February 29, 2012

Devastating Impact of Tar Sands Oil Spill

Michigan residents discuss the devastating long term impact of the Kalamazoo Oil spill. The Kalamazoo River is still closed. "The only job growth from this pipeline is the workers cleaning up this spill."

February 24, 2012

The Human Cost of Coal

The human cost of mountain top removal coal mining is shown in a stunning series of maps

There is a common saying in Appalachia: what we do to the land, we do to the people. 

Recently, 21 peer-reviewed scientific studies have confirmed the truth of those words. Not only has mountaintop removal permanently destroyed more than 500 Appalachian mountains, but people living near the destruction are 50% more likely to die of cancer and 42% more likely to be born with birth defects compared with other people in Appalachia.

February 17, 2012

Stop Soot

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced a six-country initiative designed to reduce pollutants like methane, black carbon (soot), and hydroflurocarbons (HFCs) that help speed up global warming. These pollutants are often called “climate forcers” because they push temperatures up much more quickly than carbon dioxide.

February 12, 2012

A Generosity Experiment

What if we gave up saying No?
What if we gave up our negative attitudes towards others and we gave up making negative comments about others?

What if we made a commitment to say Yes when we were asked for help?
What if we made a commitment to be generous with our time, our money, and our talent?

What if when a person at work asks us for help, we said Yes.
What if when a homeless person asked for some money on the street, we said Yes.
What if when someone whispers negative thoughts about our co-worker, friend or family member, we respond by reminding them of the good side we see in both the person making the comment and the person being discussed.

What if we looked for opportunities each day to celebrate and share with others the generosity of spirit we have seen in others?

What if we practiced being more generous? Perhaps we'd find that this habit would fill our life with joy, so much so that we would making a lasting change in our lives. Perhaps we would find our lives and the lives of the people we touch, changed for the better.

Inspired by Sasha Dichter


Sasha describes his amazing generosity experiment starting at 3:48 to 7:20 in the video
And then finishes the story about his generosity experiment at 14:30 to 15:40 in the video

February 10, 2012

January Temperatures

The average temperature in January was 36.3 degrees Fahrenheit — 5.5 degrees warmer than the average for the 20th century. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has posted a striking series of maps on last month's temperatures and precipitation in the United States. 

Mckibben - The Great Carbon Bubble: Why the fossil fuel industry fights so hard against climate action

To preserve a livable climate, we need to leave most remaining hydrocarbons in the ground. Guess who doesn't like that idea?

by Bill McKibben, reposted from TomDispatch
If we could see the world with a particularly illuminating set of spectacles, one of its most prominent features at the moment would be a giant carbon bubble, whose bursting someday will make the housing bubble of 2007 look like a lark. As yet — as we shall see — it's unfortunately largely invisible to us.
In compensation, though, we have some truly beautiful images made possible by new technology.  Last month, for instance, NASA updated the most iconic photograph in our civilization's gallery: "Blue Marble," originally taken from Apollo 17 in 1972. The spectacular new high-def image shows a picture of the Americas on January 4th, a good day for snapping photos because there weren't many clouds.
It was also a good day because of the striking way it could demonstrate to us just how much the planet has changed in 40 years. As Jeff Masters, the web's most widely read meteorologist,explains, "The U.S. and Canada are virtually snow-free and cloud-free, which is extremely rare for a January day. The lack of snow in the mountains of the Western U.S. is particularly unusual. I doubt one could find a January day this cloud-free with so little snow on the ground throughout the entire satellite record, going back to the early 1960s."
In fact, it's likely that the week that photo was taken will prove "the driest first week in recorded U.S. history." Indeed, it followed on 2011, which showed the greatest weather extremes in our history — 56% of the country was either in drought or flood, which was no surprise since "climate change science predicts wet areas will tend to get wetter and dry areas will tend to get drier." Indeed, the nation suffered 14 weather disasters each causing $1 billion or more in damage last year. (The old record was nine.) Masters again: "Watching the weather over the past two years has been like watching a famous baseball hitter on steroids."
In the face of such data — statistics that you can duplicate for almost every region of the planet — you'd think we'd already be in an all-out effort to do something about climate change. Instead, we're witnessing an all-out effort to… deny there's a problem.
Our GOP presidential candidates are working hard to make sure no one thinks they'd appease chemistry and physics. At the last Republican debate in Florida, Rick Santorum insisted that he should be the nominee because he'd caught on earlier than Newt or Mitt to the global warming "hoax."
Most of the media pays remarkably little attention to what's happening. Coverage of global warming has dipped 40% over the last two years. When, say, there's a rare outbreak of January tornadoes, TV anchors politely discuss "extreme weather," but climate change is the disaster that dare not speak its name.
And when they do break their silence, some of our elite organs are happy to indulge in outright denial. Last month, for instance, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by "16 scientists and engineers" headlined "No Need to Panic About Global Warming." The article was easilydebunked. It was nothing but a mash-up of long-since-disproved arguments by people who turned out mostly not to be climate scientists at all, quoting other scientists who immediately said their actual work showed just the opposite.
It's no secret where this denialism comes from: the fossil fuel industry pays for it. (Of the 16 authors of the Journal article, for instance, five had had ties to Exxon.Writers from Ross Gelbspanto Naomi Oreskes have made this case with such overwhelming power that no one even really tries denying it any more. The open question is why the industry persists in denial in the face of an endless body of fact showing climate change is the greatest danger we've ever faced.
Why doesn't it fold the way the tobacco industry eventually did? Why doesn't it invest its riches in things like solar panels and so profit handsomely from the next generation of energy? As it happens, the answer is more interesting than you might think.
Part of it's simple enough: the giant energy companies are making so much money right now that they can't stop gorging themselves. ExxonMobil, year after year, pulls in more money than any company in history. Chevron's not far behind. Everyone in the business is swimming in money.
Still, they could theoretically invest all that cash in new clean technology or research and development for the same. As it happens, though, they've got a deeper problem, one that's become clear only in the last few years. Put briefly: their value is largely based on fossil-fuel reserves that won't be burned if we ever take global warming seriously.
When I talked about a carbon bubble at the beginning of this essay, this is what I meant. Here are some of the relevant numbers, courtesy of the Capital Institute: we're already seeing widespread climate disruption, but if we want to avoid utter, civilization-shaking disaster, many scientists have pointed to a two-degree rise in global temperatures as the most we could possibly deal with.
If we spew 565 gigatons more carbon into the atmosphere, we'll quite possibly go right past that reddest of red lines. But the oil companies, private and state-owned, have current reserves on the books equivalent to 2,795 gigatons — five times more than we can ever safely burn. It has to stay in the ground.
Put another way, in ecological terms it would be extremely prudent to write off $20 trillion worthof those reserves. In economic terms, of course, it would be a disaster, first and foremost for shareholders and executives of companies like ExxonMobil (and people in places like Venezuela).
If you run an oil company, this sort of write-off is the disastrous future staring you in the face as soon as climate change is taken as seriously as it should be, and that's far scarier than drought and flood. It's why you'll do anything — including fund an endless campaigns of lies — to avoid coming to terms with its reality. So instead, we simply charge ahead.  To take just one example, last month the boss of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Thomas Donohue, called for burning all the country's newly discovered coal, gas, and oil — believed to be 1,800 gigatons worth of carbon from our nation alone.
What he and the rest of the energy-industrial elite are denying, in other words, is that the business models at the center of our economy are in the deepest possible conflict with physics and chemistry. The carbon bubble that looms over our world needs to be deflated soon. As with our fiscal crisis, failure to do so will cause enormous pain — pain, in fact, almost beyond imagining. After all, if you think banks are too big to fail, consider the climate as a whole and imagine the nature of the bailout that would face us when that bubble finally bursts.
Unfortunately, it won't burst by itself — not in time, anyway. The fossil-fuel companies, with their heavily funded denialism and their record campaign contributions, have been able to keep at bay even the tamest efforts at reining in carbon emissions. With each passing day, they're leveraging us deeper into an unpayable carbon debt — and with each passing day, they're raking in unimaginable returns. ExxonMobil last week reported its 2011 profits at $41 billion, the second highest of all time. Do you wonder who owns the record? That would be ExxonMobil in 2008 at $45 billion.
Telling the truth about climate change would require pulling away the biggest punchbowl in history, right when the party is in full swing. That's why the fight is so pitched. That's why those of us battling for the future need to raise our game. And it's why that view from the satellites, however beautiful from a distance, is likely to become ever harder to recognize as our home planet.

Electric Taxi to the runway

Honeywell has developed an electric motor system that will allow aircraft to taxi to and from the runway without starting their main aircraft engines. The new technology will be undergoing trials shortly with a UK airline EasyJet on an AirBus 320. 

Aircraft engines operate most efficiently at high altitude, so keeping the engines off when the aircraft is on the ground can save a lot of fuel. Airlines estimate the system will result in a 4% total fuel savings - which will also reduce the airline's greenhouse gas emissions. 

The electric motors would be powered by the aircraft's Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) which is designed to supply power to the aircraft  when the main engines are turned off. 

Other advantages: 

Aircraft will no longer have to wait for aircraft tugs to push the aircraft back from the gate. 

This system will reduce wear and tear on aircraft brakes and extend engine life. 

This should also make the aircraft ramp a much quieter place. 

NRC approves first reactors since 1978

NRC Approves Southern's U.S. Reactors as Chairman Dissents due to lack of commitment to implement safety upgrades 

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved Southern Co.'s plan for the first licenses to build reactors in 32 years, with its chairman dissenting because he said there hasn't been a commitment to implement safety upgrades after Japan's nuclear disaster last year.
The split vote mars the start of a new atomic era as Southern builds the first U.S. nuclear reactor from a standardized design that promises to speed construction and reduce risks of runaway costs that plagued nuclear development during the 1970s and 1980s.
"I cannot support these licenses as if Fukushima never happened," Chairman Gregory Jaczko said after the 4-1 vote at NRC headquarters today in Rockville, Maryland.
Jaczko said he couldn't support the licenses without a binding agreement that Southern, of Atlanta, and its partners would operate the new reactors with safety enhancements meant to prevent the partial meltdowns that occurred at Fukushima.
NRC spokesman Scott Burnell says the agency plans to issue the license tomorrow. Southern can begin work immediately on the nuclear portion of the project.

90% Efficient heating and cooling system

New York University recently unveiled a heating and cooling system that it says is 90 percent efficient.

New York University is in the final phases of opening a power plant that provides electricity for its lights, elevators and computers and steam for heating and cooling water. The new plant is nearly 90 percent efficient, meaning it gets almost three times as much useful energy out of a unit of fuel as a typical utility power plant does. And its carbon dioxide output is 23 percent smaller than that of N.Y.U.'s old system.
Call it "collateral benefit." For the United States, reductions in carbon dioxide emissions are actually turning out to be side-effects of other economic changes. N.Y.U. has been generating its own electricity since the 1970's and is one of the largest entities doing so in Manhattan. Over the years it has used a variety of technologies, including giant diesel engines that burn oil to turn generators, with the exhaust heating water into steam.
But in the last few years, air pollution regulators have told the university that it must reduce emissions of conventional pollutants, like those that cut smog, from its power plant. N.Y.U.'s solution was to switch to natural gas, which has fewer conventional pollutants but also happens to have less carbon dioxide content per unit of energy than oil does, and to then use each bit of energy four times.
This nifty diagram explains the system. First the gas is burned in a gas turbine, a device that resembles a jet engine, to turn a generator. Then the waste heat is used to boil water into steam, which turns another turbine, to make more electricity. That system, called a combined cycle generator (it has a gas cycle and a steam cycle) is in common use today for providing electricity to the grid.
But normal utility practice is to take the steam leaving the steam turbine and use cooling water to condense it back into water in preparation for another trip through a heat exchanger to pick up more heat from the gas turbine exhaust to be boiled back into steam. Under ideal conditions, that can produce electricity with 60 percent of the energy value of the original natural gas.
At N.Y.U., the steam that leaves the steam turbine, having lost most of its energy, is used to heat water. In the summer it is used to turn a second steam turbine that runs a chiller that makes cold water for air conditioning. It replaces a 600-horsepower electric motor that would otherwise be powered by burning more natural gas.

Tar Sands destroying caribou and wolf populations

Canada's caribou population are in steep decline.  That's due in part to the destruction of habitat through logging, expanding tar sands production, and other industrial development in the province of Alberta.

But rather than focus on habitat conservation efforts to protect threatened caribou populations in the province, Canadian officials are poisoning and shooting wolves that prey on caribou.

The practice is not new in Alberta. But the stunning decline in Caribou herds is forcing the Canadian government to ramp up culling efforts around Alberta's oil sands — potentially resulting in the death of 6,000 wolves over the next five years, according to the Pembina Institute, a Canadian environmental think tank.

Government officials didn't confirm those figures, but one Canada's environment minister admitted it would be "very large numbers."

Environmental organizations are hammering the Canadian government over the killing of wolves, saying that it is proof of the cascading environmental impacts of tar sands production. 

According to a report from the Alberta Caribou Committee, it is very possible that increased industrial activity in Alberta — much of it driven by expanding tar sands mining — will cause the complete collapse of caribou populations living in the Boreal forest:
Boreal caribou will not persist for more than two to four decades without immediate and aggressive management intervention. Tough choices need to be made between the management imperative to recover boreal caribou and plans for ongoing bitumen development and industrial land-use.
The Canadian government agrees that caribou populations around Alberta and British Columbia are "very unlikely" to survive due to decades of sustained industrial development in fragile habitat. The dramatic expansion of tar sands is becoming a key driver of this habitat loss.
But rather than slow this type of environmentally-destructive activity to prevent Caribou (and now wolves) from being eviscerated, the Canadian government only plans to continue aggressive expansion of tar sands.


Congressional leaders urge Obama to stop Arctic Drilling

In an open letter signed yesterday by 60 members of Congress, (including Ed Markey and Niki Tsongas) federal lawmakers called on Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to halt all leases for the Arctic in the agency's five-year plan until a more sound review of disaster-response capabilities can be conducted. 

Two weeks ago, 573 scientists sent a letter to the White House urging the Obama Administration to take a science-based approach to issuing leases in the Arctic and to avoid opening up the region because of political pressure to expand drilling.

In addition, almost 400,000 people have asked President Obama to stop the sales of leases in the Department of Interior's five-year plan, according to the Alaska Wilderness League.

Methane leaks from natural gas wells

When US government scientists began sampling the air from a tower north of Denver, Colorado, they expected urban smog — but not strong whiffs of what looked like natural gas. They eventually linked the mysterious pollution to a nearby natural-gas field, and their investigation has now produced the first hard evidence that the cleanest-burning fossil fuel might not be much better than coal when it comes to climate change.

Led by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Colorado, Boulder, the study estimates that natural-gas producers in an area known as the Denver-Julesburg Basin are losing about 4% of their gas to the atmosphere — not including additional losses in the pipeline and distribution system. This is more than double the official inventory, but roughly in line with estimates made in 2011 that have been challenged by industry. And because methane is some 25 times more efficient than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere, releases of that magnitude could effectively offset the environmental edge that natural gas is said to enjoy over other fossil fuels.

Here is some more background detail.
The first clues appeared in 2007, when NOAA researchers noticed occasional plumes of pollutants including methane, butane and propane in air samples taken from a 300-metre-high atmospheric monitoring tower north of Denver. The NOAA researchers worked out the general direction that the pollution was coming from by monitoring winds, and in 2008, the team took advantage of new equipment and drove around the region, sampling the air in real time. Their readings led them to the Denver-Julesburg Basin, where more than 20,000 oil and gas wells have been drilled during the past four decades.
Most of the wells in the basin are drilled into 'tight sand' formations that require the same fracking technology being used in shale formations. This process involves injecting a slurry of water, chemicals and sand into wells at high pressure to fracture the rock and create veins that can carry trapped gas to the well. Afterwards, companies need to pump out the fracking fluids, releasing bubbles of dissolved gas as well as burps of early gas production. Companies typically vent these early gases into the atmosphere for up to a month or more until the well hits its full stride, at which point it is hooked up to a pipeline.
The team analysed the ratios of various pollutants in the air samples and then tied that chemical fingerprint back to emissions from gas-storage tanks built to hold liquid petroleum gases before shipment. In doing so, they were able to work out the local emissions that would be necessary to explain the concentrations that they were seeing in the atmosphere. Some of the emissions come from the storage tanks, says Pétron, "but a big part of it is just raw gas that is leaking from the infrastructure". Their range of 2.3–7.7% loss, with a best guess of 4%, is slightly higher than Corn­ell's estimate of 2.2–3.8% for shale-gas drilling and production. It is also higher than calculations by the EPA, which revised its methodology last year and roughly doubled the official US inventory of emissions from the natural-gas industry over the past decade. Howarth says the EPA methodology translates to a 2.8% loss.
The Cornell group had estimated that 1.9% of the gas produced over the lifetime of a typical shale-gas well escapes through fracking and well completion alone. NOAA's study doesn't differentiate between gas from fracking and leaks from any other point in the production process, but Pétron says that fracking clearly contributes to some of the gas her team measured.
Capturing and storing gases that are being vented during the fracking process is feasible, but industry says that these measures are too costly to adopt. An EPA rule that is due out as early as April would promote such changes by regulating emissions from the gas fields.


February 8, 2012

Steroids and Climate Change

What do baseball, steroids and climate change have in common?

Investing in our Future

This should serve as a wakeup call for America's investment in our future. This video shows how the amount of peer reviewed science research being done in the U.S. has changed since 2000. 

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an American astrophysicist, the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium, and a popularizer of science. 

February 1, 2012

Boston Globe disses green electricity

The Boston Globe published an irresponsible front page article, Green electricity finds few customers discouraging the adoption of green electricity.  

The article asks why there are relatively low numbers of people who have signed up for NSTAR Green and concludes that few people are willing to pay more for green energy. 
The Boston Globe article makes no mention of the many alternatives to NSTAR Green for customers interested in buying green electricity. 

It is possible to buy 100% renewable electricity for less money than you are currently paying for NSTAR's basic service. Install solar panels on your roof. Many companies will install a solar energy system for no money down and they will sell you the solar electricity from the system for 10% less than your current utility rate. So instead of paying $100 a month for dirty electricity, you could pay $90 a month for clean, renewable electricity and have fun watching the NSTAR meter spin backwards on sunny days! 

If you don't have a good roof for solar, you can buy Green-e certified renewable electricity on your own for much, much less than NSTAR Green.  Green-e certified electricity is available from many vendors, not just NSTAR Green. You can buy renewable electricity from Midwestern wind farms for only about $0.0035 / kWh more than NSTAR's basic service. 

So someone paying $100 per month for dirty electricity could be paying only $102.20 a month for 100% green renewable wind powered electricity. You can go to green-e.org to find lists of vendors who will be happy to sell you green electricity. 

Now back to the Boston Globe article - 

The Boston Globe article leaves people with the impression that the cost of wind power is increasing rapidly, but that just isn't true. 

The cost of NSTAR Green has gone up less than a 1/2 cent per kWh or only about 0.65% per year over the last 4 years. (I'm using numbers from the charts included with the article.) 

Meanwhile NSTAR's delivery charges over the same period have gone up 1.2 cents per kWh -  from $0.068 / kWh to $0.08 / kWh for a 17.9% increase over the same period. 

Let's look at where the real cost increases are coming from.  How can NSTAR justify increasing their delivery charges by 17.9% for all of their customers no matter what kind of electricity they buy? 

My experience is that NSTAR is actively discouraging people from participating in the NSTAR Green program. I was one of the first customers to sign up for NSTAR Green. I have received at least 4 letters from NSTAR over the last 3 years telling me how I could easily un-enroll in the program. 

When was the last time you received a letter from any vendor outlining the process for canceling their service as the primary message of the letter? It doesn't sound like an organization that is interested in growing their customer base for that product. 

NSTAR has also chosen to set the price of the product as an additional charge above and beyond conventional electricity. This makes no sense and discourages people from signing up. NSTAR has signed long-term, fixed price contracts for their wind power. Customers buying NSTAR Green should also be able to pay a reasonable price based on NSTAR's long-term fixed price costs for their wind power. 

California approves new low carbon car standards

Manufacturers will be required to cut average carbon emissions to 166 grams per mile by 2025, an improvement of 50 per cent on current levels and 34 per cent on expected 2016 levels.
They will also have to cut emissions of smog-forming pollution by an additional 75 per cent on anticipated 2014 levels.
In order to help ensure the standards are met manufacturers will have to comply with a Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) regulation that will require over 1.4 million zero emission cars and trucks to be on the state's roads by 2025, while the state has also committed to ensure supporting refueling infrastructure is built for electric and hydrogen cars.
According to ARB, the rules will save Californian drivers $5bn in operating costs by 2025 with each driver saving an average of nearly $6,000 in reduced fuel costs over the life of a car. The standards are also expected to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 52 million tons by 2025, equivalent to taking 10 million cars off the road for a year.
California has historically set vehicle emissions standards that other states have chosen to follow. Currently 14 other states, have adopted California's smog emissions standards and 10 states have adopted its previous clean vehicle standards, fueling hopes that a number of states could pick up the new standards.

James Hansen on Cowards in our Democracy

Global warming due to human-made gases, mainly CO2, is already 0.8°C and deleterious climate impacts are growing worldwide. More warming is "in the pipeline" because Earth is out of energy balance, with absorbed solar energy exceeding planetary heat radiation. 
The public has the right to know who is supporting the foot soldiers for business-as-usual and to learn about the web of support for the propaganda machine that serves to keep the public addicted to fossil fuels and destroys the future of their children.
People profiting from business-as-usual fossil fuel use are waging a campaign to discredit the science. Their campaign is effective because the profiteers have learned how to manipulate democracies for their advantage.

The full article is here -