Archive for the 'Student blog entries' Category

Jul 25 2016

The Grand Old Party: Not so Grand for the Environment

The Republican Party just released its platform on July 18th, which details its principles and policies to help guide the public during this election season. In order to get a heads-up on what Donald Trump—the Republican National Committee’s (RNC) presidential nominee—might do if elected President, Live Science examined the party’s platform, as well as the scientific research behind each stance. Then, they put together a handy guide that details each issue, the RNC’s stance on it, and the scientific research that either backs it up or contradicts it. For the sake of objectivity, they will be going through the same process for the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) platform that was released on July 21st.

Photo Credit: Joe Brusky

Photo Credit: Joe Brusky

What the comparison reveals is a long list of ways that the RNC plans to derail environmental conservation efforts. It is clear when reading the RNC’s statements that they see no imminent threat to the environment caused by human actions. Therefore, they see no need to enact legislation to protect it. Their statement on the Keystone XL pipeline is as follows: “The current President’s job-killing combination of extremism and ineptitude threatens to create a permanent energy shortage. We are committed to approving the Keystone XL Pipeline and to streamlining permitting for the development of other oil and natural gas pipelines.” The pipeline would carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to Nebraska—its coverage would total 2,639 miles. The science behind whether or not the Keystone XL pipeline hurts the environment does not coincide with the GOP’s stance. In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) commented on the proposal, stating that if the pipeline were to run at full capacity, its yearly greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions would be equivalent to putting an additional 5.7 million cars on the road. The project would also require the tar sands to be processed at a carbon reservoir in Alberta, which would release large amounts of GHGs into the atmosphere. This would make it pretty unlikely that the international goal of preventing the Earth from warming more than 3.6° F would be met.

The scariest part about their new platform is the fact that they refuse to acknowledge just that—facts. Under the GOP’s “Protecting our Environment” section, the first line actually claims that “the environment is getting cleaner and healthier.” Not according to countless studies conducted by the UNEP, NASA, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, to name a few. Although they do acknowledge the need for renewable energy, they don’t seem to be in any hurry until the already-established oil, nuclear, and natural gas companies have come up with their own technology to do so.

By National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps [Public domain]

By National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps [Public domain]

After reading the GOP’s platform, it is clear to me that there is a blatant disrespect on their part for the scientific community as a whole. The GOP has long fought to discredit any scientific findings that don’t align with their political agenda. Whenever science—which is so heavily peer-reviewed and self-correcting—interferes with their opinions, they simply refuse to listen. Science says that gravity is a real thing? That doesn’t threaten their beliefs, so they allow that to be put in the textbooks. Science says that climate change is a real thing? They stand behind Lamar Smith, a Republican chairman, as he accuses the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of rushing and not properly peer-reviewing a study they published about climate change. The fact that a Republican chairman, with his only scientific background being that he took basic science courses in college as part of his non-scientific degree in American Studies, can rightfully challenge an entire group of some of the most educated and accomplished scientists out there is worrisome and insulting to science as a whole.

The whole purpose of checks and balances is so that no one branch can become too powerful. But is that Constitutional system really working that well if one branch continuously attacks and attempts to dismantle the role and authority of the other?

 

 

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Jul 24 2016

Natural Gas: May Not Be the Bridge After All

Published by under Student blog entries

Flares burn off excess methane at an oil and gas field. Credit: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Flares burn off excess methane at an oil and gas field. Credit: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

A study recently done by researchers at Purdue and Cornell universities focused on gaining a better understanding of the levels of methane that are emitted during the removal process of natural gas from the earth. It was widely thought that natural gas would be the “bridge” fuel between coal based systems and renewable sources. It was marked as a cleaner fuel than carbon-rich coal, but not quite to the mark of the carbon-free renewable forms and thus would help in the transition process of shifting energy dependence from the former to the latter.

In a report from the IPCC, it was said that natural gas as a bridge fuel would only be effective if “few gases escape into the atmosphere during natural gas production and distribution” (Magill 2014). For a while, it was believed that this was the case that is until this recent study, and others like it, were published. They highlight an important flaw of the natural gas extraction process to be “fugitive” emissions that escape while a well is being drilled (Magill 2014). Methane emissions are the most common of the fugitive emissions which is alarming being that methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period (Magill 2014). The drilling process potentially emits up to 1,000 times the methane than previously supposed (Magill 2014). This number could be even higher considering other unknown factors of the quantification and distribution processes. Dana Caulton, a researcher from Purdue, said that emissions from drilling are completely left out of some of the EPA’s greenhouse gas inventories because it is “assumed to be negligible” (Magill 2014).

Interpolated methane concentration ∼1 km downwind of pad Delta, showing isolated methane plume near the center of the transect. Credit: Dana R. Caulton et al. PNAS 2014;111:6237-6242

Interpolated methane concentration ∼1 km downwind of pad Delta, showing isolated methane plume near the center of the transect. Credit: Dana R. Caulton et al. PNAS 2014;111:6237-6242

When the wells are being drilled, the natural gas that was contained in the shale layers is able to be released and then enters the atmosphere. Large amounts of natural gas are also able to leak out into the atmosphere via cracks and breaks in the distribution system. Fixing these leaks would not only be strenuous and costly, but also time consuming. This is definitely not ideal when considering that the IPCC also reported that we only have between 15 and 20 years for the natural gas “bridge” before our transition should be complete (Magill 2014).

It is not surprising that this method for providing energy has shown to be ineffective, given all of the already known controversies that come with natural gas extraction. With this new data, it is as important as ever for us to look towards renewable energy sources. Without this bridge, we no longer have as much time to carry out the lofty transition and must begin now if we hope make a positive difference in our efforts to combat global warming.

 

References

Magill, Bobby. 2014. “New Methane Leak Data Adds Doubt About Future Of Natural Gas As ‘Bridge’ Fuel.” The Huffington Post. April 16. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/16/methane-leak-natural_n_5161247.html?utm_hp_ref=energy.

 

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Jul 21 2016

Discoveries from Disasters

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When the BP oil spill named Deepwater Horizon happened in 2010, BP set aside $500 million dollars for a private company to research its outcome and the overall environment it was affecting. With millions in the bank account Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) funded the efforts of 1,200 scientists to monitor the gulf and its inhabitants.

One of the fundamental discoveries that were made by observers were the paths of the oil itself. The oil did not follow some of the large currents that satellites had identified as the mainstreams in the gulf. This at first puzzled the scientists, but also gave them a chance to monitor and notice come medium sized currents that had never been available to the human eye because of the oil that was traveling by the currents. As many scientists will state, research and understanding is often limited by the mechanics and devices they deploy, and also human observation.

DriftersThrough the deployment of cheap drifters, the scientists were able to measure some of the first smaller currents in the gulf. This discovery was a success for the team as they tracked the sub-mesoscale currents.

As many people during the oil spill were concerned with mammals and other viewable aquatic animals, the scientists were more concerned with the effects the spill was having on more primary animals including zooplankton and insects. While many of these animals go unnoticed, some of them are the habitat builders and he foundation of the aquatic food web. The oil spill created an opportunity to broaden the scope of creatures being tracked and counted, and putting some species on the map for the first time in history. They have identified at least fifteen new organism since the oil spill, and can now begin to track the effects of these organisms in the environments and also the effects of the oil spill on the organisms themselves.

Another discovery that was noted of worthy of investigation was natural oil seeps. The oil that the companies are tapping into for human combustion also have natural seeps that leak up to 1.4 million barrels of oil into the waters every year.  These reservoirs that are leaking are feeding grounds for many microbes that are at the base of the food chain. The microbes that digest the hydrocarbon-rich oil are then preyed upon and create a thriving unique environment that scientists study by videography. The film is used to understand the process of the oil leaking, and contributing factors to the oil release. These sites are not only important to understand because of the oil leaks, or the animal life, but because of the crystalline formations of methane, that are a potential climate change impact if enough methane is collected in the marine environment. These formations are poorly understood, and the spill allowed for dedicated time and efforts to be focused on the formations to understand their future and current hazards.

 

References

Waters, H. (2015, August 20). Five Things gulf oil spill taught us about ocean . Retrieved from Smithsonian : http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/five-things-gulf-oil-spill-has-taught-us-about-ocean-180955036/?no-ist

 

 

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Jul 21 2016

The Dangers of Ignorance

Published by under Student blog entries

Last year, December 2015, President Obama passed a bill that officially banned micro-beads in the United States (Imam, 2015). The purpose behind this bill was to protect the waterways of the country since water filters were unable to catch the minuscule exfoliating beads as they traveled through the underground sewage network.

Some cheered for this victory in environmental protection and others were disappointed by the discontinuation of their favorite skincare products. I, on the other hand, was just surprised because I had never even thought that my hand soap or face-wash could have a negative environmental impact. I was ignorant. In hindsight, it was clear that the beads were not good for the natural environment since they were plastic and non-biodegradable.

Though micro-beads are now banned, there are still plenty of everyday products that we use without thinking that damage the home that we are trying so hard to maintain and protect. If you use either sunscreens, moisturizing lotions, lip balm, lipstick or other similar cosmetic products then you might be playing a part in the death of around 3 million sharks a year (Lima, 2016).

In the liver of these deep sea sharks is an organic compound called Squalene. Squalene is coveted and utilized by the cosmetic industry due to its softening effect and non-greasiness (Lima, 2016). Some companies have switched over to the more sustainable plant-based Squalene, but not all have done this since plant-based Squalene is more expensive (Yeomans, 2012). Due to the demand for the cheaper shark-based Squalene, shark populations are taking a hit from being hunted for their livers (Lima, 2016).

There are several simple things that we can do in order to make sure that we do not play a part in the shark hunt.

  1. Read the labels! If the labels do not specify where the Squalene originates from then call and ask the supplier.
  2. Share the news and do not buy products from suppliers that support shark liver harvesting.

Just as environmentally damaging products and actions may sometimes be as obvious and big as an oil spill, they can also be as small as the micro-beads that used to be in most face-washes. It is up to us to be aware of the things we are using and their implications. Ignorance should not be an excuse in this day and age.

Citations

  1. Imam, Jareen. “Microbead Ban Signed by President Obama.” CNN. Cable News Network, 31 Dec. 2015. Web. 20 July 2016.
  2. Nima, Natalia. “Is Your Makeup Killing Sharks?” ENN. Environmental News Network, 30 June 2016. Web. 20 July 2016.
  3. Yeomans, Michelle. “Squalane: What Some Suppliers May Not Be Telling You…” CosmeticsDesign-Europe.com. N.p., 23 Nov. 2012. Web. 20 July 2016.

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Jul 20 2016

Big Winds Blowing in the Big Apple

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Frabz.com

The winds of change are howling in New York. (Frabz.com)

After 130 years of worrying about making a good first impression, Lady Liberty might soon get some relief.

Before catching a glimpse of the iconic green lady, weary travelers sailing into New York could now be greeted first by iconic green energy: offshore wind turbines.

In the next 24 hours, the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) is expected to approve the South Fork Wind Farm.1  The 90 MW, 15-turbine wind farm would sit in the Atlantic Ocean, east of Montauk, N.Y.2

DeepWater ONE South Fork

Deepwater ONE South Fork. (Adapter from dwwind.com ©)

When complete, South Fork could generate power for 50,000 homes in the Hamptons.2  Likely taking a cue from Cape Wind’s controversy, developers emphasize that turbines will be placed 30 miles offshore — over the horizon and out of sight from land.1

The project will be built by Deepwater Wind, which will open the nation’s first offshore wind farm off Block Island, R.I. this fall.3  That smaller, 30 MW project took seven years to develop4, but “probably shaved three years off of [South Fork’s] development time”, LIPA CEO Thomas Falcone told Politico.5 Because both projects are located in the same federally-approved waters, he expects South Fork construction to be expedited, with power reaching Long Island customers by 2022.2

Block Island Wind Farm off Rhode Island

Block Island, R.I. wind farm begins construction in July 2015. (Greg Vigliotti/New York Times ©)

And that’s just a start. South Fork is only the first phase of a planned Deepwater ONE Wind Energy Area, spanning 256 square miles between New York and Massachusetts, with a potential for more than 1,000 MW of power.

Two years ago, LIPA rejected a separate proposal for a 200 MW wind farm off Long Island due to an estimated $1 billion cost.  However, New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s new goal to power the state with 50 percent renewable energy apparently forced LIPA to reconsider.6

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

“Respect my Long Island Power Authoritahhh.” – Gov. Andrew Cuomo (Adapted images: OffshoreWind.biz and Mike Groll/The Associated Press ©)

Back on the table is another site: a 127-square mile Wind Energy Area (WEA)2, sitting 11 miles south of Long Island’s popular Jones Beach, which could produce 350 MW.7  Federal officials plan to auction offshore wind rights to “The Wedge”2, but conflicts with scallop fisheries, shipping lanes, and even high-frequency NOAA radars pose hurdles.7

proposed lease for "The Wedge" offshore wind farms (BOEM)

Proposed lease for offshore wind farms on “The Wedge”, 11 miles off Long Island. (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management)

Undaunted, Deepwater Wind CEO Jeffrey Grybowski says “there’s real momentum for offshore wind in the United States”,8 and proponents say 2016 could be “the year” offshore wind finally takes off in the U.S.9  It’s far behind the 12 GW of offshore wind capacity already installed elsewhere in the world (90% in Europe)8 , but it’s a start.

Thomas Falcone, LIPA

LIPA CEO Thomas Falcone (Frank Eltman/The Associated Press ©)

Update: LIPA trustees’ scheduled vote to approve the South Fork wind farm this week was postponed.  Offshore wind enthusiasts, stay tuned.

References:

1. Deepwater Wind. South Fork Wind Farm & Deepwater ONE Wind Energy Area. Deepwater Wind. 20 July 2016. Web. 20 July 2016. <http://dwwind.com/>

2. The Associated Press. Long Island Power Authority Plans Largest U.S. Offshore Wind Farm. Wall Street Journal, 14 July 2016. Web. 20 July 2016. <http://www.wsj.com/articles/long-island-power-authority-plans-largest-u-s-offshore-wind-farm-1468509963>

3. Verma, Swati and McCool, Grant. Deepwater Wind proposes offshore wind power for New York’s Long Island. Reuters, 14 July 206. Web. 20 July 2016. <http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-windfarm-deepwater-idUSKCN0ZU2OD>

4. Kuffner, Alex. Block Island Wind Farm: Building the turbines one blade at a time. The Providence Journal, 29 June 2016. Web. 20 July 2016. <http://www.providencejournal.com/news/20160629/block-island-wind-farm-building-turbines-one-blade-at-time>

5. Cardwell, Diane. Offshore Wind Farm Raises Hopes of U.S. Clean Energy Backers. The New York Times, 23 July 2015. Web. 20 July 2016. <http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/24/business/offshore-wind-farm-raises-hopes-of-us-clean-energy-backers.html>

6. Giambusso, David. Cuomo’s announcement of offshore wind farm takes many by surprise. Politico.com, 14 July 2016. Web. 20 July 2016. <http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/07/offshore-wind-announcement-a-surprise-for-many-103844>

7. Frost, Mary. Offshore wind farms coming soon to the NY coast. Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 17, March, 2016. Web. 20 July 2016. <http://www.brooklyneagle.com/articles/2016/3/17/offshore-wind-farms-coming-soon-ny-coast>

8. Martin, Chris. Largest U.S. Offshore Wind Farm Planned in New York Waters. Bloomberg, 14 July 2016. Web. 20 July 2016. <http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-07-14/largest-u-s-offshore-wind-farm-to-be-built-off-long-island>

9. Briggs, Lexie. With G.E.’s Big Turbines on the Way to R.I., N.Y. Jumps into the Offshore Wind Game; Plus, Utilities Feel the Winds of Change, theenergycollective.com. 19 July 2016. Web. 20 July 2016. <http://www.theenergycollective.com/lexie-briggs/2383139/with-ges-big-turbines-on-the-way-to-r-i-n-y-jumps-into-the-offshore-wind-game-plus-utilities-feel-the-winds-of-change>

10. Harrington, Mark. Confusion after LIPA wind farm meeting postponed, Newsday. 23 July 2016. Web. 23 July 2016. <http://www.newsday.com/long-island/confusion-after-lipa-wind-farm-meeting-postponed-1.12082705>

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Jul 12 2016

Adélie Penguins: A new Species to Keep an eye On

Along the rocky coastline and ice-covered waters of the Antarctic, lives the penguin species Adélie. These waddling fellows can be distinguished from their counterparts by a vivid white ring around their eyes. Adélies make up a large portion of the penguins in the Antarctic region, but recent studies have their numbers dwindling by up to 60% in the next century (Cimino et al., 2016).

256px-Adelie_Penguin

Stan Shebs [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Those who still refute the data backing climate change love to use snow days as a defense for their argument against its existence. Because the Earth can’t possibly be warming if there’s still snow, right? What they don’t understand is that with climate change, comes abnormal weather patterns. The whole natural scheme of things is being thrown off, delaying seasonal cycles and creating erratic precipitation patterns (Parry 2012). Global data have shown that, despite the occurrence of snowfall and chill, the global surface temperature has been increasing (NASA).

By Jason Auch (originally posted to Flickr as IMG_0386) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jason Auch (originally posted to Flickr as IMG_0386) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Climate change and its weird seasonal shifts are putting stress on the Adélies’ instinctive nesting patterns. Adélies only nest on bare, dry land, but higher levels of precipitation and snowmelt, due to novel climate, create large pools of water, which can drown the chicks (Cimino et al., 2016). The rising temperatures, while undoubtedly harmful to most all Arctic life, were initially thought to be a benefit to the Adélie, due to their nesting requirements. But the temperatures have begun to rise outside of even their habitable range. The sea surface temperatures, along with the sea ice concentrations are not at the levels they need to be to sustain the large number of Adélies in the region.

 

Most everyone probably learned in the third grade or so what the three things most essential to survival are: water, food, and shelter. We already covered their shelter situation, and anyone who knows how to read a map can see that they are not suffering from lack of water—the Antarctic ice sheet contributes about 61% of all fresh water on earth, and it’s melting!—but what about their food supply? The Adélie’s two main sources of food, the silverfish and the krill, have both been experiencing declines due to the same Antarctic sea changes. Both the silverfish and krill require specific water temperatures for nesting and survival, but with the increase in temperatures and fluctuating sea ice concentrations, they’ve had to migrate elsewhere (WWF). This leaves the Adélies to find new food sources that are in ample supply. When a food source leaves an area, many species move with it, but Adélies have specific nesting patterns that limit their migratory flexibility (NPR).

 

The Adélies’ struggle to adapt is just one of many examples of species around the world struggling with the ramifications of climate change. The process of evolution is designed to allow species to adapt to changes in their environments, but the speed at which climate change is changing things is much faster than most species can adapt to.

 

Citations:

Parry, Wynne. “Climate Change Throws Nature’s Timing Out of Whack.”LiveScience. TechMedia Network, 13 Apr. 2012. Web. 11 July 2016.

All Things Considered. “Adelie Penguins In Danger.” NPR. NPR, 3 July 2016. Web. 11 July 2016.

WWF. “Adélie Penguins.” – WWF UK. WWF, n.d. Web. 11 July 2016.

Fretwell; H. D. Pritchard; et al. (31 July 2012). “Bedmap2: improved ice bed, surface and thickness datasets for Antarctica”

NASA. “Climate Change Evidence: How Do We Know?” Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet. NASA, n.d. Web. 11 July 2016.

Cimino, Megan A., Heather J. Lynch, Vincent S. Saba, and Matthew J. Oliver. “Projected Asymmetric Response of Adélie Penguins to Antarctic Climate Change.” Nature.com. Nature Publishing Group, 29 June 2016. Web. 11 July 2016.

 

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Jul 07 2016

Out of the Dark and into the Light- Coal and Solar Energy

Certain small coal mining towns fight any threat to their mine(s) which may or may not be the town’s main way of gaining sustenance. This is quite possibly the way they have operated ever since the industrial revolution, and while there have been many safety advancements, coal mining continues to be a treacherous occupation (Gibson). Coal no longer is the “cheap” energy source as natural gas and other renewable energy sources take center stage. However, it is tough not to sympathize with coal mining towns as they make the transition into a world which is less dependent on coal.

The coal industry is in a strong downturn due to many factors within the economy (Fehrenbacher). However, the light at the end of the tunnel may be the very energy that is in part responsible for forcing coal into decline: solar energy. Increased construction of solar farms may solve the employment problem for miners as they trudge out of the floundering coal industry (Pearce).

http://i0.wp.com/pontiactribune.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/9333525319_eb313f3f53_z-2.jpg?resize=400%2C225

Image Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons

Even though solar energy and coal energy seem to be complete opposites, they can definitely benefit from working together. Coal miners exposed to less harmful particulate matter and working on safer job sites will be less likely to experience the detrimental health effects of coal. Providing this open window to the future may convince people who resist change in the energy sector to accept solar energy with open arms. In America’s market, jobs often do the talking.

Solar panels seem like the easiest way to harvest renewable energy. The technology has been developed, and installation, compared to other renewable energy sources, is relatively easy. Radiating energy from the sun is there for the taking. So why don’t we construct more solar farms? The simple answer is economics.

Ever since the industrial revolution, America’s economy has been centered around fossil fuels. The transition from fossil fuels to any source of renewable energy shall be a rocky one, but there is a growing necessity to find more energy sources to meet the hungry demands of modern America. Harvesting solar energy has become so efficient that the price differences are astounding (Nunez).

On the other hand, economic investments in the solar energy sector are still seen as risky as they have not been proven to provide a consistent return. Tesla’s buyout of SolarCity is one such example of a transition to a green economy considered to be a risk (Musk). The economy is not receptive of such transitions and will most likely resist these changes at first. Investors putting money down now are taking a risk, but not as much a risk as investing in an energy resource with a finite supply.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photovoltaic_system

The word coal has a negative connotation for much of the American public. It is dark, it is sludgy, and it is a wide source of pollution. Acid rain from coal fire plants in Tennessee is causing degraded habitats in the North Carolina mountains. Coal ash ponds rupture and leak on a much to regular basis, but coal fire power continues to be supported by subsidies only because the economy is on auto-pilot. The sun conjures up images of summertime and children playing outside. Pollution is produced in small quantities by solar panels, compared to coal fire power plants that emit pollution during construction, operation, and decommissioning. The future of America is bright, not only with potential, but with the glowing solution of solar energy.

 

Works Cited

Nunez, Christina. “Solar Energy Sees Eye-Popping Price Drops.” National Geographic. National

Geographic Society, 2 Oct. 2015. Web. 17 July 2016.

<http://news.nationalgeographic.com/energy/2015/10/151002-solar-energy-sees-eye-popping-price-drops/>.

Fehrenbacher, Katie. “That Crashing Sound Is The Fall Of The U.S. Coal Industry.” Fortune.

N.p., 14 Jan. 2016. Web. 17 July 2016. <http://fortune.com/2016/01/15/decline-us-coal-

industry/>.

Gibson, Kate. “Regulator Sounds Alarm over Deaths at Coal Mines.” CBSNews. CBS

Interactive, 3 Feb. 2016. Web. 17 July 2016. <http://www.cbsnews.com/news/regulator-sounds-alarm-over-deaths-at-coal-mines/>.

Musk, Elon. “Clouds Appear.” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 25 June 2016. Web.

17 July 2016. <http://www.economist.com/news/business/21701181-teslas-purchase-solarcity-bold-bet-worrying-one-clouds-appear?zid=313&ah=fe2aac0b11adef572d67aed9273b6e55>.

Pearce, Joshua. “Solar Industry Welcomes Coal Workers With Open Arms.” The Huffington

Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 21 June 2016. Web. 17 July 2016.

<http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joshua-pearce/solar-industry-welcomes-

c_b_10602842.html>.

 

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Jul 06 2016

Settling for the Lesser of Two Evils?

Published by under Student blog entries

The spotlight is on China to make a shift in their energy mix and reduce carbon emission. China consumes more energy than any other country in the world, and their energy demand is expected to increase. This leaves the country with some difficult decisions concerning energy demand and emissions goals.

In 2014, China made its first-ever commitment to reduce its total emissions by the year 2030. This was very exciting news, given that the country’s carbon emissions are the largest in the world. At the turn of the century China’s emissions started to skyrocket, due mostly to one form of energy production: coal.

2826748848_32385b15bf_z (Source: bkking111, Flickr)

China produced 3.24 billion metric tons of coal in 2010, which made up 76.5% of the countries energy mix. This percentage has decreased over the last few years, in large part because of the construction of many hydropower plants. As of 2015, the country is producing 1,126,000 GWh of power from hydroelectric dams, with the installed capacity even greater. This is great news for China and the world, but it still isn’t time to throw your hands up and celebrate.

6877464855_4f4ce99021_z The massive Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in China. (Source: Marshal Segal, Flickr)

Generating energy from hydroelectric dams is almost undeniably better than burning coal, but it is by no means perfect — especially when hydropower plants are huge. Dams can have significant negative effects on the natural environment of a river or other body of water. Restricting the natural flow of water can have adverse effects on transportation down river, as well as fresh water availability for public use. Fish and other water species that live near a dam may be restricted from flowing up river to spawn in their normal environment. The construction of dams can often cause people to need to relocate, disrupting their livelihoods and minimizing their culture. Hydropower generation is perceived as having little to no emissions, but releasing larger quantities of water at one time can disturb the riverbed and release methane and other gases that were being stored.

These are some of the arguments that environmentalists in China are making to restrict the government from building new dams on the Nu River. The author of the New York Times article “China’s Last Wild River Carries Conflicting Environmental Hopes” discusses the latest in this decade-long fight to keep the Nu River a pristine environment. The Chinese government has recently stated that construction of dams would be halted and instead the river and its surroundings would be made into a national park.

5705460414_58bae63bf7_z The Nu River. (Source: International Rivers, Flickr)

There are many skeptics that are not accepting this as a victory quite yet. This is understandable, given that the government ordered to stop construction on the dams in 2013 in order to assess the impact of the development. Construction not only continued, but the government also tried to hide their intentions from the public.

The future of the Nu River may continue to be disputed, but China will need to make decisions soon to keep up with energy demand. This won’t be an easy task with the global pressure on China to reduce the use of coal. China could be setting an example for developing countries and the rest of the world, though it is unclear if it will be positive.

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Jun 30 2016

Brexit: A Sea of Uncertainty for Ocean Renewables?

Published by under Student blog entries

(Illustration: Patrick Chappatte / International New York Times ©)

First things first. Like most Americans, I don’t know squat about Brexit.

It just seems like one of those far-away things to laugh about.

Like when late-night host Stephen Colbert quipped1, following wimpy Iceland’s stunning defeat of powerhouse England in the Euro Cup soccer tournament on Monday night:

“This is the worst thing to happen to England in four days.”

For UK ocean renewables though, Brexit is the sound of serious uncertainty washing over a fledgling industry.

Already, Germany energy company Siemens froze any new UK wind power investment.While a factory will still produce blades and turbines (for now), the firm is holding its bets until financial markets simmer down, and “the future of the UK’s relationship with Europe becomes clearer.”

Photo by Paul Bullen, © Getty Images

Forboding clouds over a UK offshore wind farm. (Photo: Paul Bullen / Getty Images ©)

On the flipside, Danish offshore wind giant Dong Energy announced “there won’t be any impact” on plans to invest $8.6 billion in coastal UK wind farms by 2020.3 And because Brexit threatens projects such as the controversial Hinkley Point nuclear plant4, one might expect renewables to pick up the slack. 

So…win?  Not so fast.  Despite having the world’s largest and most advanced offshore wind industry5, the UK is currently the biggest recipient of the European Investment Bank’s (EIB) Climate Awareness Bonds.By ditching the EU, Britain also risks losing “billions of pounds of investment in renewable energy projects such as wind farms and grid upgrades.”7

Ugh. Unfortunately, we can’t just science our way out of this one. As Bill Clinton’s aide James Carville was fond of insisting, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

It's the economy...precious.

“It’s the economy…precious.” – James Carville

Scientists need money too. British labs depend on the EU for a quarter of public research funds.8  83% of UK scientists oppose Brexit.9 Most damning, all 159 Fellows of the Royal Society at the University of Cambridge recently called it “a disaster for British science”, because it stops young scientists from moving freely within Europe.10

Politics are inescapable. Senior research fellow Antony Froggatt says, “the long-term threat to U.K. renewables…depends on how British policymakers decide to act once they’re no longer obligated to meet the EU’s climate targets.”6  The UK Renewable Energy Association reported that “repeated policy interventions of the Government are harming the UK’s position as a global leader, slowing growth rates, and are increasing the likelihood that legally binding 2020 renewable energy targets…will not be achieved.”11

Oh well. At least Brits can no longer claim we Americans are significantly dumber12 than they are:

 

Maybe.

 

References:

1. The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. “Stephen Celebrates Iceland’s Win In The Euro Cup Tournament” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 29 June 2016. Web. 29 June 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RI8RyhCl2c4>

2. Nelson, Arthur. Siemens freezes new UK wind power investment following Brexit vote. The Guardian, 28 June 2016. Web. 29 June 2016. <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jun/28/siemens-freezes-new-uk-wind-power-investment-following-brexit-vote>

3. Morales, Alex. Dong’s $8.5 Billion U.K. Wind Plan Undimmed by Threat of Brexit. Bloomberg.com, 28 Jan. 2016. Web. 29 June 2016. <http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-01-28/dong-s-8-5-billion-u-k-wind-plan-undimmed-by-threat-of-brexit>

4.  Landauro, Inti. France Tells EDF to Switch On U.K. Nuclear-Power Project Despite Brexit, Wall Street Journal, 28 June 2016. Web. 29 June 2016. <http://www.wsj.com/articles/france-tells-edf-to-switch-on-u-k-nuclear-power-project-despite-brexit-1467107407>

5. Martin, Richard. Brexit Brings Chaos to Europe’s Clean-Energy Goals. MIT Technology Review, 24 June 2016. Web. 29 June 2016.<https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601776/brexit-brings-chaos-to-europes-clean-energy-goals/>

6. Gallucci, Maria. Brexit Vote 2016: UK Renewable Energy Sector Faces Uncertain Future As June 23 EU Referendum Nears. International Business Times, 7 June 2016. Web. 29 June 2016. <http://www.ibtimes.com/brexit-vote-2016-uk-renewable-energy-sector-faces-uncertain-future-june-23-eu-2377753>

7.  Shankleman, Jessica. Brexit May Lose U.K. Billions in Funding for Climate, Renewables. Bloomberg.com, 2016 Feb. 2. Web. 29 June 2016. <http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-02-02/brexit-may-lose-u-k-billions-in-funding-for-climate-renewables>

8. MacKenzie, Debora. Why Scientists Are So Worried about Brexit, MIT Technology Review, 20 June 2016. Web. 29 June 2016. <https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601721/why-scientists-are-so-worried-about-brexit/>

9. “Brexit Survey 2016.” Nature, Web. 29 June 2016. <http://www.nature.com/polopoly_fs/7.35380!/file/Brexit%20survey_full%20results.pdf>

10. Letters to the Editor. EU Boost to Science, The Times, 9 Mar. 2016. Web. 29 June 2016. <http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/letters/article4709281.ece>

11. REA News. Strong renewable energy growth threatened by recent policy changes, News from the REA, 7 June 2016. Web. 29 June 2016. <https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601721/why-scientists-are-so-worried-about-brexit/>

12. Borowitz, Andy. British Lose Right to Claim that Americans are Dumber, The New Yorker, 24 June 2016. Web. 29 June 2016. <http://www.newyorker.com/humor/borowitz-report/british-lose-right-to-claim-that-americans-are-dumber>

13. Jane (janephilpot). “we’re all thinking it #EURefResults.” 24 June 2016, 4:18am. Tweet.

14. Perticone, Joe (JoePerticone). “Hey United Kingdom imma let you finish but America had one of the greatest #Brexit’s of ALL TIME.” 23 June 2016, 10:27pm. Tweet.

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Jun 29 2016

Rainbow Reefs Turned Bleached Benthos

Published by under Student blog entries

We all know the most popular bucket list place on earth- “42 Wallaby Way, Sydney”. We have recently found our lost friends and since the phenomena began we have killed off the community that supports life for twenty-five percent of the world’s marine animals. The corals themselves were transplants and we currently admire the algae they host on the limestone fortresses. Coral acts as a massive foundation for much of the world we know.

“Coral reefs are the crucial incubators of the ocean’s ecosystem” states the New York Times’ Journalist Innis. The coral reefs feed the large fish populations that much of the developing nations rely on for protein and income. The coral itself feeds on the algae that lives on the limestone the coral creates. This harbor of hospitality can be adversely affected by too much sunlight. Heat stress caused by three combining factors over the course of a few years have left the communities submerged in their own toxins, the corals were left to starve without the proper balance of water temperatures.

coral reef blog

National Geographic – Bleached Coral Reef

Not having time to recover from a 2013 warm winter caused by blocked polar air resulted in a decline of the corals. With little relief from what is now known as “the Blob”, the waters west of North America took an increase of four degrees to stress the corals of Australia to a greater extent. Then the final, most powerful event came in 2015 with the start of the worst El Nino in a century. The corals that can take centuries to grow into large reefs were possibly bleached for good because of the multitude of climate change impacts.

"Blob" that warmed much of the Pacific Ocean, and caused distress on the corals.

“Blob” that warmed much of the Pacific Ocean, and caused distress on the corals.

El Nino expected to last into 2017 could mean extinction level damage to the over five-hundred reefs in the Great Barrier reef alone. There have been previous bleaching’s in the past decades. With one in 1998 after an El Nino killed sixteen percent of the world’s reefs, and then they were bleached again in 2010. In 2015, the waters were ten degrees warmer than the average seventy-eight degrees, and shows the constant regression climate change has done to the coral reefs.

Coral reefs are one of the many biotic indicators that should be warning signs to the overall negative human impact. Let the bleaching of the corals be our warning sign to help protect the oceans we rely on for our world’s biodiversity.

References

Corals . (2016). Retrieved from National Geographic: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/invertebrates/coral/

Innis, M. (2016, April 9). Climate-Related Death of Coral Around World Alarms Scientists. Retrieved from New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/10/world/asia/climate-related-death-of-coral-around-world-alarms-scientists.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fearth&action=click&contentCollection=earth&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement

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