April 2012 Archives Week 2
April 20, 2012 |
The emerald ash borer, an invasive beetle that has destroyed millions of ash trees from the U.S. Midwest to western New York over the last decade, has been found east of the Hudson River for the first time, the closest the pest has comes to the forests of New England. New York environmental officials, who have undertaken an aggressive research and control campaign across 225 square miles since the pest was first found in New York state in 2009, say they found small infestations of the beetle in three “trap” trees east of the Hudson last month. Fortunately, they say, the colony was discovered less than a year after it was established, making it easier to curb the beetles’ spread. Typically, the beetle larvae tunnel under the bark and are able to kill trees before foresters know the trees have been infested. “It’s rare that infestations are found this early,” Nate Siegert, a U.S. Forest Service entomologist, told the Associated Press. While the main population of the beetle, which originated in China, has been moving toward the mid-Atlantic and northeastern U.S. at a pace of about 2 to 3 miles per year since the beetle was first found near Detroit in 2002, smaller colonies have been able to leapfrog ahead, most likely within truckloads of logs or firewood.
Photo by U.S. Department of Agriculture/flickr/Creative Commons
Reprinted with permission from Yale Environment 360
by Dave Hurst
There’s been plenty of bad news recently in the world electric vehicles, mostly related to start ups like Fisker and Azure. Adding to the mix, Deloitte has released a survey showing that battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are not very popular with Generation Y (ages 19-31).
The reasons appear to be multiple, including high prices for BEVs, a lack of environmental concern (which is a matter of some dispute), and a strong tendency to shop for used rather than new vehicles. But there are two key points that came out of the survey that point to new mission-critical technology for BEVs:
- Connected vehicle telematics
- Wireless charging
72 percent of those surveyed want access to their smart phone apps in their car. As I pointed out in my report, Electric Vehicles Telematics, the telematics systems in both BEVs and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are more likely to be connected vehicle telematics that offer streaming media, cloud application access, and special electric vehicle functions. This research backs up my findings that these technologies are not only important for the automakers to help build confidence in the vehicles, but also a reason consumers would consider the vehicles.
Survey respondents also stated that they do not want to be physically tied to the electric grid –a very intriguing finding that should help bolster wireless charging advocates. While I can’t imagine that being tied to gas stations is that much more attractive than being tied to the grid, the time of the connection is likely the issue. If the standard option is to charge wirelessly by parking-and-forgetting-it, I wonder how those survey results would change?
The survey underlines something I’ve argued for a while: the technology inside the car is what will sell the car. The drivetrain should be secondary. Specialty plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) applications have largely to date been focused on extending range and providing charging locations and route planning with ease. In researching the telematics market for PEVs, similar to the findings in this study, I found that there is a high interest in the more advanced connected vehicle telematics for PEVs. As a result, I am anticipating that high feature, connected vehicle telematics will grow to about 80 percent of the PEVs on the road by 2017.
With connected vehicle telematics, automakers and technology providers are just beginning to develop these new social apps and streaming content that will make PEVs a unique vehicle experience for their owners. What this survey shows is that to attract younger buyers, PEVs will have to be both disconnected (from the grid) and connected (to their social and media world).As an analyst for Pike Research, Dave Hurst studies emerging markets in electric transportation.
by Maureen Nandini Mitra
Actual Implementation Deadline Delayed to January 2015
The US Environmental Protection Agency today announced the first-ever federal standards to reduce air pollution from fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, for oil and natural gas extraction, but delayed the actual implementation of the regulations.
The new rules require natural gas well operators to capture gas that escapes the well during the production process, but giving in to industry pressure, it allows drillers a nearly three-year window to put emissions capture equipment in place. In the meantime, companies can “flare,” or burn, the escaping gases at the wellhead.
The announcement comes close on heels of a series of studies that have shown that methane emissions from fracking are higher than previously assumed, and are a major source of air pollution. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report, for instance, estimates that roughly 4 percent of natural gas from wells leaks into the atmosphere.
The natural gas industry is the largest source of methane emissions in the US — adding up to about 40 percent of the country’s total methane emissions, according to EPA data from May and July 2011. About 20,000 new and existing natural gas wells are fractured or re-fractured in the US each year. Apart from methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas, these wells emit a mix of other volatile organic compounds including benzene and hexane, which can cause cancer, asthma, and other serious health effects. (Read our previous post on this subject, Oil and Gas Drilling Linked to Smog.)
The new regulations, EPA itself admits, rely on widely available technologies and practices already being used at nearly half of all fracking wells in the US. Basically, it involves using mobile, trailer-mounted tanks and equipment to capture the escaping gases and route them back into pipelines. EPA estimates that by using this technology, which would allow them to sell the captured gas, companies could save about $11-$19 million a year. Two states, Colorado and Wyoming, have already made the use of this technology, called “green completion,” mandatory. (Check out this NRDC blog that says leading companies have already been putting this technology to good and profitable use.)
So far, both industry and environmentalists seem pleased with the new ruling. “The stories of families hurt by gas drilling's air pollution were essential to the adoption of these new public health safeguards,” said Bruce Baizel, senior attorney for mining and drilling watchdog group Earthworks. “Hopefully this much-needed first step will soon be expanded to better protect the families that illustrated the need for the new rules in the first place.”
This is a good first step indeed. But it seems to me that there’s no real reason to give drilling companies time until January 2015 to put the "green completion" technology in place and allow them to burn the escaping gases in the meantime. Flaring, has serious environmental and health consequences. (One of the worst examples is in the Niger Delta, where people have long been suffering the consequences of gas flaring. It would have been better if, as had been initially proposed, the regulations went into effect immediately. When so little is still known about the real impacts of fracking on our environment and our health, and when what little we know only points to bad stuff, the precautionary principle should always prevail.
Reprinted with permission from Earth Island Journal
Imagine covering all our sun-drenched roads with solar panels instead of concrete and asphalt - that's what Solar Roadways has in mind for getting us unhooked from fossil fuels.
They're starting small with driveways, bike paths, patios, sidewalks, parking lots, and playgrounds, to perfect their technology.
The Solar Roadway is a series of structurally-engineered solar panels that can be driven on, and which can collect energy to be used by our homes and businesses.
Any home or business connected to the Solar Roadway (via a Solar Road Panel driveway or parking lot) receives the power and data signals that the Solar Roadway provides. The Solar Roadway becomes an intelligent, self-healing, decentralized, secure power grid.
An electric road allows electric vehicles to recharge anywhere: rest stops, parking lots, etc. That gives them the same range as a gasoline-powered vehicle. Internal combustion engines would become obsolete. Our dependency on oil would come to an abrupt end.
In 2009, Solar Roadways won a contract from the Federal Highway Administration to build the first ever Solar Road Panel prototype.
After that was completed, they got a 2-year $750,000 follow-up contract to build a prototype parking lot and test it under all weather and sunlight conditions.
After the Solar Roadways technology is proven in parking lots, the next step is residential roads, where speeds are slower than highways and trucks are not as common.
The final goal is the nation's highways. Solar Roadways is already investigating using mutual inductance to charge EVs traveling over Solar Road Panels as they drive!
Here's their website:
Photo by emdot/flickr/Creative Commons
Reprinted with permission from SustainableBusiness.com
by Christopher DeMorro
We’ve reached a very interesting time in the automotive industry. On one hand, rising fuel prices mean that efficiency is more of a concern than ever. On the other hand, automakers dare not turn back the clock on performance and safety, as consumers have become used to a certain level of luxury and quality in their cars. So how do you make a safe car that is also lightweight? Ford is exploring the use of carbon fiber in their cars…but will it drive new car prices even higher?
In a word, yes. Carbon fiber is an incredible substance, as strong as it is light. Many high end exotic cars and purpose-built racers utilize carbon fiber. But these are the kind of people for whom price is not a problem. Ford needs to sell lots of cars to lots of people, and by 2020, they hope to cut between 250 and 750 pounds from each car in its lineup.
That is a considerable amount of weight that will make reaching higher fuel efficiency standards, as well as the call for an exciting driving experience, easier to attain. Ford is working with Dow Chemical to integrate carbon fiber into its cars, though it is also considering the use of magnesium in trucks and aluminum in cars as a way to save weight.
Ford isn’t alone, as GM is also working on integrating carbon fiber into its cars. A weight savings of 10 percent can improve fuel economy by as much as 8 percent, though less weight will likely translate into a costlier car. If you think new cars are expensive now, wait until those new fuel economy standards start kicking in.
Reprinted with permission from Gas 2.0
by Caitlin Owyang
Editor’s note: Thinking about opening a bottle of vino for Earth Day? Here are some great tips for making sure that the wine you choose also has a light impact on the planet.
1. Buy Local
Just like buying your produce at a local farmers’ market, buying locally made wines reduces your carbon footprint. Locally produced wines require less shipping and transportation than imported wines, making happy hour much more eco-friendly. Oftentimes, local businesses operate on a smaller scale and therefore have lower overall emissions and pollution levels. Buying local wines means helping your local community while also improving the global environment.
2. Wine on Tap
Ever wonder why the beer list is twice as long as the wine list at bars? Tap systems have long allowed bartenders to pour thirsty patrons pints of ShockTop, Bud, Blue Moon and a bevy of others, while often the only wines offered are the House White or House Red. Well that may all change soon. Draught systems aren’t just for beer anymore.
Using inert gases and stainless steel kegs, vineyards across America are now packaging their wines with the environment in mind. Say you sell three cases a week of your best selling wine, that’s over 1,800 bottles a year. A single keg can be reused many times throughout its life, replacing the need for thousands of bottles. Wine in a keg also means no corks or labels, and the keg is returned to the winery to be refilled. Transportation costs are also reduced as wines are shipped in large quantities as more efficient cargo.
Wine on tap also reduces material spoilage by ensuring that wine lasts longer. With a wine on tap system, the keg is constantly pressurized ensuring that oxidation never occurs. Wine in a keg can stay fresh for a year (or more!).
Wine on tap is virtually zero waste, from the packaging and transportation down to the wine itself.
3. Reduce Spoilage and Waste
The process of oxidation begins as soon as the bottle is opened and the wine is exposed to air. As many red wine enthusiasts know, oxidation changes the taste as well as the quality of the wine, often reducing a great cabernet to a Two Buck Chuck within a week.
Don’t have a commercial-grade wine on tap system to prevent oxidation? Don’t worry! Everyday wine drinkers can purchase a wine preserver vacuum pump which removes the oxygen from the wine bottle before sealing it with a vacuum tight stopper.
Prolong the life of your wine with a wine preserver and be environmentally friendly by drinking every last drop!
4. Buy Organic
We’ve all heard the argument for buying organic produce — it’s healthier, it’s fresher, it’s pesticide free and environmentally friendly. Well, these things are all true for organic wine as well!
Organic wine is made from grapes grown without the use of artificial chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. By eliminating these chemical elements, organic wine is better for you and better for the environment. Many traditional vineyards use chemical enhancers to increase crop yields, depleting soil nutrients and tainting water systems.
So the next time you’re shopping for wine, buy organic. You’ll save yourself, and the planet, from chemicals. Here’s a list of top organic wines to get you started.
Upcycling takes traditional recycling to the next level. Often associated with waste materials or otherwise useless objects, upcycling repurposes would-be waste into new and useful items.
We all know that glass wine bottles can be recycled the good old fashioned way and turned into new bottles. But what do you do with the corks? Most people throw them away, but there are many uses for these beloved stoppers.
One way to upcycle wine corks is in potted plants. When broken up, the pieces of cork will biodegrade naturally and help your plants grow. Cork is great for retaining moisture as well as resisting mold. Here are more ways to upcycle your corks.
Reprinted with permission from Sustainablog
by Susan Kraemer
Joining world leaders in climate laws, Mexico just passed new legislation that catapults the poor neighbor to the south of the U.S. to a leadership role on a par with its northern neighbor, California.
Mexico’s General Law on Climate Change was just passed by an 128-10 overwhelming vote in its 500 member Chamber of Deputies, and moves to the Senate. Since that body passed a preliminary version already, its chances of becoming law look excellent.
Just as investment in clean energy soared in California following passage of its clean climate laws starting in 2006 with the first Renewable Energy Standard and following up with AB32, its climate law.
California’s 33 percent clean energy by 2020 target received enough offers from solar and wind developers to make 100 percent of its energy from these two sources, for example. Mexico boasts the same abundant solar and wind resources and could easily achieve the same goals as California.
The bill that passed the House would include provisions to:
- Set the target of emissions reduction of 30 percent below business-as-usual emissions by 2020 and 50 percent below 2000 levels by 2050.
- Develop incentives to promote renewable energy, to be designed by the Ministry of Finance and of Energy.
- Increase renewable energy generation to 35 percent by 2024.
- Create a high-level climate change commission to oversee national climate policy over sustained Administrations. This alone would set stable climate policy – making Mexico more like Europe. Unlike the U.S. which totters back and forth in gridlock, with clean energy held hostage by the GOP – dropping the wind PTC every other year, for example – the EU and China have set, stuck to, and achieved long range goals. Calderon established an inter-ministry panel, but this law would ensure that high-level multi-ministry engagement occurs even after his term is over.
- Require mandatory emissions reporting for the largest source of global warming pollution in the country, an essential aspect of managing them.
- Support the development of a domestic emission trading system - the bill wouldn’t mandate the establishment of a cap & trade plan for energy and cement production, the biggest emitters, although that might be handled using trading. Another way to get to the targets might be a simple mandate, like the Renewable Energy Standards requiring utilities to add more renewable energy or buy credits for customers who do so (or pay a penalty) they way the SREC market works in New Jersey.
Quite aside from its effect on climate, the new law could completely upend the interconnection between the U.S. and Mexico, reversing their relationship to each other.
Formerly seen as the source of undocumented “alien invasion” by the poor South (although somewhat eroded by the recession) Mexico will now become itself the focus of clean energy investment, lifting its economy and bolstering its long term energy security in the same way that clean energy investment has done with California’s.
This law puts Mexico on a par with the EU as well as California, and will no doubt have very interesting geopolitical effects that shake up the status quo.
The EU signed Kyoto in 1997, and passed laws to lower emissions by 2005. Five years later it had double the wind power of the US, and ten times the solar power.
Reprinted with permission from Cleantechnica
by Laura Musikanski
For the last two years, I have dedicated my life to a project called the Happiness Initiative. Last week I was invited to participate in a meeting at the United Nations about this work. Here is a short synopsis.
April marks the launch of a Global Well-being and Happiness movement. It all happened at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. “Happiness?” You say, “in New York City? At the United Nations? You must be kidding. April Fools, right?”
It’s no April Fools. On April 2, 2012, over 650 political, academic and civic leaders convened at a High Level Meeting called Wellbeing and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm.
The meeting was brought to order and the movement called into being by Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley of Bhutan and Secretary-General Ki-moon of the United Nations. Both spoke of the dire need for the replacement of a money-based system, and the dawning of the age of happiness, compassion and well-being.
Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley warned of the destruction of our natural environment and society. The Secretary General cited Buddha and Aristotle. “Social, economic and environmental wellbeing are indivisible” he said.
Costa Rican President Shares The Secrets To Happiness
President Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica, giving the keynote speech, spoke truth to his words. Costa Rica is celebrated as the most environmental and one of the happiest nations in the world. President Chinchilla told us of Costa Rica’s road to environmental health and happiness. It began with primary education for all; next came abolishing the death penalty; then a strong social security program (which attracted investments in production).
Later, the abolishment of the army; “using ballots not bullets” the President said, was followed by the networking of national parks so that 30 percent of the land is protected.
She was followed by a Lord from the U.K., Speaker of Parliament from Finland, and Ministers of the Environment from Israel and India as well as high level officials from Thailand, Japan, and a plethora of other nations.
After so many high level officials cast their ballot for the movement, the scientists weighed in. Vandana Shiva, Robert Costanza and Martin Seligman were just a few on four panels.
World Happiness Report Released
But all were trumped by the John Helliwell, Lord Richard Layard and Jeffrey Sacks who gave us the facts about happiness from their World Happiness Report first published at the meeting. Happiness can be measured – and should be with subjective and objective measures. While money – up to a certain point - will make you happier, friends, work you love, trust in others and health care, make you even happier. And even more than that, compassion and altruism bring happiness and both can be taught.
Planning A Global Happiness and Well-being movement
And this was just the first day. The next two days were spent in working groups. Over 200 people stayed and broke into four working groups: scientists, communications, planning and civic. They were tasked to plan a Global Happiness and Well-being movement. A fool’s task, one would think. But “never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people,” as Margaret Mead said.
Key pieces to the working group plans included methods to include others, efforts to communicate to different audiences, collaborative evolution of the science, and more official efforts: a UN happiness commission and the inclusion of happiness and well-being in the UN millennium development goals.
Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley closed the meeting with a few words: “Happiness can be learned.”
He spoke about how individuals can learn compassion and altruism. He spoke about how governments can learn to measure, and manage, happiness. He spoke about how this movement is emerging, and how we all need to do the work together to create a future of happiness and well-being.
Is a Global Happiness and the Well-being movement a fool’s quest?
The fool in Shakespeare’s King Lear warned the king over and over of the dangers before him, and once understood, was lauded, but too late. We have all the warning signs for our environment and civic society before us. Let us take heed of the “fools” this April, and let do something to transform our society from a money-based one to that that really brings about the well-being of all.
Photo by cheriejoyful/flickr/Creative Commons
Reprinted with permission from CSRwire
by Jeanne Roberts
Lego is going green with its toys, as witness one of its newest offerings, an approximately 13-inch tall, three-bladed, fully articulated wind turbine that both turns and pivots.
The City Wind Turbine Transit set—priced at a hefty but not totally unreasonable $66.99 on Amazon at last check—also includes two miniature figures, presumably a construction worker and a foreman, an escort vehicle, and a 16-inch long truck and extendable trailer for hauling the wind turbine to the construction site. In terms of realism, it’s even better than the Lego Renewable Energy set we wrote about in 2010.
You certainly can’t fault Lego for detail. The wind turbine even sits on its own nifty, green base. Where you might find fault is realism. The base is hardly wide enough to create a firm support for the tower, and some users report the blades don’t actually turn in the wind. Nor are they battery-operated—which might have been a nice touch, though wide of the mark in terms of renewable energy. I also had a little problem with the “Lego bumps” on the blade, which don’t serve any purpose and detract from the aerodynamic profile.
However, even the Lego wind turbine comes off second best compared to the executive desk model wind turbine called the Windbaby, which costs only $20 and looks exactly like the real thing, no anomalous bumps or anything. And the Windbaby does run on batteries, which doesn’t dampen its charm at all!
Reprinted with permission from EarthTechling