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“Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and caldron bubble”

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donald-trump_portrait_donkeyhoteyI don’t think we –by “we” I mean writers, journalists, editors, bloggers, etc.–understand the disaster facing the country with respect to many issues – most importantly (to me) on climate change, renewable energy, sustainability, the Supreme Court, free speech, civil and gender rights, corporate power and influence, democratic institutions and equal justice.

Here is what David Remnick wrote last week in The New Yorker: “The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism…It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety.”

In the early going Trump was a media novelty; he was “good copy,” as they say in newsrooms. He was not taken seriously until it became—too late—really serious, even deadly serious. Trump also tapped into a vein of discontent, anger and fear that was largely under-reported or ignored—again until it was too late.

So the reasoned and rational “what do we do now?” arguments and suggestions for going forward strike me as somewhat naive and not very useful because this is not a “business as usual” or “return to normalcy” situation. It’s not a rational and normal transfer of power, no matter how it is dressed up as such. This a new, different, uncertain, dangerous and even absurd universe—so new, different and radical thinking about the way we report and approach whatever horrors await us from the Trump/Pence cabal is needed. It means telling the truth with clarity and accuracy no matter how inconvenient or costly, both to ourselves and to the powerful.

Remnick concluded: “To combat authoritarianism, to call out lies, to struggle honorably and fiercely in the name of American ideals—that is what is left to do. That is all there is to do.”

That is what I promise to do. I hope you will join me.

Image: Donald Trump – Portrait by DonkeyHotey viaFlickr CC

Climate change (pt. 2): a world at war

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dana-glacier_350-orgA New Republic article in August from Bill McKibben, environmentalist, author, journalist, and founder of 350.org, put climate change and its challenge in the starkest terms: it’s a world war.

While the national political discourse descends ever further into the gutter, the true crisis that must be addressed—climate change– is getting lost in the sleaze, ignorance and obfuscation.

McKibben puts it succinctly: “It’s not that global warming is like a world war. It is a world war. And we are losing.” Read the rest of this entry »

Written by William DiBenedetto

10 October, 2016 at 7:00 am

Climate Change: the clock is ticking (pt.1)

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web_stateofclimate2015_coverHere’s some news we already know or thought we knew. Yes, climate change is here and here to stay according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and its effects are no longer subtle or easily argued away.

NOAA and the American Meteorological Society released the “State of the Climate in 2015”, a 300-page document published the AMS Bulletin last month.

It makes for sobering reading, for example (quoting from the Abstract):

  • “In 2015, the dominant greenhouse gases released into Earth’s atmosphere—carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide—all continued to reach new high levels. At Mauna Loa, Hawaii, the annual CO2 concentration increased by a record 3.1 ppm, exceeding 400 ppm for the first time on record. The 2015 global CO2 average neared this threshold, at 399.4 ppm.
  • “Owing to the combination of El Niño and a long-term upward trend, Earth observed record warmth for the second consecutive year, with the 2015 annual global surface temperature surpassing the previous record by more than 0.1°C and exceeding the average for the mid- to late 19th century—commonly considered representative of preindustrial conditions—by more than 1°C for the first time.
  • “Across land surfaces, record to near-record warmth was reported across every inhabited continent. Twelve countries, including Russia and China, reported record high annual temperatures.
  • “In the Arctic, the 2015 land surface temperature was 1.2°C above the 1981–2010 average, tying 2007 and 2011 for the highest annual temperature and representing a 2.8°C increase since the record began in 1900. Increasing temperatures have led to decreasing Arctic sea ice extent and thickness. On 25 February 2015, the lowest maximum sea ice extent in the 37-year satellite record was observed, 7% below the 1981–2010 average.
  • “Above average sea surface temperatures are not confined to the Arctic. Sea surface temperature for 2015 was record high at the global scale; however, the North Atlantic southeast of Greenland remained colder than average and colder than 2014…The Greenland Ice Sheet, with the capacity to contribute ~7 m to sea level rise, experienced melting over more than 50% of its surface for the first time since the record melt of 2012.
  • “Springtime ozone depletion resulted in one of the largest and most persistent Antarctic ozone holes observed since the 1990s.
  • “Closer to the equator, 101 named tropical storms were observed in 2015, well above the 1981–2010 average of 82. The eastern/central Pacific had 26 named storms, the most since 1992. The western north Pacific and north and south Indian Ocean basins also saw high activity. Globally, eight tropical cyclones reached the Saffir–Simpson Category 5 intensity level.
  • “An above-normal rainy season led to major floods in Paraguay, Bolivia, and southern Brazil. In May, the United States recorded its all-time wettest month in its 121-year national record. Denmark and Norway reported their second and third wettest year on record, respectively, but globally soil moisture was below average, terrestrial groundwater storage was the lowest in the 14-year record, and areas in “severe” drought rose from 8% in 2014 to 14% in 2015. Drought conditions prevailed across many Caribbean island nations, Colombia, Venezuela, and northeast Brazil for most of the year. Several South Pacific countries also experienced drought. Lack of rainfall across Ethiopia led to its worst drought in decades and affected millions of people, while prolonged drought in South Africa severely affected agricultural production. Indian summer monsoon rainfall was just 86% of average. Extremely dry conditions in Indonesia resulted in intense and widespread fires during August–November that produced abundant carbonaceous aerosols, carbon monoxide, and ozone.”

Michael Mann, a leading climate scientist at Penn State, last month told the Guardian, “The impacts of climate change are no longer subtle. They are playing out before us, in real time. The 2015 numbers drive that home.”

More on the parlous state of the climate, and what we are not doing about it, next time.

Image: State of the Climate in 2015 cover from the AMS website.

Written by William DiBenedetto

19 September, 2016 at 7:20 am

Bionic leaf beats photosynthesis, creates liquid fuel

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bionic-leaf_orig_1 (1)Now this from Harvard University researchers: “bionic leaf 2.0,” which turns sunlight into liquid fuel, introduced in the academic journal Science earlier this month.

In what is called an artificial version of photosynthesis in plants, the study says the “bionic leaf 2.0” “aims to make use of solar panels for splitting molecules of water into oxygen and hydrogen. On separation of the water compounds, hydrogen is moved into a chamber for consumption by bacteria. A specialized metal catalyst and carbon dioxide in the chamber then helps generate a liquid fuel.”

Daniel Nocera, the Patterson Rockwood Professor of Energy at Harvard University, and Pamela Silver, the Elliott T. and Onie H. Adams Professor of Biochemistry and Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School, have developed a system that uses solar energy to split water molecules and hydrogen-eating bacteria to produce liquid fuels. What’s cool about this is that using sunlight to convert it into liquid fuels would reduce the vast areas of land usually used for producing plants that generate biofuels. According to a study by the University of Virginia, about 4 per cent of the world’s farmland is currently under crops for fuel rather than crops for food.

The paper, whose lead authors also include postdoctoral fellow Chong Liu and graduate student Brendan Colón, is described in a June 3 paper published in Science.

“This is a true artificial photosynthesis system,” Nocera said in a Harvard Gazette article. “Before, people were using artificial photosynthesis for water-splitting, but this is a true A-to-Z system, and we’ve gone well over the efficiency of photosynthesis in nature.” While the study shows the system can be used to generate usable fuels, its potential doesn’t end there, said Silver, who is also a founding core member of the Wyss Institute at Harvard University.

“The beauty of biology is it’s the world’s greatest chemist — biology can do chemistry we can’t do easily,” she said. “In principle, we have a platform that can make any downstream carbon-based molecule. So this has the potential to be incredibly versatile.”

The new system builds on previous work by Nocera, Silver, and others, which — though it was capable of using solar energy to make isopropanol — faced a number of challenges. Chief among those, Nocera said, was the fact that the catalyst used to produce hydrogen — a nickel-molybdenum-zinc alloy — also created reactive oxygen species, molecules that attacked and destroyed the bacteria’s DNA. To avoid that, researchers were forced to run the system at abnormally high voltages, resulting in reduced efficiency.

“For this paper, we designed a new cobalt-phosphorous alloy catalyst, which we showed does not make reactive oxygen species,” Nocera said. “That allowed us to lower the voltage, and that led to a dramatic increase in efficiency.” Read the rest of this entry »

Trump Opting for Big Oil and Climate Change Denial

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Donald Trump_caricatureAnother reason — among many — not to vote for Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee for president. (Those words still sound absurd and bizarre, the world according to Dali or Pirandello.)

Reuters reported that Trump has chosen Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, one of the country’s most ardent oil and gas drilling advocates and climate change skeptics, to advise him on energy policy. North Dakota of course, has long been in bed with the U.S. shale oil and gas industries.

The Reuters report says Trump’s team asked Cramer, who has endorsed Trump, to prepare some white papers on his energy policy ideas, according to Cramer and sources familiar with the matter. “Cramer said in an interview that his white paper would emphasize the dangers of foreign ownership of U.S. energy assets, as well as what he characterized as burdensome taxes and over-regulation. Trump will have an opportunity to float some of the ideas at an energy summit in Bismarck, North Dakota on May 26, Cramer said,” according to Reuters.

The article also said the congressman is among a group of Trump advisers who recently met with lawmakers from Western energy states, who hope Trump will open more federal land for drilling, a lawmaker who took part in the meeting said.

“Kevin Cramer has consistently backed reckless and dangerous schemes to put the profits of fossil fuel executives before the health of the public, so he and Trump are a match made in polluter heaven,” Sierra Club Legislative Director Melinda Pierce said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

“Donald Trump’s choice of outspoken climate (change) denier Kevin Cramer to advise him on energy policy is just the latest piece of evidence that letting him get near the White House would put our children’s health and futures at risk,” said Jesse Ferguson, spokesman for the Hillary Clinton campaign.

“Trump might find that Cramer occupies gray spaces on energy and climate policy,” according to a Scientific American article. “The former utility regulator acknowledges that the world is on a path to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but he calls himself skeptical of the broadly held view by scientists and Democrats that warming could cause severe economic and physical damage.”

“I’ve been skeptical, but I don’t resist the reality that we’re heading toward or our goal is a more carbon-constrained world,” Cramer was quoted in the SA article. For example, he would tell Trump that the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s regulatory effort to decrease power plant emissions, should be rolled back. But Cramer seems to acknowledge that something else might have to take its place.

Image: Donald Trump – Caricature by DonkeyHotey via Flickr CC

Written by William DiBenedetto

16 May, 2016 at 8:30 am

COP21 a cop-out or an opt-in?

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COP ParisIt’s been awhile, but in the great scheme of things not that long, and my absence here lately is of no great import. Things have changed in the past few months, including an engagement, a time-consuming book project and a re-think of my assocoation with TriplePundit. It’s all great-to-good-to-exhausting, but without getting into details, the gist is that I’ll concentrate more on this blog space in the future. Maybe.

First, some venting about the climate change summit that concluded in December, COP21. Remember? It already seems like a long time ago! The results were better than expected and encouraging, but still probably too little too late. Coverage and punditry was mixed, which is better than saying the effort failed. Time will tell on that. Yes, it’s a climate accord among a slew of nations, but unenforceable.

Here’s Bill Mckibben, founder of 350.org, the global grass-roots climate campaign, writing in the New York Times: “In the hot, sodden mess that is our planet as 2015 drags to a close, the pact reached in Paris feels, in a lot of ways, like an ambitious agreement designed for about 1995, when the first conference of parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change took place in Berlin.

“Under its provisions, nations have made voluntary pledges to begin reducing their carbon emissions. These are modest — the United States, for instance, plans to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 2025 by 12 to 19 percent from their levels in 1990. As the scrupulous scorekeepers at Climate Action Tracker, a nongovernment organization, put it, that’s a ‘medium’ goal ‘at the least ambitious end of what would be a fair contribution.'”

If all parties keep their promises, and if you expect that to happen I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn you can buy, the planet will warm by an estimated 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit, or 3.5 degrees Celsius, above preindustrial levels. “That is way, way too much,” McKibben says. “We are set to pass the 1 degree Celsius mark this year, and that’s already enough to melt ice caps and push the sea level threateningly higher.”

The irony is, he continues, an agreement like this adopted at the first climate conference in 1995 “might have worked.” Read the rest of this entry »

Written by William DiBenedetto

11 January, 2016 at 8:00 am

Pope Francis: Care for our common home (4)

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Laudato Si'_cover_ Thomas CizauskasHere’s the next installment of our close read of Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter on climate change, Laudato Si’.

(Note: emphasis added by me)

Climate as a common good

The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it. It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity. Concentrated in the atmosphere, these gases do not allow the warmth of the sun’s rays reflected by the earth to be dispersed in space. The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system. Another determining factor has been an increase in changed uses of the soil, principally deforestation for agricultural purposes. (Para. 23) Read the rest of this entry »

Written by William DiBenedetto

5 October, 2015 at 6:00 am

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