Archive for the ‘environment’ Category


Global warming ‘irreversible’ for next 1000 years.

As reported by AFP, NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) scientists have released a study saying that current levels of global warming will cause irreversible damage, no matter what is done in the future to decrease CO2 and other related emissions.  I will add a link to the primary scientific article when the link is published.

“NOAA senior scientist Susan Solomon said the study, published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, showed that current human choices on carbon dioxide emissions are set to “irreversibly change the planet.” Researchers examined the consequences of CO2 building up beyond present-day concentrations of 385 parts per million, and then completely stopping emissions after the peak. Before the industrial age CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere amounted to only 280 parts per million. The study found that CO2 levels are irreversibly impacting climate change, which will contribute to global sea level rise and rainfall changes in certain regions. The authors emphasized that increases in CO2 that occur from 2000 to 2100 are set to “lock in” a sea level rise over the next 1,000 years.”

This is certainly well past a wake-up call, if anybody still needed one. Here’s where the relentless optimist meets the original cynic: I refuse to accept that it is worthless to make the biggest changes possible to head off increased global warming. Am I denying science? No, I’m just clinging to hope.

Original text copyright © 2009 James K. Bashkin

See futher discussion of this post here at Gather.com.

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Please see the article by Sam Carana on how a larger grid, yet a simultaneously more locally-run grid, can be implemented.  The purpose is to capture as much of the electricity being generated as possible while keeping a local level of control, to try to avoid undue influence by those who fail to understand the details of energy policy.  Read about how many parts of Europe already have surplus electricity, and how countries are linking their grids together to improve efficiency.  Part of the rationale for such arrangements in Europe is that countries which generate a lot of electricity from wind can necessarily control when that electricity is most plentiful, but they don’t want it wasted.  At the same time, such European countries may need electricity from other sources, say hydroelectric plants in a neighboring country, when wind power isn’t sufficient.  Similar arrangements could be made throughout North America.  See what Sam has to say!  He gives lots of sources for his comments and information.


Asbestos is still imported and used in the U.S. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. imported and used an estimated 1,820 tons of asbestos in 2007; see this PDF file from the USGS, please click only if you want to download the PDF. Also, the U.S. House of Representatives is considering a bill H.R. 6903 The Bruce Vento Ban Asbestos and Prevent Mesothelioma Act to ban the future importation and use of asbestos (it is already banned in 40 countries) and provide funding for medical research into effective treatments for asbestos-related diseases. Also, around the 2007 Christmas season, the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization had some household products, such as duct tape, and toys tested and found they contained asbestos. See Ban Asbestos.

Thanks to the reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, for this information.

JKB


Today I am delighted to publish a guest post on asbestos and human health, and their links to the environment. The post is by James O’Shea, content editor of http://www.maacenter.org; James K. Bashkin (Site Publisher and Editor; the guest post is the opinion of its author).

January 22, 2009: For more discussion of this topic, please see the comments here and the version of this article, with discussion, that was re-published by me on Gather.com: http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.jsp?articleId=281474977474977

January 1, 2009: Today I am somewhat less delighted to point out the comment made by Dennis of samadhisoft.com, who provided the link http://samadhisoft.com/2008/09/18/mesothelioma-asbestos-awareness-center/. This blog, written by Dennis, documents some strange behaviors associated with the sponsors of the center that offered this guest report. While I was fully aware that they were sponsored by a law firm, I was not aware of some apparently predatory practices that Dennis has uncovered. I have removed the live links in this article except the one that I supplied to the literature citation, but you can still get to the site if you want to by typing the url of the center, http://www.maacenter.org, into your browser. Meanwhile, I have added Samadhisoft.com to my blogroll. Thanks, Dennis!

The processing of fossil fuels has a long trail of consequences, with some being more obvious than others. There are essentially two tiers of negative ramifications to backwards energy policies. The first of these are the direct environmental consequences of the burning of fossil, which has been well documented in recent years with the recent interest in the effects of global warming. However, the second tier are the human health effects associated with the burning of fossil fuels.

(Revised Editor’s note: this paragraph has been removed.  Some comments refer to the missing text).

Then there are the more indirect costs, and specifically those which are associated with the industry itself. Working conditions in the fossil fuel industry are among the most hazardous of any occupation. One of the hazards workers will encounter is asbestos, which has been classified by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission as a known carcinogen. And even though asbestos was banned by the CPSC in the late 1970’s, older asbestos fixtures still exist within nearly all facets of the fossil fuel infrastructure. These older and sometimes damaged fixtures pose and even greater hazard to human health.

When microscopic asbestos fibers are inhaled, they lodge themselves in the lining of lungs. This lays the groundwork for the deadly asbestos cancer, mesothelioma. Perhaps it should come as no coincidence then that rates of pleural cancer (mesothelioma) in oil refinery workers are among the highest of any occupation.

What we begin to see then, is that there are effects of ozone depletion and fossil fuel use and processing, that are detrimental not only to the planet, but also to human health. When the world opens its eyes to the crisis we’re supporting, we’ll not only have sustained the future for our children, but also saved lives.

References:

Environmental Protection Agency

Occupational Medicine 2007 (an Oxford Journal), Mortality of UK Oil Refinery Workers and Petroleum Distribution Workers 1951-2003, by Tom Sorahan, Institute of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, University of Birmingham.


Green issues are sometimes complex.  We need to recycle many things, like electronics, but we certainly don’t want to poison others in the process.  Efforts to protect the environment and conserve valuable resources must be coupled with proper health and safety procedures.  Unfortunately, just saying this doesn’t make it happen.  Developing countries are becoming a dumping ground for much toxic waste and proper environmental health and safety is being ignored, both by local opportunists and suppliers of e-Waste from developed nations.  From Greenpeace:

This shocking documentary from Greenpeace shows how “second hand goods” exported to Ghana for reuse are actually causing horrendous pollution. “People in the developed countries bring them here to bridge the digital gap but in actual fact they are creating a digital dump.”

Ghana — The latest place where we have discovered high tech toxic trash causing horrendous pollution is in Ghana. Our analysis of samples taken from two electronic waste (e-waste) scrap yards in Ghana has revealed severe contamination with hazardous chemicals.

Similar problems occur in China and, surprisingly, even in developed countries.  See related information about toxic waste dumps all over the world here.

However, you can also read good news about environmental protection in Europe and the effect it is having on US companies.

read more | digg story

Original text copyright © 2008 James K. Bashkin


Originally published in a somewhat different form on my Squidoo solar power lens and Sustainability group. Please note that Sam Carana has written a lot about the hydrogen economy, and he covered this same story, but with more technical information about the new science and catalysts, here.

Hydrogen and oxygen gases can be used in fuel cell technology to provide energy to a home, and these gases can be produced by the action of electricity on water. Hydrolysis can also be carried out by the action of sunlight on water, with the help of certain types of solar cells, or photovoltaics. Electrolysis often requires caustic conditions, or high pH (or a lot of electricity is wasted), but the caustic requirements, and most wasted electricity, can be overcome with the use of additional components known as catalysts. The result is that solar energy can be used to power a home during the day by generating electricity, and consumers would have a variety of options to store excess electricity:

Batteries are typically thought of for storage of electricity, but another option is offered by the power of sunlight: energy storage through generation of hydrogen and oxygen by electrolysis. Gernation of hydrogen and oxygen under acceptable and convenient conditions has become just more possible with the discovery of a new, breakthrough catalyst for electrolysis:

As described by Mariella Moon of ExtremeTech, “… one catalyst would be responsible for producing oxygen gas from water, while another would produce hydrogen. The hydrogen and oxygen could be recombined in a fuel cell to power the home at night where solar energy isn’t readily available…”

Hydrogen and oxygen would accumulate during the day from excess electricity generating capacity of a solar cell system, and then these gases would serve as the fuel for a fuel cell that would power a house overnight. The byproduct of the fuel cell, water, could then be re-used for water splitting (electrolysis) the next day.

Illustrations of the idea and video from principle scientist D. Nocera of MIT is shown at the GoodCleanTech site, the Green Blog of pcmag.com, as posted by Mariella Moon.

The key to the new catalyst for electrolysis is that, unlike the catalytic converter in your car, it does not require expensive metals like platinum or rhodium, yet it works at atmospheric pressure, room temperature and moderate pH, thus providing hydrogen and oxygen that can feed a fuel cell with minimal environmental impact.

Original text copyright © 2008 James K. Bashkin


For both laptop and desktop computers, Dell plans to cut power consumption as part of its required work on compliance with the EPA’s EnergyStar 5.0 standard, reports Mark Hachman of pcmag.com. HP earlier said it would cut power use of “volume” PCs by 25 percent, relative to 2005. In those terms, Dell’s reductions would be 62 % for desktops, 37 % for laptops (says Dell’s Albert Esser, vice president of power and infrastructure solutions). These changes are of course very welcome.

“One, we will first continue to integrate Energy Smart technologies into the product,” Esser said, referring to a basket of Dell technologies that includes low-power Intel and AMD processors, aggressively power-managed system settings, and management tools. Those will also include circuit design and internal routing, he said.

“Low-flow fan technology is a significant one,” Esser added. ‘We don’t source the cheapest…fans, but often we choose to work with a vendor to create a custom design.”

Dell also plans to use higher-effficiency power supplies from the organization 80 PLUS (certified 80% efficient), though even more efficient power supplies (85%) are required by EnergyStar 5.0, from what I have already read and reported.

It is worth noting that proposed European are much more stringent than US EPA standards on toxic components of PCs.

read more | digg story


Toyota, as reported by Jamie Lendino of ExtremeTech, has the most fuel efficient line of cars in the US, with an average of 29.7 mpg for actual vehicles sold. Results are based on the 2007 model year. Discussion in the forum goes into upcoming offerings from Honda and VW, but they have to be taken with a grain of salt until we can buy them! Kudos to Toyota for delivering on the showroom floor.

Honda and Hyundai were next on the list with 29.47 and 29.39, respectively. Domestic brands were much further down the list, with GM, Ford, and Chrysler scoring 25.16, 25.15 and 23.97—evidence of product line-ups that are more heavily weighted on the truck and SUV side of the equation.

read more | digg story


Yahoo Autos and Road & Track Magazine have provided “spy” photographs (by Brenda Priddy & Company) and a very preliminary description of the new Honda Hybrid, a 2010 model destined to reach dealers in late 2009. While details of the gasoline engine side of the car have not yet been disclosed, the electric side is reportedly based on a nickel/metal-hydride battery design rather than a lithium-ion battery. Gas mileage is thought by Road & Track to be “class leading” and well above 40 mpg. Author Sam Mitani says:

The price of this new car will be low, as Honda maintains it will be an entry-level car with 200,000 units selling annually — half of those to be sold in the United States. Early rumors indicate that it may be as low as $19,000. With seating for five, this 4-door, front-wheel-drive hatchback…

Although exactly where this car will fit into the Honda line is unknown to outsiders, the new Honda hybrid will compete with the Toyota Prius:

Whichever label it wears, one thing for sure is that the new Honda Hybrid will be one of the most fuel-efficient vehicles in the world, and may wrest the crown away from the Prius as the world’s favorite green car.

The appearance of another hybrid in the U.S. and world markets is certainly a cause for celebration, though my loudest cheers will be for the plug-in hybrids that will (or should) also be arriving soon.

Original text copyright © 2008 James K. Bashkin


The environment is once again under attack by the US government, this time in a foolish and futile gesture to appease voters who are justifiably angry about high gas prices. In a move destined to have no effect whatsoever on gasoline prices in the near term, and possibly ever, President Bush just lifted the Executive ban on offshore drilling. This ban was actually imposed by the Presidents’s father. A story from Reuters (via Yahoo!News) by Jeremy Pelofsky and Tom Doggett describes the President’s action as

a largely symbolic move unlikely to have any short-term impact on high gasoline costs.

Of course, off-shore drilling isn’t the only forbidden activity that President Bush has just approved- he also approved drilling of 4400 wells in Wyoming and related energy mining activities on Federal land formerly protected by a large number of environmental regulations. In “Heedless Rush to Oil Shale” by Democratic Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado writes in the Washington Post:

Bush and his fellow oil shale boosters claim that if only Western communities would stand aside, energy companies could begin extracting more than 500 billion barrels of recoverable oil from domestic shale deposits. If only the federal government immediately offered even more public lands for development, the technology to extract oil from rock would suddenly ripen, oil supplies would rise and gas prices would fall.

If only.

Since the 19th century, we in the West have been trying to extract oil from the vast oil shale riches that lie under our feet. It is no easy task, and past efforts have failed miserably. Commercial oil shale development would require not only immense financial investments but also an undetermined quantity of (scarce) water from the Colorado River basin and the construction of several multibillion-dollar power plants.

Sometimes it seems that we are getting close to overcoming these barriers. But each time we near a boom, we bust. The last bust, the infamous “Black Sunday” of 1982, left Western communities holding the bill long after the speculators, Beltway boosters and energy companies had taken off.

Senator Salazar goes on to add:

The governors of Wyoming and Colorado, communities and editorial boards across the West agree that the administration’s headlong rush is a terrible idea. Even energy companies, including Chevron, have said we need to proceed more cautiously on oil shale. With more than 30,000 acres of public land at their disposal to conduct research, development and demonstration projects (in addition to 200,000 undeveloped acres of private oil shale lands they own in Colorado and Utah), they already have more land than they can develop in the foreseeable future.

So why is the president hurrying to sell leases for commercial oil shale development in the West’s great landscapes? A fire sale will not lower gas prices. It will not accelerate the development of commercial oil shale technologies.

Senator Salazar continues by saying that he supports the idea of developing technology for removing shale oil in a commercially feasible manner, something I would not be in favor of relative to solar and wind power, but he concludes that Federal land is being given away for no logical reason- not even the oil companies are making any promises about if and when shale oil from the Western US will become a viable commodity.

Returning to the subject of off-shore drilling, I think that this policy change will be considerably more than symbolic to the environment, even if it is only symbolic with regard to our national energy crisis. The construction of drilling platforms and the potential for oil spills, ruined beaches and dead fish and birds may well dwarf the wreck of the Exxon Valdez on March 23. 1989. Let’s hope not, but let’s also remember that the Exxon Valdez spill broke many Federal laws and some prosecution resulted (although, as shown below, the Supreme Court recently protected Exxon from significant financial punishment). The President and his corporate friends should be held to strict environmental standards that they haven’t done well in following, historically: if President Bush’s close friends in the oil industry keep up their poor track record of environmental protection and cause serious damage, they should be prosecuted.

In case some of the details of the Exxon Valdez case may need to be reviewed, here are a few worthwhile quotes and links to the original sources. In a case the went to the Supreme court and was resolved in June of 2008, Adam Liptak of The New York Times reported on June 26, 2008 that (note, you may have to sign up for a free registration to set the Times article)

The Supreme Court on Wednesday reduced what had once been a $5 billion punitive damages award against Exxon Mobil to about $500 million. The ruling essentially concluded a legal saga that started when the Exxon Valdez, a supertanker, struck a reef and spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into the Prince William Sound in Alaska in 1989.

From alternet.org:

The spilled oil — somewhere between 11 to 38 million gallons (the figure is elusive because as we learned the hard way, the truth was one of the first casualties of the spill) — created a big mess and broke a lot of federal laws. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Exxon paid $2.5 billion for its cleanup and another $1 billion for penalties. But, it might surprise people who live outside Alaska to learn that taxpayers, not Exxon, paid a majority of that bill. Exxon recouped most of its remaining expense from its insurance companies and from money it paid to settle damages for natural resources — publicly-owned wildlife and lands.

From the State of Alaska and the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council:

The Exxon Valdez spill, though still one of the largest ever in the U.S., has dropped from the top 50 internationally. However, it is widely considered the number one spill worldwide in terms of damage to the environment. The timing of the spill, the remote and spectacular location, the thousands of miles of rugged and wild shoreline, and the abundance of wildlife in the region combined to make it an environmental disaster well beyond the scope of other spills. Much has been accomplished over the years to prevent another Exxon Valdez-type accident. See the Spill Prevention and Response section of this website.

For more information about the environmental impact, case studies, legal history and science of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, this time from NOAA (the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration of the US Department of Commerce), see here.

Getting back to Monday’s decision by President Bush and the Reuters story by Pelofsky and Dogget,

With prices at the pump over $4 a gallon, Bush pushed the Democratic-controlled Congress to expand offshore oil and natural gas drilling and give companies access to the Arctic Wildlife National Refuge despite fierce opposition from environmentalists.

However,

Democratic leaders in Congress and environmentalists immediately condemned the move as having have no short-term impact on soaring oil prices.

Of further note, from Reuters:

Democratic White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign quickly condemned the move. “It would merely prolong the failed energy policies we have seen from Washington for 30 years,” spokesman Bill Burton said.

and

Republican White House contender Sen. John McCain, who reversed his previous opposition to offshore drilling, told reporters that he thought the decision was a “very important signal” and that “states should continue to decide.”

Meanwhile, Japan, Germany, Spain, China and many other countries are cornering the market on fuel efficient cars, plug-in electric hybrid vehicles, solar power installations, wind power installations, and manufacturing plants required for producing solar panels, while the U.S. is left in the position of having many innovative companies but no significant tax support or other incentives to reduce our dependence on oil.

This latest act of poor judgment by the President is typical of his actions, where he has consistently fought and overturned environmental protections and the White House has ordered officials to ignore science and the environment in favor of big business. Some of these orders have come from Vice President Cheney’s office, though he has been stealthy while interfering with the EPA and other agencies. For a 2007 report on the Vice President’s role in hampering EPA efforts, see the Washington Post article “Leaving no Tracks” by Jo Becker and Barton Gellman:

Law and science seemed to be on the side of the fish. Then the vice president stepped in.

First Cheney looked for a way around the law, aides said. Next he set in motion a process to challenge the science protecting the fish, according to a former Oregon congressman who lobbied for the farmers.

Because of Cheney’s intervention, the government reversed itself and let the water flow in time to save the 2002 growing season, declaring that there was no threat to the fish. What followed was the largest fish kill the West had ever seen, with tens of thousands of salmon rotting on the banks of the Klamath River.

Characteristically, Cheney left no tracks.

It is long overdue for the USA to develop a reasonable and sustainable energy policy that will diminish our dependence of oil, introduce sustainable energy and transportation on a large scale, and do so without damaging or adding threats to our health or environment. It is long overdue to rein in the the current administration’s reign of international policy, environmental, and financial disasters.

Original text copyright © 2008 James K. Bashkin

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