Blue Marble

Who's Most at Risk from Climate Change?

| Mon Dec. 10, 2007 8:40 PM EST

The answer, by region: the eastern US in North America; China, Bangladesh and Myanmar in Asia; western Sahel and southwestern nations in Africa; Brazil in South America; Russia, Scandinavia, and the Mediterranean nations, including France, Italy and Spain, in Europe. This according to a new study from Purdue University and the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Italy that goes beyond the physical aspects of climate change—changes in temperature, sea-level, and precipitation—to examine socioeconomic side-effects worldwide. The study forecasts that the merger of climatic and socioeconomic variables will trigger lopsided responses.

"Patterns emerge that you wouldn't recognize from just looking at either climatic or socioeconomic conditions," [said Noah Diffenbaugh, lead author]. "For example, China has a relatively moderate expected climate change. However, when you combine that with the fact that it has the second largest economy in the world, a substantial poverty rate and a large population, it creates one of the largest combined exposures on the planet. We see similar effects in other parts of the world, including India and the United States, which also have relatively moderate expected climate change. So it's where the socioeconomic and climatic variables intersect that is the key."

The research will be published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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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Green Energy the Next Frontier

| Fri Dec. 7, 2007 10:40 PM EST

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Great piece by Declan Butler in Nature on the new venture capitalism in Silicon Valley. Green energy, folks. California gold. Butler reports how the venture-capital industry in the US spent $2.6 billion on clean-energy technologies in the first three-quarters of this year. Up from $1.8 billion in 2006, and $533 million in 2005. Google joined the game last week, committing millions more to solar, wind and geothermal, seeking a technology patch to make renewables cheaper than coal. A few weeks earlier, Al Gore's London-based Generation Investment Management partnered with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in Menlo Park—the green-energy investors that nurtured Amazon, Google and Genentech—to fund global climate solutions.

For the fast-moving entrepreneurs of the [Silicon] [V]alley… the next frontier is the roughly US$6-trillion energy market, where the dinosaurs of power-generation utilities have traditionally invested a pittance in research and development. "Venture capital is exactly what we need to try new things outside the bounds of what the traditional energy companies think is worth doing," says Vinod Khosla, a veteran entrepreneur who co-founded Sun Microsystems and now heads Khosla Ventures in Menlo Park, one of the most prominent clean-energy venture-capital firms. "There is almost no technology risk-taking in any of the energy companies." Khosla predicts that within five years there will be a green form of electricity that is cheaper than coal, and cleaner fuels that are cheaper than oil.

Butler also notes that although the US lags far behind Europe's leaders, Denmark and Germany, in renewables, its venture-capital investments in clean tech now more than double those in Europe.

California scooped $726.2 million of this year's US clean-tech venture funding, followed by Massachusetts ($292.6 million) and Texas ($149.4 million). Almost $1 billion of US investment went abroad, including a $200-million investment in Brazil's Brazilian Renewable Energy, which produces ethanol, and a $118-million investment in China's Yingli Green Energy Holding Company, which makes photovoltaic solar systems.

This is the reason I refuse to surrender all hope.

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

Steve Irwin, Illegal Whaling Ship Hunter?

| Thu Dec. 6, 2007 8:47 PM EST
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The environmental buccaneers at Sea Shepherd just named a ship after "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin. No doubt the good ship Irwin will bring renewed attention to skipper Paul Watson's high-seas exploits chasing whalers and other enemies of the ocean. But does this strike anyone else as weird? Whatever his credentials as a committed environmentalist might have been, Irwin's claim to fame was his skill at sneaking up on and molesting unsuspecting creatures. Sea Shepard's claim to fame is its skill at sneaking up on people who molest (or worse) unsuspecting creatures. OK, there's a big difference between manhandling a croc and harpooning a humpback, but still, doesn't the "look but don't touch" rule get to the heart of what protecting animals is all about?

(Image: Worth1000)

Science Speaks Up: 200 Scientists Issue Bali Declaration

| Thu Dec. 6, 2007 8:20 PM EST

cop13_logo_139_200.jpg Science is unified. And 200 international climate scientists are urging the governments of the world to take their unified advice. Agree on strong emissions targets, they said in a declaration issued at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali today. Reduce global greenhouse-gas emissions by at least 50% below 1990 levels by 2050. (The Kyoto Protocol aims for developed nations to decrease 5% below 1990 levels by 2012.) Nature reports:

They declare that the goal "must be to limit global warming to no more than 2 ºC above the pre-industrial temperature". Many countries [not the US] have already taken this limit as a benchmark figure for attempting to avoid dangerous levels of climate change, which would put millions of people around the world at risk from extreme-weather events.

And all kinds of other ills.

Meanwhile, there's a growing sense in science that setting firm emissions targets may be short-sighted. That we need to continually adjust our targets as time passes and the consequences of previous cuts become apparent. In other words, to act with the kind of intelligence we insist our species possesses.

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

Fighting Global Warming With Kangaroo Emissions?

| Thu Dec. 6, 2007 2:22 PM EST

I just learned three amazing things. Number one: Agence France-Presse is not afraid to use the word "fart" in a headline. Number two is described in the aforementioned AFP story:
 

Eco-friendly kangaroo farts could help global warming: scientists

Australian scientists are trying to give kangaroo-style stomachs to cattle and sheep in a bid to cut the emission of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, researchers say.

Thanks to special bacteria in their stomachs, kangaroo flatulence contains no methane and scientists want to transfer that bacteria to cattle and sheep who emit large quantities of the harmful gas.

 
That's one for the wacky fixes for global warming file. And the third amazing thing? Aussies' love of 'roo meat:
 

Another group of scientists, meanwhile, has suggested Australians should farm fewer cattle and sheep and just eat more kangaroos.

The idea is controversial, but about 20 percent of health conscious Australians are believed to eat the national symbol already.

"It's low in fat, it's got high protein levels it's very clean in the sense that basically it's the ultimate free range animal," said Peter Ampt of the University of New South Wales's institute of environmental studies.

 

Deck the Halls with LEDs

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 4:16 PM EST

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Tis' the season when Bill O'Reilly has been off and running since Thanksgiving, railing against all who dare to secularize Christmas. In the spirit of railing, I would like to take this opportunity to discuss Christmas waste, most notably energy waste. I like a sprightly Christmas tree just as much as O'Reilly (well, maybe not that much), but the energy it takes to light a Christmas tree each holiday season is enough to make you think twice about the tradition.

Robert Balzar at the public utility Seattle City Light estimates that a typical Christmas tree uses about 144 watts of incandescent lights. Let's say you light your tree for five hours a day for a month, that's 22 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy use. On the other hand if you light your tree with new LED lights, you will only use 2 kWhs of energy. Now, 22 kWhs is only 2 percent of the average household's per month electricity use, so admittedly, this doesn't seem like a big difference, but on a citywide scale things start to look more startling. The difference between using incandescent lights and LEDs for the estimated 300,000 Christmas trees in Seattle is as great as 6,540,000 kWhs and $400,000.

The word is already out to many large cities, including Washington D.C. and Boulder, CO, which have converted their city tree lights to LEDs. L.A.'s annual holiday light festival made the switch just this year, and yesterday, Mayor Bloomberg turned on the LED holiday lights at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn. Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la.

—Michelle Chandra

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California AG Petitions EPA to Curb Airplane Emissions

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 1:32 PM EST

According to the EPA, airplanes contribute 12 percent of transportation greenhouse gases, but they disproportionately harm the atmosphere by leaving heat-trapping contrails and cirrus clouds. So California Attorney General Jerry Brown deserves kudos today for petitioning the EPA to start imposing tough limits on plane emissions within six months. Lighter, more fuel efficient jumbo jets are already on the market, and there's no reason why the government shouldn't encourage their use by setting standards.

The move is another green feather in the cap for Brown, who has already sued the Bush Administration to allow the state to regulate tailpipe emissions, the auto industry over damages caused by global warming, and California counties to force them to reduce suburban sprawl and greenhouse gas emissions--using state laws already on the books. In recent polls Brown has topped all other Democrats as the most popular candidate for Governor in 2010. It's harder to think of a bigger public endorsement for backing up green rhetoric with action.

How George Bush Could Win a Standing Ovation

| Tue Dec. 4, 2007 8:40 PM EST

cop13_04_4_348.jpg You know he wants one. Desperately. All he needs to do is follow the lead of Australia's new prime minister Kevin Rudd. As Reuters tells us, Australia raised hopes of global action to fight climate change on Monday by agreeing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, thereby isolating the United States at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali as the only rich nation not in the pact.

Australia's decision won a standing ovation at the opening of tough two-week negotiations on the Indonesian resort isle. The talks aim to pull together rich and poor countries around a common agenda to agree a broader successor to Kyoto by 2009.

Think of it. George, alone in his corner, snarling at the world. He could travel to the lovely isle of Bali, relax, unwind, then stand before the summit and agree to Do The Right Thing. He would get so much more than a standing ovation. Hallelujahs. Laurel Wreaths. A Nobel. The relieved thanks of the world. A kinder place in history.

What a pretty dream…

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

Your Electric Car as a Battery in the Grid

| Tue Dec. 4, 2007 8:02 PM EST

Paul%27s%20Civic%20-%20smaller.jpg Electric and hybrid cars could act as energy stores for the power grid when not being driven. New Scientist reports that researchers from the University of Delaware are using a new prototype by AC Propulsion to store or supply grid electricity (Washington DC got a first dose in October). If hundreds or thousands of owners opt into the system, the efficiency of power distribution could improve. A lot. The average US car is driven one out of every 24 hours. Combustion-powered cars are useless off the road. But plug-ins could act as backups to the grid while idle.

 

"Storage is golden for power companies because it is hard to do," [Willet] Kempton told New Scientist, who notes that the cost of storing excess electricity means that there is only capacity for around 1% of yield in the US and UK. Storage is particularly important for renewable energy because power supplied by the Sun, the oceans, or the wind, is often irregular.

 

Each plug-in can provide $4,000 of storage to an energy company per year, at a cost of $600 to install the high-power connection system. Energy companies need to pass on some of their savings to encourage drivers to help out, says Kempton… Hmm. Technology might be the easy part.

Fuel Cell Cleans Pollution and Makes Electricity

| Tue Dec. 4, 2007 7:27 PM EST

071203120753.jpg Pennsylvania State University environmental engineers have developed a fuel cell that uses pollution from coal and metal mines to generate electricity. Bruce E. Logan and colleagues describe successful tests of a lab-scale fuel cell based on microbial fuel cells capable of generating electricity from wastewater. Their device removes dissolved iron from solution while generating electricity at power levels similar to conventional microbial fuel cells (the recovered iron can be used in paints or other products). Better yet, the researchers say, later generations of these cells will lead to more efficient power generation in the future.

Engineers may save us yet.

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