-year-old high school student from Long Island calls for an education revolution and an end to factory-based education, which stresses conformity, standardization and test preparation. 

He proposes project-based learning designed to put students in the driver seat. "No longer is the teacher the only hub of information. No longer do kids work in silos, isolated from their peers and the community around them." 

In a NY Times article he highlights High Tech High in San Diego for adopting interdisciplinary, project-based learning that drives the curriculum, rather than the reverse. "....project-based learning offers constant feedback and revision to develop higher quality work. It’s hands-on, it’s practical, and it’s creative."

November 4, 2011

9 out of 10 Americans want solar

For the fourth year in a row, a survey conducted by independent pollster Kelton Research shows that 89% of Americans think it’s important for the U.S. to develop solar.

November 3, 2011

NBC: No one can deny extreme weather is here to stay

Texas State Climatologist:  “This is really the first time when climate change has manifested itself in a tangible way within the state of Texas.”

Koch-funded Richard Muller:  “The existence of global warming is pretty much beyond dispute now.”

NBC’s Anne Thompson:  Koch brothers are “oil billionaires and climate change deniers.”