Archive for October, 2008

Published by Rosalind on 26 Oct 2008

Decarbonizing the USA

Speaking on October 24, 2008 in Rhinebeck, NY, well known environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. discussed possible timelines for decarbonizing the USA. Named a “Hero for the Planet” by Time magazine, Mr. Kennedy is known in the Hudson Valley for his work with Riverkeeper, which has helped to clean up the Hudson River over the last 35 years.

RFK Jr. told the audience about Iceland’s successful transition to energy independence — using geothermal energy. Sweden, which has a $150 per ton tax on carbon, has also had great success transitioning away from the oil economy. Other countries moving rapidly towards reliance on renewable energy resources include Brazil, Costa Rica and Israel. Describing the United States Midwestern plains as the possible “Saudi Arabia of wind”, Kennedy suggested that the United States could stop using all oil within 10 years, if we use existing technologies, rebuild our electrical grid, and fully understand the price of our oil (carbon) based systems for our economy and our environment. RFK Jr. estimates the current real price of gasoline at about $12 per gallon! To find out more about paths to a new energy economy, visit the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Published by Diana on 24 Oct 2008

Algae for Fuel

The Algae Biomass Summit is taking place in Seattle, a mere 17 miles west of my home. While oil reserves are limited, and getting more expensive all the time, many scientists think that future will bring cheap sustainable fuels made from algae, harnessing the energy of the sun to create fuel.

Scientific American writes about algal fuels and has a video of bubbling algae in their blog: Pond Scum provides the fuel of the future?

Published by Diana on 22 Oct 2008

More Windmills

While travelling on the Big Island of Hawaii, which is located in the trade wind belt, I saw several wind farms. Wind farms are arrays of wind turbines which capture the energy from local winds and use them to produce electricity.

Windmills near Hawi, Hawaii: photo by Jay Torborg

Windmills near Hawi, Hawaii: photo by Jay Torborg

On the Big Island, electricity is VERY expensive because it has to be locally generated by burning coal or oil. There are no coal mines or oil wells on the Big Island (as Hawaii Island, one of the five bigger islands that make up the state of Hawaii, is known), so all the fuel used to generate electricity is brought in by boat. The boat itself needs fuel and maintenance for the long journey, so the cost of the fuel is very high. Electricity rates on the Big Island are about four times what they are in the Mainland United States. That makes wind power and solar power much more attractive financially. I even saw one house with its own private windmill and solar panels on the roof!

This wind farm at the north end of the island takes advantage of the trade winds that blow across Hawaii. Trade winds are steady winds that blow at 15 to 20 miles per hour, given their energy by the rotation of the earth on its axis.

Published by Diana on 21 Oct 2008

Natural Air Pollution

We all tend to think of air pollution as something only humans cause. But one big source of air pollution is volcanoes. On the Big Island of Hawaii–the biggest of the five major islands that form the state of Hawaii–there are five volcanoes, and one of them is actively producing a lot of sulfur dioxide right now.

Sulfur dioxide combines with the water in the air to form a volcanic fog–called vog by some people–that tastes a bit unpleasant and which causes a haze in the air. Longterm, it can cause damage to people’s lungs, and to plants and animals. You can see the vog over the town of Kailua-Kona in this picture:

The view toward Kona through the vog

The view toward Kona through the vog: photo by Jay Torborg

Volcanoes are well known to cause global climate change. In the years following the eruption of Tambora in Indonesia, which took place in 1815, global climates were much cooler than average, partially because the dust from the volcano reduced the amount of sunlight reaching the earth’s surface.

More information about Hawaii’s volcanoes can be found at the United States Geological Survey website: Hawaii Volcanoes Observatory.

Published by Diana on 18 Oct 2008

Human Effects

The Washington Post has a series of photographs showing human effects on our planet. You can find them here.

Published by Rosalind on 17 Oct 2008

More than 25% of the world’s mammals are at risk

A family of elephants in Tanzania's Serengeti National Park--photo by Jay Torborg

A family of elephants in Tanzania: photo by Jay Torborg

On October 10, the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) released a shocking report. This year’s update of the Red List of Endangered Species shows that more than a quarter of the world’s mammal species are at risk of extinction.

The IUCN Red List report summary says: “The new study to assess the world’s mammals shows at least 1,141 of the 5,487 mammals on Earth are known to be threatened with extinction. At least 76 mammals have become extinct since 1500. But the results also show conservation can bring species back from the brink of extinction, with five percent of currently threatened mammals showing signs of recovery in the wild.”

To read more about the report, go to Red List

These two photos from our Serengeti trip are by Jay Torborg, a wildlife and underwater photographer who lives in Sammamish, Washington–and who is married to Diana.

Serengeti cheetah surveys the tall grassland--photo by Jay Torborg

Serengeti cheetah surveys the tall grassland: photo by Jay Torborg

Published by Rosalind on 13 Oct 2008

Arctic Summer and Shrinking Sea Ice

Warming of the Arctic is leading to big changes in the Sea Ice!
Recently, the National Snow and Ice Data Center put out a press release on the decline in sea ice extent and volume. Summer melting of the Arctic sea ice continues the 30 year trend, and the amounts of open water and thin first year ice continue to grow. Read the press release here: NSIDC October 2008
The thawing also affects Arctic land. You can also see what’s happening in this amazing video of Alaska’s eroding coast. The melting trend causes previously frozen land to thaw and break away. Check out the story and watch the changes happen: Dot Earth Video