Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Super-Storms on the Rise

Although the mechanisms that spawn violent storms aren't fully understood, one key factor is the temperature of the world's oceans. Global warming has pushed the temperature of large areas of the ocean to around 27 degrees Centigrade or warmer during summer months. James McCarthy, a professor of biological oceanography at Harvard University sees this as a catalyst for more and more intense tropical hurricanes and cyclones. Water reaching these temperatures evaporates more readily, priming hurricane and cyclone formation and helping maintain the strength and intensity of newly formed storms. This Inter Press article by Stephen Leahy points out the correlations between climate change and extreme weather and argues that green energy to control global warming may help diminish future risks of severe storms.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

China Commits to Renewable Energy

Anyone pondering the world's energy needs can't help but wonder how China, with strong population growth and increasing industrial development, will deal with the future. In an historic partnership, the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) and the Chinese Renewable Energy Industry Association (CREIA) have pledged to work together to help shape China's energy future. An encouraging note is that the Chinese Government anticipates achieving 12 percent of its power generation from renewables by 2020 and much of this capacity will be derived from wind. This Greenpeace press release details how new laws and cooperative efforts can help counter energy security and global warming threats.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

The Costs of Extreme Weather

Those who contend that the economic impact of meeting the Kyoto Accord is too onerous for businesses probably haven't factored the economic costs of extreme weather into their calculations. Drought, flooding, hurricanes, and other extreme weather events around the world, a byproduct of global warming in the estimation of many climate scientists, produce billions of dollars in damage around the world every year. This presentation by Greenpeace, Global Warnings, provides vivid imagery and commentary on the increasing impact of extreme weather.

Monday, September 13, 2004

High-Power Spokespersons

Celebrity activism has a definite impact on bringing the message home: renewable energy works and it is available today. The benefits of green power are being promoted by a diverse range of high-profile personalities, including Dennis Weaver, Gwyneth Paltrow, Darryl Hannah, Tom Hanks, Cameron Diaz, and others. In the Wired article, Stars Power Move to Green Energy, John Gartner describes how celebrities influence the acceptance of alternative energy by what they drive, how they power their homes, and what they say to the media.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Pondering the Post-Petroleum Future

The transition from an oil-addicted present to a sustainable future either brings to mind visions of apocalyptic struggle for dwindling resources or a harmonious, nature-based world community ushering in a new peaceful phase in world history. Perceptions may make the difference in shaping the future, Jan Lundberg argues persuasively in this open e-Letter. What we know about modern physics and the interconnected reality of the world should be a guiding beacon towards a less-materialistic, more co-operative society.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Putting the Brakes on a Supertanker

More on the Arctic warming situation, this time from the folks at the heart of the issue. The Nunatsiaq News reports on the Arctic Council report, to be released on November 9th, 2004. The chairman of the ACIA, in a preview to the report's release, describes the task that awaits as "putting the brakes on a supertanker."

Friday, September 10, 2004

End of the Inuit Culture

A four-year investigation into the climate change in the Arctic concluded that the traditional Inuit culture will cease to exist because of the depletion of summer sea ice. These same factors, as determined by the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), will drive marine mammals such as polar bears, walrus, and seals toward extinction by the middle of the century. Warming trends in the Arctic and nearby regions, such as Alaska, are leading to melting permafrost, thinning sea ice and other disruptions as climate change accelerates.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Rising Impact of Global Warming

The first indications of the adverse effects of global warming are already apparent throughout Europe, according to the European Environmental Agency. Among the visible effects that are evident and getting worse: increased risk of flash floods, an increase in the number of diseases transmitted by ticks, declining glacial masses, extinction of some plant and bird species, and other equally daunting trends. Wendy Grossman summarizes the predictions in this Wired article, Europe Warned About Warming. With the mainstream media in the U.S. still essentially shrugging off the immediacy of the threat, these European forecasts paint a grim portrait of the future unless we equip ourselve to counteract the trends.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Playing Catch Up

In the span of several decades, the U.S. has gone from being a world leader in environmental practices to lagging behind in several key areas. As this editorial in the Denver Post points out, when it comes to renewable energy, the U.S. is playing catch up to a host of other nations. For example, our total wind energy capacity last year was 464 megawatts, compared to 14,609 megawatts for Germany, 6,202 megawatts for Spain, and 3,110 megawatts for Denmark. Asia and Europe are embracing renewable energy as a practical solution to energy needs, while the U.S. tinkers with energy plans based on fossil fuels and lags behind more enlightened nations. We can do better.

Monday, September 06, 2004

A Fuel-Efficient SUV?

Ford Motor Company took a step towards lowering the overall fuel consumption of their vehicle fleet by releasing the first gasoline-electric hybrid (SUV) from a U.S. manufacturer. The Ford Escape Hybrid SUV offers a 50 percent improvement in fuel consumption over the standard Escape. The compact SUV gets between 35 to 40 miles per gallon in the city, relying on an electric motor under 25 miles per hour to reduce fuel consumption. Now that Ford has figured out the technology, we wish they would apply it to the rest of their vehicles, which, according to the EPA, have the lowest average fleet economy of any of the U.S. auto manufacturers.

Renewable Energy Bonanza in Arizona

According to a report produced by the Union of Concerned Scientists, Arizona could generate thousands of new jobs and billions of dollars for rural development by increasing the state commitment to renewable energy sources. Despite a substantial potential for tapping into solar and wind energy, Arizona currently produces less than one-half of one percent of electricity through renewable sources (other than hydro-electric power). The report determined that adopting the basic tenets of a national renewable electricity standard (RES), requiring 20 percent of electricity be generated by renewable sources by 2020, Arizona could create 3,900 new jobs and attract $1.6 billion in capital investment.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Lessons on Sustainable Living from Outer Space

Spacecraft offer useful guidelines for designing energy-efficient, self-sustaining dwellings that can function well in inhospitable environments. New Scientist describes how technologies designed for space travel are being adapted for use in the hostile climes of Antarctica. Some researchers think these eco-friendly structures may play a useful role in solving future housing problems in European cities. Solar power and a lightweight yet durable carbon-fiber shell are two important components of this design approach.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Options for Green Power

For anyone who wants to seek true energy independence, the options for equipping a new home with solar or wind power, or retrofitting an older home, are varied and growing. But, not everyone can immediately afford to invest several thousand dollars to get off-the-grid (though the prospects for doing this in the near future should become increasingly attractive). In the meantime, many utility companies across the country have begun to offer options to their customers to select renewable energy sources for all or part of their electrical service. For instance, Puget Sound Energy (PSE) in Washington State has added a Green Power option to their services. This option, created in collaboration with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, charges customers an extra $4 a month at the minimum level, which enables PSE to purchase 200 kilowatt hours of energy from local renewable sources. Additional blocks of kilowatt hours can be purchased in 100-unit increments for $2. By PSE calculations, if 100 customers adopt the minimum option of their Green Power Plan, in one year the environmental benefit would be equivalent to planting 70 acres of trees. Not a bad proposition, and this is clearly a way for every electrical customer to support the growth of renewable energy. If your utility company doesn't offer a similar plan, maybe they should.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Brazil Pushes for Renewable Energy

Countries squabbling at the World Summit over resolutions to adopt workable energy targets are considering a proposal presented by Brazil to achieve 10 percent renewable energy sources by 2010. This level of commitment could have an important role in stimulating local economies and cutting pollution around the world. Currently, only 2 percent of the world's energy comes from wind, solar or wave power. An American-based group, the Apollo Alliance, also sees renewable energy as having the potential to create millions of jobs.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Popeye's Favorite Solar Cells

Solar cells made from the spinach leaf? It sounds improbable, but that's exactly what a team of researchers is working on, taking advantage of the ability of plants and photosynthetic bacteria to convert photons to energy. In this article from Technology Review, researchers from MIT, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, and the University of Tennessee have achieved initial 12 percent power-conversion efficiency rates, combining biology and electronics to create photosynthetic molecules. A traditional solar cell, the product of several decades of research, achieves 20 efficiency. This new approach sounds promising.