Blue Marble

Good News on Storing CO2 Underground

| Tue Nov. 27, 2007 7:38 PM EST

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Very promising news. Looks like storing carbon dioxide deep below the earth's surface might be a safe, long-term sequestration solution. University of Leeds (they're busy there) research found that porous sandstone, drained of oil, provides a safe reservoir for CO2. Investigator Stephanie Houston examined water pumped out with the oil and found it unexpectedly rich in silica, revealing that silicates had dissolved in the newly-injected seawater in less than a year—much faster than predicted. This is the type of reaction needed to make CO2 as stable as, say, the dissolved carbonate in still mineral water. It's also what's needed to prevent the captured CO2 leaking back to the surface at some future (catastrophic) date.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

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Biodiesel Sludge Converted to Hydrogen

| Tue Nov. 27, 2007 6:30 PM EST

241469637_3334f8faa3_m.jpg What to do with the byproduct of biodiesel? You know, that low-grade sludge that's produced, molecule for molecule, alongside biodiesel. Well, scientists at the University of Leeds have turned the unwanted crude glycerol (sludge) into a high-value hydrogen rich gas. The novel process developed by Valerie Dupont and her co-investigators mixes glycerol with steam at controlled temperatures and pressures, separating the waste product into hydrogen, water and carbon dioxide, with no residues. A special absorbent material filters out the CO2, leaving a purer product.

Currently hydrogen production is expensive and unsustainable, using either increasingly scarce fossil fuels or other less efficient methods such as water electrolysis. The new process is near carbon neutral, since the CO2 generated is not derived from the use of fossil fuels.

Let's hope the new processes emerging from a worldwide explosion of research prove green, sustainable, and economically feasible.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

In Defense of Uncomfortable Air Travel

| Tue Nov. 27, 2007 2:55 PM EST

air%20travel%20200.jpgThe heaviest travel weekend of the year is over, and the verdict is in: "Flying coach has become an increasingly miserable experience," says the New York Times. In an article called "Aboard Planes, Class Conflict," Michelle Higgins enumerates the various ways in which modern air travel, well, sucks: The seats are tiny. Blankets and pillows are scarce. Free meals have become a distant memory.

This weekend, I traveled a round-trip total of 5,408 miles to spend Thanksgiving with my family in Boston. Sure, it was cramped (barely even enough room to turn the pages of Sky Mall) and the miniature allotment of pretzels (flung at me in my window-seat cave) didn't exactly tide me over for six hours, but basically, I spent most of both plane rides asleep, and the whole thing was astoundingly easy. From one coast to another! In only five hours! Coming back yesterday morning, I boarded the plane while it was still dark and rainy in Boston, but as the trip wore on the day dawned clear in the West, and I spent a good half hour staring out the window and marveling at how I was being whisked across the country. There go the snow-capped Rockies! Onto the Sierra Nevadas! I arrived at work in San Francisco only an hour late. I'd love to see my family more often, and after this easy trip back home, I began to think I could. But should I? Probably not.

Convenient though it may be, air travel is not exactly green. By some estimates, flights account for nearly four percent of human contribution to global warming. But there's a deeper problem, too. Environmentalists like Wendell Berry would argue that we've allowed ourselves to abuse our earth as much as we already have because we feel disconnected from it. No matter how tiny your seat is on a plane, it's pretty easy to feel divorced from the planet when you're zooming across it at 30,000 feet up.

Rainforest Swap = "Moral Offset"

| Mon Nov. 26, 2007 10:33 PM EST

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The Independent tells a great story of South American nation Guyana preparing to cede control of its tropical forest to a British-led, international body in return for a bilateral deal that would secure development aid for shifting the country to a green economy. Guyana, a former British colony, possesses an intact rainforest larger than England.

The deal would represent potentially the largest carbon offset ever undertaken, securing the vast carbon sinks of Guyana's pristine forest in return for assisting the economic growth of South America's poorest economy. Speaking in his office in the capital, Georgetown, on the Caribbean coast, Guyana's President, Bharrat Jagdeo, said the offer was a chance for Britain to make a "moral offset" and underline its leadership on the most important single issue facing the world—climate change. "We can deploy the forest against global warming and, through the UK's help, it wouldn't have to stymie development in Guyana."

Scientists working in the Iwokrama Reserve in central Guyana estimate the forest holds close to 120 million tons of carbon—an amount equivalent to the annual emissions of the UK. The reserve is part of the Guyana Shield, one of the last four intact rainforests left in the world, home to mountains, 200 lakes, rivers flowing over volcanic dykes, lowland tropical rainforests, palm forests, and sheltering some of the world's most endangered species, including jaguars, harpy eagles, giant anteaters, giant river otters, anacondas, black caimans and giant river turtles.

What's not to like here?

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Australians Vote Today: A Turning Point for the World?

| Fri Nov. 23, 2007 8:12 PM EST

r140170_481726.jpg Want a sneak preview of America-2008? Australians are voting today on 11 years of John Howard's ghastly ungreen rule and Kevin Rudd is predicted to become Australia's leader—a man who's declared the fight against global warming to be his main priority. The Telegraph reports:

The Labour Party leader said that he would immediately sign the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, describing it as the "number one" priority. "Australia needs new leadership on climate change. Mr. Howard remains in a state of denial," he said. He would personally represent Australia at a United Nations climate change meeting next month in Bali to discuss the next stage of the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. He also promised that by 2020, a fifth of Australia's energy needs would come from renewable energy sources. Until a partial conversion this year, Mr. Howard has been a climate change skeptic [sound familiar?]. . . the latest poll indicates that Mr. Rudd is set to win with 54 per cent of the vote compared to Mr. Howard's 46 per cent.

If true. Well, halle-bloody-lujah. It will be no small victory. Aussies are the highest per capita greenhouse emitters on the planet. They're our fellow anti-Kyotoers, and likewise suffering hellacious droughts and wildfires. Where they lead, we can follow.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

China Surges Ahead In Renewable Energy

| Fri Nov. 23, 2007 7:32 PM EST

175_lg.jpg Griping about China's exploding fuel consumption? (Who isn't?) Check this out. The Worldwatch Institute reports that ambitious Chinese energy targets, supported by strong government policies and manufacturing prowess, may enable China to leapfrog the rest of the industrialized world in renewable technology in the near future. This even as it conducts breakneck expansion of economy via its reliance on coal.

In Powering China's Development: The Role of Renewable Energy, Eric Martinot and Li Junfeng report that China will likely achieve, and may exceed, its target of 15% energy from renewables by 2020. Furthermore, renewables could provide more than 30 percent of the nation's energy by 2050.

The nations of the world invested more than $50 billion in renewable energy in 2006. China alone is expected to invest more than $10 billion in new renewables in 2007, second only to Germany, and double the amount the US invested in 2006. China's production of wind turbines and solar cells doubled in 2006, and is poised to pass world solar and wind manufacturing leaders in Europe, Japan, and North America in the next three years. China already dominates the markets for solar hot water and small hydropower.

Still not enough. But moving in the right direction. Evidence of understanding. Unlike here at home.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

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A Few Things I'll Give Thanks For

| Wed Nov. 21, 2007 9:59 PM EST

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Tofurky. According to the Washington Post, the meatless Thanksgiving dinner-in-a-box hit the market twelve years ago, after founder Seth Tibbott endured a nasty holiday bout with a stuffed pumpkin and a rock-hard gluten roast. Well, your suffering was worth it for the rest of us, Seth, because Tofurkey tastes great.

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Thanks to Lloyd Alter at Treehugger for his list of Five Climate Change Events To Be Thankful For:

1. Al Gore and the IPCC won the Nobel Prize. 2. The 1st CAFE standard in 22 years was passed in the Senate. 3. All the democratic presidential front runners have proposed a comprehensive energy plan, asking for large carbon dioxide emission reductions. (but some still love coal) 4. The 4th IPCC Synthesis report was a blunt and urgent call for action. (though it's not pretty) 5. Public Opinion is shifting: 3/4 of Americans would make lifestyle changes or pay energy and carbon taxes.

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Thanks for the fact that Hassan Mashriqui of Louisiana State University, a place intimately familiar with the effects of monster hurricanes, gave Bangladesh emergency officials storm-surge maps 24 hours in advance of Cyclone Sidr. Maps so detailed that local agencies were able to take advance action, saving countless lives.

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Thanks to Plenty for news that the Democratic Republic of Congo is setting aside an 11,800-square-mile reserve for endangered bonobos—our closest relatives in the primate world, sharing an amazing 98.4% of our DNA, found only in the DRC, the only primates to live in a peaceful, matriarchal society. Now suffering from the bushmeat trade. Eat them? Hell, we need to invite them to mentor us.

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A European Space Agency's OSIRIS satellite photo of the Earth at night.

Thanks for the fact that we are still here. We haven't destroyed everything (yet). We might still learn to be a better species and cherish this amazing world we are so incredibly lucky to be part of.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

EPA Removes Everglades Expert From Restoration Project

| Tue Nov. 20, 2007 1:24 PM EST

everglades200.jpgHow do you reward an employee for years of faithful service on a project? A new watch? A raise? At least a pat on the back? Nah. If you're following the lead of the EPA, you remove him from the project.

Richard Harvey has been serving as an EPA representative on the Everglades restoration since it began in 1999. The project has been plagued by environmental problems since the get-go, and Harvey hasn't been shy about pointing them out. When water authorities diverted excess water from polluted Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers, Harvey warned that this wasn't a great idea.

The most recent scuffle started last fall, when officials wanted to install an underground pipe to shunt excess water from the lake. A pipeline is not a magician, though, and dirty water has to go somewhere. In this case, Harvey said, the water would flow into Biscayne National Park. Another not-so-great idea. At a meeting, via conference call, he said:

Once again we're routing dirty water....We are extremely concerned because the track record when the district and the corps move dirty water around is some resource gets trashed.

Little did Harvey know, a reporter was also at the meeting, and she quoted him in print. A few months later, Harvey's supervisor removed him from the project.

The restoration is now almost a decade old, and some people seem to think that the park is all better. Last summer, for example, the U.N. World Heritage Committee removed the Everglades from its list of endangered places. But most experts agree with Harvey—the River of Grass still has a long way to go.

Five Bullet Points of the Latest IPCC Report

| Tue Nov. 20, 2007 1:00 AM EST

global_intro_240x394.gif Thanks to Nature, here are the highlights of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. The UN body won the latest Nobel Peace Prize (along with Al Gore), and maybe that emboldened them to take off the gloves in this round. The five talking points of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2007:

• Warming of the world's climate is "unequivocal" — 11 of the past 12 years (1995-2006) rank among the 12 warmest years since 1850. • It is "likely" (meaning a 66% likelihood) that there has been significant man-made warming on every continent except Antarctica over the past half-century. • Continued greenhouse-gas emissions at or above current rates would induce climate changes that would be "very likely" (meaning a 90% likelihood) to exceed those observed during the twentieth century. • Fossil fuels will dominate the world's energy portfolio until at least 2030, and emissions look set to rise by 25-90% during that time. • Given our current understanding, it is too difficult to estimate the extent of future sea-level rise.

The real question: will this overdue urgency translate into anything resembling action at next month's United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali? Or will it go the way of Kyoto, stymied by American, and now (inspired by our example) Chinese, stonewalling?Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Politics V. Endangered Species, or The Julie MacDonald Drama (Again)

| Mon Nov. 19, 2007 8:02 PM EST

T_eques-low.jpg Good article in today's Christian Science Monitor on how political efforts to undercut the Endangered Species Act are facing fire in the courts. In each case, Bush's political appointees overrode federal scientists' recommendations, with little or no justification, according to six lawsuits filed Thursday by the Center for Biological Diversity. Who are the losers? Mexican garter snakes, Mississippi gopher frogs, Santa Ana suckerfish, to begin with. We've heard this before but—

"This wave of lawsuits is different—and what makes them so different is that the agency itself and its inspector general have provided a lot of compelling evidence of political interference with the proper functioning of the act," says J.B. Ruhl, a law professor at Florida State University in Tallahassee and an expert on the ESA. A big factor in the CBD's legal fusillade hinges on the April release of a scathing report [pdf] by the Interior Department's inspector general on the actions of Julie MacDonald, the department's former deputy assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks. The report found numerous questionable actions on endangered species and criticized her release of internal documents to outside groups opposed to the ESA.

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Moreover, the Endangered Species & Wetlands Report revealed that Julie MacDonald received a Special Thanks for Achieving Results (STAR) award for her work during 2004. That amounted to a tidy $9,628 windfall—just short of the $10,000 threshold that would have triggered a review by the Office of Personnel Management. This, according to DOI, for "an outstanding one-time accomplishment or contribution of a non-recurring nature that produces tangible savings or intangible benefits."

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Oh. Is that what they call eviscerating a stellar piece of legislation?

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.