Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Pollution from Natural Gas Drilling

Today's New York Times has this piece on the pollution being generated by natural gas production in the US. As noted below, the prospect of extracting natural gas and using that to provide energy for the country is an exciting one, not least because it gives us a chance to pollute less. (Natural gas use results in less CO2 emissions and by pulling it out of the ground and using it here at home we can be sure that the cleanest technologies are used.) However, it's not perfect. Groundwater contamination has happened in some places, ruining wells and even blowing up whole houses. It sounds like technological improvements are on the way but even then there are likely to be complications. I'm very excited to see the natural gas industry develop here in the US but I hope that environmental agencies at the state and Federal levels will be keeping a close eye on it as it does so.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Solar & wind energy under development in Maryland

Nice to see Constellation Energy, the hegemonic energy provider to us in the Baltimore area, embracing some renewable energy sources. I guess there were finally enough Federal subsidies to make it worthwhile! This article says that nothing is set, particularly with respect to the planned solar array, but it sounds like steps are being taken. I have to say that I like the natural gas portion balancing the solar array, too, with so much of the Northeast looking like it'll be producing lots of natural gas in the not-too-distant future. I just hope the extraction is relatively clean and doesn't suck down too much water....

Sunday, November 22, 2009

How effective is wind energy?

Case van Kooten has an interesting working paper here showing that the impact of wind on C02 emissions is highly variable. First, the opportunity cost matters a great deal. If people are relying on hydro or nuclear power and they switch to wind, emissions decrease very little. Second, wind power tends to be intermittent, requiring other sources to be available when the wind's not blowing. If other flexible sources are going to turn out to be fossil fuels, and, worse, if those fossil fuel-burning plants are hard to start up and turn off, then again we'd expect to see only a small reduction in CO2 emissions from use of wind.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Natural Gas in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania's Natural Gas reserves alone could power the US for 10-15 years, according to this article on the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's website. Like any kind of mining, extraction can be environmentally difficult, though it sounds like appropriate care can mitigate a lot of the problems. However nasty it might be, I'd much rather have it going on in this country where it can be carefully monitored instead of leaving it to be extracted in the Middle East or other places and then have it traveling here in tankers.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Obama & renewables

President Obama visited MIT yesterday and spoke about renewable energy. It looks to me like now that some sort of health plan seems to be in the bag, he's moving on to climate change.

Solving the nation's problems, one by one.... We'll see what happens on this one!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Chesapeake Energy of Oklahoma?

Interesting article in today's NYT about natural gas, and it mentions "Chesapeake Energy of Oklahoma City." Huh?!

New techniques for extracting natural gas have increased estimated world reserves by a MINIMUM of 50%, and some claim that over 600 years' worth of US consumption could be out there. This is nice for many reasons, including freeing the EU from dependence on Russia, who in the past have frozen out parts of Europe by cutting off supplies of natural gas during the winter, but also because natural gas emits less carbon dioxide than most fossil fuels. The combustion of natural gas emits almost 30 percent less carbon dioxide than oil, and just under 45 percent less carbon dioxide than coal. Also, the US has considerable shale reserves, as shown on the map about halfway down this page. It's tough to predict where our future energy will come from, but this seems a pretty promising candidate!

Going to jail to protect resources

When the Bush administration in its last days opened up large areas of land for drilling, this 27-year old economics student stepped in to mess up the process. By disrupting the leases, he sought to protect the land, and he succeeded, but now he's going to court for what he's done. Read the story! It's short and interesting and right here.

It raises lots of interesting questions, including who decides how to value different resources (oil vs. beautiful lands) and how they make that decision. Since few people travel to rural Utah to see some of these spectacular areas (though the Park Service conspicuously chooses to have people in a number of these shots) does that mean they are less valuable and don't merit government protection? That's exactly what Bush administration officials thought. They've since been overruled by Obama administration officials- at least for the next few years! More to come, obviously....

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Fishing failing in Alaska

I knew that salmon fisheries in Oregon, Washington, and California had fallen upon hard times, but I didn't realize that Alaskan king salmon too were failing. I'm sure there are always ebbs and flows in the population, so maybe this isn't a big deal, but people sound pretty worried about it. That would be a huge loss to all of us- that fishery has been tremendously productive. Read the full article here.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Maryland considering offshore wind power

Apparently I'm pretty late in picking up this story, but here's a link: 12 miles off Ocean City may soon be some industrial-sized windmills. I guess that's far enough away that they won't be visible from the beach, which is probably key.

I wonder how BG&E feels about this, with all their recent investments in nuclear....

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Shopping bags banned outright in San Jose, CA

Not much details on this legislation and apparently it's not final, but it sounds pretty strict. I wonder if grocery stores can just charge 5 cents a bag and get around it?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Live Strong

Thomas Friedman's editorial in today's New York Times is an interesting call for action. Nuclear power has many detractors (and rightfully so, I must say as a Nevadan) but one of its benefits is that it does not emit carbon. If we are really to take the issue of climate change seriously, there really should be more serious discussion of the topic, as well as of the perpetually unpopular carbon tax. Is now not the time because of the recession? Fine, then say we set a start date of January 1, 2011.

Friedman's point is that we simply have to wean ourselves of our dependence on foreign oil. It's not a new point but it bears repeating.

Another article of note in the same paper is an article about electronic devices and energy consumption. We had some discussion in class about "phantom loads"- devices that turn off but continue to use up a little energy so as to respond quickly when we activate them. Unsurprisingly, the average American home has more electronic gadgets than ever, and most of them drain energy basically all the time. An idea suggested in the article is to attach such devices to "smart" power strips, which turn off when they're not in use. I'm not sure where to find these strips, but I think I'll try to use more regular power strips to turn everything on and off at once rather than doing one at a time. Needless waste makes economists in particular cringe!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Federal plan for the Chesapeake

A belated welcome back to school to everyone. One observant class member sent along this yesterday: the EPA under the Obama administration is working on a plan to help the Chesapeake, starting with "$638 million over the next five years for farm incentives and other measures to help the bay." Sounds like a good start! This link is to an article about an executive summary of a draft report that's due to be released soon. I haven't seen much press about this: I wonder if the actual report will garner more attention....

Monday, June 22, 2009

Happy summer!

School's out and class is done, but I want to make sure this blog doesn't totally die. Good news from the Obama administration: they're considering ITQ's (though they don't call them that, apparently) to revitalize our ravaged fisheries, particularly the one for cod. You remember any of that stuff we talked about?

Hope you're having a great break!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Banning coal? Are you crazy?

The article I am summarizing, titled ‘Safe’ climate means ‘no to coal’, is itself a summary of recent scientific research regarding global warming. According to the article, recent scientific evidence suggests that if the world is going to avoid a 2°C rise in global temperatures, approximately three-quarters of the world’s fossil fuel reserves must remain unused (Black, 2009). It is a widely accepted scientific theory that a 2°C rise in global temperature would have serious consequences for the world, including sea level rise and melting of the polar ice caps, among others. To this end, more than 100 countries globally have decided to halve their 1990 CO2 emissions by 2050. However, this article contends that much more drastic reductions are necessary to avoid breaching a 2°C temperature rise.
Since the start of the industrial age, global temperatures are estimated to have risen 0.7°C (Black, 2009). According to this new study, if humanities total CO2 emissions exceed one trillion tons of carbon in the atmosphere, the 2°C limit is very likely to be breached. As with all mathematical models, their study has a range of temperatures that could result from a one trillion ton total, but 2°C is the most likely outcome. To this end, it is the belief of this study that reductions in CO2 need to be achieved as soon as possible, and that waiting will only increase the likelihood of exceeding the temperature threshold. Also U.S targets of 80% reductions by 2050, which would represent a 60% global reduction, are admirable, but unlikely to occur at the rate intended. For this reason, they believe new policies need to be formulated, which reduce our emissions more drastically, and sooner than initially intended.
Personally, I have been a believer in global warming for some time, so I support the findings presented in this article. The 2°C threshold has been supported by the IPCC, and many other scientific studies, which has made me a firm believer. Despite the negative impacts this will have on certain aspects of the global economy, the alternative of a broken planet has never been an acceptable outcome to me. Ideally, I would hope that this was just another scare tactic to try and get the masses on board. However, wanting something to not be true doesn’t change the facts. It is time that we took drastic measures to avoid destroying our planet, and if eliminating our CO2 use can prevent that from occurring, I am for it 100%.
--Matt Krukowski

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Climate change

Just to briefly cover some things we touched on in class:

--If you aren't sure about the opinion of this Berkeley guy teaching your class, maybe you'll take it from George W. Bush, who may not be much of a libertarian but who is certainly a big oil man and in no way a liberal or an environmentalist. In 2005 he said, "I recognize the surface of the earth is warmer and that an increase in greenhouse gases caused by humans is contributing to the problem."

--From a powerpoint by an IPCC author: "[Here we see] changes in glaciers, indicating a global average temperature change in the 20th century consistent with the thermometers. And the corals. And the tree rings. And the boreholes. And the ice cores." Their conclusion: "Warming is unequivocal, and most of the warming of the past 50 years is very likely (90%) due to increases in greenhouse gases."

--Working Group I, the physical scientists, wrote a report that took three years from 2004-2007. The work includes contributions from 152 authors, 450 contributors, 600 expert reviewers, and compiles over 30,000 review comments. What's more, this group of people built on the accomplishments of the 2001 IPCC Working Group I's report, but 75% of the authors of the new project weren't involved with the old project. This report is the consensus of thousands of physical scientists.

I'm not a scientist, but I am no longer thinking about "What if it's true" but I'm thinking about "How much will things change" and "What do we need to take into account to adapt most effectively."

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Climate change in evidence

Recently a large piece of ice the size of New York City broke off of the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula. The cracking of the ice shelf started over a year ago and on April 5th the ice bridge linking the island to the mainland shattered and on Friday an ice chunk 270 square miles in size fell into the water. Scientists believe it’s the result of atmospheric global warming. The average temperature in Antarctica has risen 3.8 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 50 years. That’s more than 2 degrees above the average global rise. Scientists don’t worry so much about the melting of the shelves because they don’t increase sea levels due to that the ice is floating and most of the ice is already submerged. However, scientist’s fear that without the ice shelves there the vast quantities of ice on the land will begin to move faster towards the ocean. Glacier melting has many negative impacts on the earth. Glacier melting causes global warming as the ice reflects back 80% of sunlight and only 20% is absorbed. When the glaciers are gone the numbers are reversed. Other impacts include fresh water shortage, reduced agricultural output, excessive flooding, rise in sea level, coral reefs will vanish, and loss of habitat.

Glacial melting is evidence that global warming is real and that people need to make everyday changes in order to preserve the future of the planet. There are many simple things that people can do to help prevent further global warming. These things include eliminating drafts in your home which can lead to more energy use, reduce wasted electricity by eliminating phantom loads, use more energy efficient light bulbs, and turn down your water heater. All these steps play a part in reducing the amount of individual greenhouse gases we are each responsible for. The steps are easy to do and good for the environment.
--Richard Tripp

Recession Squeezes Recycling Programs

As is common knowledge, our national, state, and many of our local economies are suffering in many ways. Recycling programs are not “immune” to this economic “tsunami” – as this article refers to it. Currently, some residents in Atlanta, Georgia are storing their recyclables in their garages because city collectors are not picking them up at predictable and consistent intervals like they have in the past. Because demand for commodities like cardboard, paper, and glass have lessened, city recycling programs are struggling. As Mary Kay Clunies-Ross, a public information officer for the city of Berkeley notes, “The price of the recyclable materials is not offsetting the cost the way it used to.” She adds, “It’s costing the city a lot more than it used to to provide [our] recycling services.” To help save money, in Atlanta, specifically, garbage trucks and crews, not “specialized curbside collectors,” are taking part in collecting recycled materials. It has saved the city $3 million a year. Additionally, the curbside pickups are now less often – every other week, as opposed to once a week, as they had been. This is upsetting some residents, including Atlanta’s Lynn Heinisch, who feels that recycling pickups have become sporadic and inconsistent. “There were several weeks that went by where there was no recycling pickup, and the information we got from the city was not accurate,” Heinisch said. Cameron Lawrence, another resident from Atlanta, is more optimistic about the situation, believing that it is only “temporary.” Unfortunately, for those in the industry, “There have been several [recycling] plants that have either gone out of business or that have simply not wanted to take the short-term losses on recycling materials,” Fred Johnson, director of operations for SP Recycling Corporation noted. Though the current economic recession is “squeezing” recycling programs, apparently its alternative, dumping in landfills, is not a cost-effective option. This is because dumping can be expensive, especially in places like California. Conclusively, despite the problem presented in this article, an “unexpected benefit” of the recession is that the environment is not as adversely affected as it was because people are producing and consuming less. Furthermore, as Martin Bourque, executive director of the Ecology Center, Berkeley’s contracted pickup service, summed up, “Hopefully, one of the positive outcomes of the recession will be a rethinking of how people deliver products and services that is as environmentally conservative as it is fiscally conservative.”
It is certainly an “interesting” time to be an Economics major. Many of our country’s major financial institutions are crumbling, U.S. cars are selling at a much lower rate than what they have in the past, and greedy individuals on both “wall street” and “main streets” throughout the nation are making poor decisions and taking inappropriate risks that are, in part, contributing to national, state, and local budget deficits. While on the one hand it does not surprise me that the recession is “squeezing” recycling programs (it is “squeezing” our entire economy), on the other I am surprised that as a collective unit, the people of America are not actively uniting to help remedy the situation. When faced with adversity, over the years, United States citizens have time-and-time-again come together to improve our great country and help us “rebound.” Most “recently” (though it was almost eight years ago), directly after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, people (some of whom were not active in their communities prior) volunteered their time, energy, and resources toward helping their fellow neighbors “re-build” New York’s destructed areas, console those that had lost loved ones from the attacks, and restore our entire country’s faith in our thinking that we live in a safe and secure nation.
Though recycling programs are very different than restoring tranquility within our borders, I would have thought the same principle would have applied – people coming together for our common good. While this article portrayed recycling initiatives as becoming less “active” because of the recession, I believe that this “in-action” is only temporary. Despite the fact that the recession is “squeezing” some of the recycling programs throughout the country at this point in time, the citizens of our nation have shown concern about our environment – especially over the last few years. As a growing trend in our “collective mindsets,” more and more Americans are trying to “live green” – and recycling is a part of that. Currently, there is great demand for more energy-efficient cars, organic foods, and initiatives by some who believe we need to “guard against” global warming, to name a few examples. Some states are thinking about banning plastic bags in grocery stores, too – to be more “environmentally friendly.” Therefore, I am confident that the “squeeze” on recycling programs will soon pass and people will again look to recycle materials that they can – even if it is costly in these turbulent economic times.
--Brian Salsbury
[I neglected to post this after Brian presented in class. Sorry it's late!--James]

Monday, May 4, 2009

More on green roofing

In class Evan referred to this article by NYT columnist Verlyn Klinkenborg on green roofing in the May 2009 issue of National Geographic. A quote: "While the average cost of installing a green roof can run two or three times more than a conventional roof, it's likely to be cheaper in the long run, thanks largely to energy savings. Vegetation also shields the roof from ultraviolet radiation, extending its life. And it requires a different kind of care, akin to low-maintenance gardening....The goal for some researchers now is to find ways to build living roofs that are ecologically and socially sound in every respect: low in environmental costs and available to as many people as possible." Sure sounds cool, doesn't it?

Green roofing

My article from the New York Times talks about a proposal in Toronto Canada that may mandate green roofs to improve insulation and roof life, absorb greenhouse gases, and ease the urban heat island effect. If the proposal gets passed it will be the first city in North America to require green roofs. The Mayor David Miller’s strategy is greening 30% to 60% of roof area depending on building size. Most buildings over 54,000 square feet will be required by law to have a green roof. Developers are opposing the proposal arguing that it will scare investors because of the high cost of the construction materials. If the law gets passed, Toronto will join Japan, Germany, Switzerland, and France who already adopted this type of policy and applied it to schools, industrial structures, low-midsize apartments, and affordable houses.

In my opinion, I think it will be a good idea as long as the buildings stay affordable. If low income families can afford that kind of roof I think everybody will try to adopt it, but the challenge will be how to bring down the cost of the construction materials? I think if more people adopt the new idea the demand for the green roofs will go up and they’ll drive the costs down (unless the required material is a depletable resource in which case the cost will keep going up over time and it will be a bad idea).
--Mohammed El Bekkouri

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Down in the dumps

The current state of the economy is affecting more than banks and the large businesses. The recession is also affecting landfills across the nation. The amount of waste in landfills has been decreasing exponentially since more consumers are cutting back on new purchases which causes there to be less packaging to throw away. The downturn in new housing has led to less waste from construction materials such as insulation and from discarded drywall and lumber. Restaurant waste is also down since people are eating out less.
“You can look at waste and see what the economy is doing," said Tom Houck, manager at the Defiance County Landfill in northwest Ohio. The amount of waste in his county’s landfill has decreased by 30% in the past year.
“Several landfills operated by Waste Management Inc.,” which runs about 270 active landfills in 47 states, “have gone from operating six days a week to five or have reduced hours of operation,” said spokeswoman Lisa Kardell. Waste Management's fourth-quarter profit slid 29 percent due to declines in its recycling business and one-time charges. But in its earnings report, the Houston-based company also mentioned drops in the collection of industrial waste.
Due to the decrease in fill for the landfills, caused by the recession, the companies that own them have been losing money and as a result have had to lay off workers, cut back hours, and are on the verge of maybe having to close sites.
Even though the reduction in waste is good for the environment, I do not think that it is a good thing for the economy since it is leading to employees being laid off and other employees having hours cut back. Much of the decrease in waste is in recyclable materials. This also hurts the economy since companies now have to pay more for the recycled materials or find other ways to produce products that were previously made by recycled materials.
--Jimmy O'Brien

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

New Info on Diet

Monday's NYT included this article with some strongly-worded claims about the health effects of red meat. Based on a study of 500,000 Americans, "men and women who consumed the most red and processed meat were likely to die sooner." "Over the course of a decade, the deaths of one million men and perhaps half a million women could be prevented just by eating less red and processed meats." "In place of red meat, nonvegetarians might consider poultry and fish...Likewise, those who ate the most fruits and vegetables also tended to live longer." (Looks like there's another reason pork isn't high on the dietary wish list these days!) Now, the resource angle: “In the United States,” Dr. Popkin wrote, “livestock production accounts for 55 percent of the erosion process, 37 percent of pesticides applied, 50 percent of antibiotics consumed, and a third of total discharge of nitrogen and phosphorus to surface water.” In addition, eating fish reduces rates of colon cancer while eating red meat increases rates of prostate cancer. Low fat diets sharply reduce the incidence of ovarian cancer as well. Food for thought!

Trayless Tuesdays sweeping the nation

In today's NYT: I heard about Towson's "Trayless Tuesday" this year and resolved to avoid going to Newell on Tuesdays, but I had no idea that Towson was just part of a nationwide trend to get rid of trays. Washing trays uses lots of water, which I guess is why the trays are always warm and damp when I come into the dining hall. Still, do we need to ban them? I almost always eat everything on my tray, and that's usually a couple of plates of food and 2-3 drinks. You mean I'm actually going to have to stand up and walk back to the line?! No wonder the article says that the faculty are the most stridently opposed! :) Seriously, I understand the urge to resist, but this is just the kind of incremental change we need. We need to conserve our resources, and that means altering our lifestyles. That's almost never fun or easy, but it's not worth getting that worked up over.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Picture of the day

Power grid map

Very interesting little application on NPR's website: it shows the electric grid for the US, including power generation and transmission. For Maryland, 56% of our energy comes from coal, 28% from nuclear power, 7% oil, 4% gas, 3% hydro, and a bit of biomass and "other." There are a bunch of big nuclear reactors in the area, but no one state seems completely dependent on them. Illinois gets almost half its power from nuclear energy. Fun gadget!

Superfund damages

The article On the Gowanus Canal, Superfund Stigma is about the Gowanus Canal in New York that has been contaminated for over a century. The Canal is in a highly industrial area and has been polluted with pesticides, heavy metals, and carcinogens.
The Environmental Protection Agency wants to put the canal on the national priorities list of its superfund program, however, the state of New York isn’t in complete agreement on this. There’s a fear that being placed on the superfund list will deter new development. Currently there are two housing projects scheduled for the area, providing 1,200 housing units and costing about $500 million. Housing developers are already threatening to pull out because they claim “to market residential units at a superfund site is virtually impossible.” There is some truth in that statement because it has been shown that property values decline after being deemed a superfund site. Although, it has also been shown that property values go back up after clean up and sometimes to even higher levels. Residents also have mixed feelings on the project, they of course do not want the value of their homes declining, but they would also like to clean up the health hazard in their backyard.
I think the state should allow the EPA to place the Gowanus Canal on the superfund list because even though property values would drop, they would go back up again. Also, the canal is considered a health hazard and the health of the residents that live there is more important than housing development. All in all I think it is a good idea, and hopefully the EPA wins their battle against the state.
--Samantha Richmond

Monday, April 27, 2009

“Fake Trees” Revolutionize CO2 Collection

Recently a company named Global Research Technologies has created “fake trees” that remove CO2 from the atmosphere. These “fake trees” are actually CO2 scrubbing towers filled with various materials that absorb CO2 from the air. These towers are filled with an environmentally friendly resin that when dry absorbs CO2 out of the air. After the resin is completely saturated in CO2, which takes about an hour, water is added to the resin which causes it to release the CO2; this CO2 is then captured and stored. Drying the resin allows it to absorb more CO2, this process of drying and adding water can be repeated indefinitely. Over 24 hours it is estimated that a scrubbing tower containing 32,800 feet of resin would harvest around one ton of CO2 per day. When the tower is put into production in 2 years it's projected that it will cost $150 to capture each ton of CO2, but it is estimated that when the technology becomes more efficient it could cost as little as $20 per ton. The CO2 that is stored also has a lot of potential buyers; the primary buyer would be oil and natural gas companies that pump CO2 underground to force oil to come to the surface. Another idea for these scrubbing towers is to use them in a CO2 cap and trade system. Companies that produce massive amounts of CO2 could potentially pay another company like GRT to build these stations to get rid of CO2.
I think these “fake trees” are a great idea as long as they are economical. I am not positive just how cost effective the scrubbing towers would be if they cost $150 per ton of CO2 removed, but if the price comes down then I would be all for it. We all have borne witness to the effects of global warming and need to do whatever we can to try and at least slow down the damage that is being done. And as of right now these scrubbing towers seem like a step in the right direction.
--Justin Meeks

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Skeptical Environmentalist speaks

Bjorn Lomborg, author of a 2001 book called the Skeptical Environmentalist, is fond of controversy, and his article in the New York Times today is no exception. He bashes the Kyoto treaty, noting rightly that the non-binding document doesn't seem to have inspired much actual change, but that further, even if it were adopted it wouldn't make much of a difference. He claims that technology is the answer- I have no idea where his estimates come from, but he says that clean energy will have a much larger economic impact than will cutting emissions. I imagine that he means investing in research leads to jobs, where cutting emissions leads to reduced output, but is green tech alone going to save the day? Coupled with a strong program improving energy efficiency it would certainly help, but he sees a little more salvation there than I do. I guess I'm a little skeptical of this guy!

Friday, April 24, 2009


Now that the EPA has stopped holding them back, California is charging forward on the issue of reducing CO2 emissions from fuels. Led in the charge by their burly Governor and with well over 10% of the country's population along for the ride, this should be interesting to watch. The regulation in question forces reductions in the mix of fuels consumed state-wide. It penalizes American corn-based ethanol by requiring accounting of "indirect effects" such as bringing more land under cultivation. While a complete accounting requires taking that into account, I have to agree with ethanol backers that the standard doesn't seem to be fairly applied to all sources. Personally, I'm not too sad to see corn-based ethanol take a hit, but it sounds like the policy needs to be better defined.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Good news on crabs!

An article in the Baltimore Sun reports the results of the DNR's winter dredge survey, and results are great: the number of crabs in the bay are up from 218 million in 2007-08 to 418 million in 2008-09. This is attributed to quotas limiting harvesting of female crabs over the past year. Still, Virginia's Natural Resources Secretary warns, "The crab population is one-third of what it was 15 years ago." A scientist adds, "We won't really know until next year." Still, it sure looks good!
Thanks to Brian Salsbury for noting this article!

How costly is cap & trade?

The Wall Street Journal today writes about the costs of the proposed cap & trade program. It seems fair that people who have used the environment as their trash basket should not be able to do so when that's destabilizing the planet's climate. Of course, all of us have benefited, to some extent, as we pay less on our power bills than we would have if firms had to take care of their disposal instead of just releasing it into the atmosphere.

The new proposal is to make disposal more expensive, and someone's going to pay for that. If firms pay it, costs will be passed along to consumers. As Rep. Waxman and others note, though, there are upsides as well: there will be an added incentive for firms to research and develop new technologies for cleaning the atmosphere, which should lead to new jobs. Finally, of course, mitigating climate change should save money in the long run. The question is, who has to pay for the change that we'll all benefit from? No one wants to get stuck with the check!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Going Postal

This article is long but it's fascinating: the US Postal Service is crashing economically and it's long been a disaster environmentally- the author gives ideas on how to rethink the post office. Did you know that Americans receive 55 percent of the world's total mail volume, much of it bulk mail that's been effectively subsidized by the USPS? In Switzerland, instead of delivering every letter, they scan each side in color and send the scans to the recipient, who can ask for the item to be delivered or just have it recycled. 3/4 of the mail never physically travels past the local sorting center: it's recycled there. Other tidbits await! Check it out.

A sugar-sweet deal- for whom?

According to this article, Gov. Charlie Christ of Florida has proposed a controversial plan to buy up Florida land (around 180k acres) to protect the everglades. This land he proposes to buy is from US Sugar Corp, (Sugar production is big business in Florida, and also extremely taxing on the environment). What makes this plan so controversial is the fact that the estimated cost of the project has ballooned since initial estimates. These estimates, originally in the range of $1 - 2 billion have now exceeded $9 billion dollars! The majority of these costs would go to a high tech water storage/movement facility, injecting water deep underground for storage, and having the ability to move 1.2 million acre feet ( 325,851 gallons per acre foot ) of water.

Taxpayers are questioning the governor’s judgment, as most scientists agree that using above ground storage systems and marshes would be significantly less expensive than the proposed $9 billion plan. This plan would also halt some projects to protect the everglades which are already in progress. Scientists have warned that stopping these projects could cause further, irreversible damage to the environment. A good question many raise is: Where is this money coming from? In a faltering economy, how does the State of Florida expect to afford this plan? As taxpayers are already reeling, I can imagine few supporting such an expensive plan. Another troubling factoid is US Sugar is politically connected to the Governor’s office, leading many to believe that the Governor has a higher interest here, and it’s not protecting the everglades. Although ambitious, this is not the time for a project such as this… with the faltering economy and potential scandal looming. If I could give a word of advice to Gov. Charlie Crist, it would be to drop this plan, continue existing restoration projects, and try to save face with the people of Florida.
--Chris Szwedo

Renewables Redux

The article Renewable Energy’s Environmental Paradox, is about some of the major conflicts with using renewable energy. In theory, using renewable energy to decrease pollution and help the environment sounds like the perfect solution, but there are many concerns with this up-and-coming industry. Disrupting habitats and wildlife refuges to build wind farms seems to go against wanting to preserve the earth and make it more livable for every creature on it. A good example of this paradox is the SunZia solar and wind power project. This transmission line will link central New Mexico with Arizona and carry 3,000 megawatts of power between the states. If built, the 460-mile line will cut across grasslands and go around two national wildlife refuges. Although the line will not go through the refuges, it will disrupt the habitats of species inside the refuge. The line would be right next to a national wildlife refuge where the sandhill crane migrates in the winter, potentially disrupting the migratory patterns. The effects of renewable energy on the environment have been looked into more closely now that the Obama administration has made it a priority to explore different types of energy. The biggest concern is that building for renewable energy takes up much more land than other conventional sources such as coal-burning power plants. Not only is it much more expensive, but it severely cuts down on the amount of power plants able to be built. It is said that it can take up to “300 times as much land to produce a given amount of energy from soy biodiesel as from a nuclear power plant” (Washington Post). A team of scientists, some working for the Nature Conservancy, predict that by 2030, an additional 79,537 square miles will be occupied by energy production.
It sounds like, in a rush to reduce our carbon footprint, no one thought about the environmental factors in renewable energy. The most talked about in regards to renewable energy was the high cost and the clean air it would give. It seems stupid to try to save the environment from pollution by disrupting habitats and taking over large areas of land to do so. It would be like working to build something that no one will get to use. I think that renewable energy is the next biggest thing, but we have to be smart about it and weigh all the costs and benefits when deciding what kind of renewable source to use and where to build the plants.
--Erin Hysan

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Interesting one-pager in the NYT today: using a stainless steel bottle in place of plastic bottles is good only if it replaces at least 50 plastic bottles that would otherwise have been consumed. Unsurprisingly, the key is reuse!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Coral Transplant in the Sekisei Lagoon

In the Sekisei Lagoon in Japan divers are attempting to save a dying coral reef with new technology which involves drilling holes into the old dying coral beds and placing ceramic discs that contain sprigs of coral. The ceramic discs are baked at 2,700 degrees with tiny pores that allow the sprigs to root. Breaking off pieces of adult reef and replanting to elsewhere is the most common type of transplant but the problem with this is the DNA is also transplanted which gives the reef a weak gene pool. This is a government-led project that is hoped to save what is left of Japans coral reef, which has incurred a 90 percent coral die off in the past decade, due to overfishing, pollution and global warming. This fact got national attention from a heavily industrial nation which is rare, since this nation’s vistas tend toward making sea walls and oil refineries. Started four years ago, this is seen as the largest coral restoration project in the world, expected to take up to 30 to 40 years to accomplish. The Sekisei Lagoon Reef stretches as far as the eye can see and with such small efforts being done to save it there is little hope of success. Since 2005 there have been 13,000 reefs planted which has cost $2 million, which mostly comes from taxpayers. Next year they plan on doubling their rate to install 10,000 in one year. This amount is far from the tens of millions that need to be planted over a 100 square mile area. Coral is important because its resources provide an ongoing support system for island dwellers and inhabitants as well as popular venues for tourists. The reef's natural barriers are what protect the land and its inhabitants from natural disasters, such as tropical storms, and act as a main reservoir for food production, such as fishing. Critics say that the project is a waste of time because simply replacing the coral will not cause the coral number to stabilize without addressing the problems that are causing them to disappear. Chemical runoff and pollution may be able to be controlled but the rising temperature of the ocean is one that cannot be easily fixed. Also survival rates of the transplanted coral reefs are very low since only one third of the sprigs that are planted survive, either eaten by predators such as starfish or dying from the warm water temperature.
I believe this is a very good idea, as coral reefs are a very important part of the ecosystem and should be preserved or saved. Since over 90 percent of the reefs are destroyed the cost almost seems like it would be too much, but we have technology to minimize cost and maximizing results. The rising temperature of the sea is a big impact but there is hardly anything that can be done to change that. What biologists need to come up with a form of coral that can survive in warm water and does not have that many predators.
--Donte Blakey

The Market Provides

Although the piece argues against itself, this article in the NYT describes a program California vegetable farmers have established to make sure they don't have problems with salmonella or E coli. Free market advocates always claim, "The market will provide," arguing that losses sustained during outbreaks should motivate producers to work hard to avoid outbreaks in the future. Leftists contend that consumers need protection from ruthless corporate interests and that the government should do the job. I generally fall into the latter camp, especially when I see the peanut processors knowingly distributing tainted products until they go out of business, but I have to tip my cap today to these folks. In the long run, the producers who can't operate cleanly are driven out and those who protect consumers remain- it's hard to argue with that logic! I just wish consumers didn't have to suffer through the outbreaks that the ineffectual FDA has failed to prevent....

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Climate change and smoking stoves

Some of my research investigates the link between child health and smoke from cooking fires in Indonesian homes. A lot of research has investigated the link in different ways in different countries, and many have found that the smoke contributes to acute respiratory infections, which is one of the leading causes of child death in the developing world. Today an article in the New York Times notes that the same cook fires are a huge contributor to climate change; in fact, providing people with clean-burning stoves will save a lot of fuel and eliminate a lot of emissions. The stoves aren't free, but it looks like they're sure worth the investment!


From today's Washington Post: As the push for renewable-energy development intensifies across the United States, scientists and activists have begun to voice concern that policymakers have underestimated the environmental impact of projects that are otherwise 'green.'... One of the biggest challenges renewable-energy projects pose is that they often take up much more land than conventional sources, such as coal-fired power plants." Lines to transmit power from huge solar facilities in New Mexico to communities in Arizona cross through some environmentally sensitive areas, and while the company building the lines promises to zig and zag to avoid sensitive areas as much as possible, every additional mile of line costs $1 million dollars, so expenses will add up. Always, always there are tradeoffs!

Peanuts & Salmonella

A recent Washington Post article highlights the fact that over the last 10 years peanuts have been the cause of several outbreaks of salmonella. In 2007 Peter Pan peanut butter sickened a reported 628 people. A most recent epidemic in September 2008 in peanut butter was reported. It has caused sickness in 690 people and accounted for 9 deaths. Neither of these outbreaks or countless others in recent times have caused congress to bring forth legislation and increase inspections by the FDA. Both parties acknowledge the need for change but none has made appropriate moves. In a recent report the FDA claimed that 20 factories producing peanut products were discovered and have never been inspected after several years of use. This has heightened the public’s awareness to the problem and the need for change.
The first report of nuts contaminated by salmonella was in 1994. It is a food borne bacteria with over 2500 strains. Most adults can handle the bacteria with sickness last a few days but with the young and old death is possible. There are several bills going through congress now trying to prevent salmonella from becoming more of a problem in the future by mandatory inspections.
This problem is ongoing and can be prevented by furthering inspection. The FDA obviously is not taking it upon themselves to make these products safe so I believe it is time for congress to step in and enforce existing laws or possibly create a new one. The bill should require more mandatory inspections. The law now states that the inspectors have free reign to decide what inspections need to be made and when. This obviously is not working so far so at this point government intervention is necessary. I am usually against a lot of government intervention but at some points it becomes necessary to protect the public’s safety.
--James Schaefer
“The Promise of a Better Light Bulb?” by Leora Broydo Vestel discusses a company out of Seattle, Washington that is developing a new light bulb technology. With regular incandescent bulbs in the United States being phased out, the market for energy efficient lighting technologies is at an all time high. Vu1, pronounced view one, believes that their new light bulbs will have a significant advantage over compact fluorescent lights (C.F.L.’s), and LED bulbs.
The Vu1 technology will be employed into recessed lighting bulbs by the end of this year with the advantages of being; mercury free, fully dimmable, and having a lifespan of roughly 6,000 hours. The one drawback to consumers may be its cost, ranging from 18 to 22 dollars. Vu1 bulb technology shares the same science as cathode ray tubes in older televisions. Electrons are sprayed over an area inside the light bulb creating light. Therefore, it requires no filament, plasma, coils, or mercury vapor. Although this bulb will only be for recessed lighting by the end of this year, the market for recessed lighting is huge. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that there are over 500 million recessed lights in residential areas and more than 20 million bulbs are sold every year.
Personally, I feel as though this is a promising new technology but I am not sure it is the answer to energy efficiency just yet. One reason why I feel this way is because of the cost of the bulb. A major problem that has happened with C.F.L. technology stems from its initial cost. C.F.L.’s used to be relatively expensive to the consumer so there was a pressure to lower the cost. This lowering of the cost however came at the expense of the bulb. C.F.L. bulbs have a much lower quality than they did when they first came out. If this Vu1 technology is expensive, then there is a chance for this problem to repeat. Another issue that may arise can again be linked to what has been seen with C.F.L. bulbs. C.F.L.’s are by definition, more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs. For this reason, there has been an unintended trend with consumers. Since people think they are saving money using these bulbs, they actually leave the lights on for much longer periods of time thus actually using more energy. Without knowing the actual energy input needed for the Vu1 technology other than knowing that they are energy efficient, what is to say that consumers won’t overuse these bulbs as well? In summary, I believe that the Vu1 bulbs have many advantages environmentally over other energy efficient bulbs; however there are still some questions that may limit its success in the long term.
--Evan Carrozza

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Democrats to open ANWR?

Interior secretary Ken Salazar is visiting Alaska and promising the "Drill Baby Drill" chorus members a fair hearing. Seems like the biggest environmental risk is a salmon run that might be damaged or destroyed. That would be a serious loss, but the oil is also of considerable value. My instincts are with the environmentalists on this one, but I have to figure that the economics favor drilling. I wonder how effective environmental safeguards can be? We may be testing them soon!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Integrated government

Jim Uphoff from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources spoke to our class on Friday, and one thing he mentioned was the shifted emphasis in his field from single species modeling to ecosystem modeling. He said that the structure of government would have to change to reflect that new perspective, as his agency regulates fishing but has no authority over habitat issues, which are of course hugely important for fisheries. In today's New York Times, there's an article by Thomas Friedman about how the government in Costa Rica has recognized this and has integrated its bureaucracy, just the way Uphoff said it should. The article also discusses the economic importance of environmental services- take a look!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Cap 'n' Trade or Tax?

What do you think? According to economists, both can be efficient. The Democrats have unveiled their proposal, a cap & trade program, presumably assuming that it would be more palatable to the business interests whose support they crave. In today's New York Times, Tom Friedman argues that a tax is better, since it's more forthright and it will lead to innovation. I like the idea of having it presented as a matter of national security, and Friedman's right that it's still basically going to be a tax. Still, I'm not opposed to the cap & trade program. What do you think?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Large Sanctuaries Urged for Recovery of Wild Oyster Population

The Maryland Oyster Advisory Commission, created in 2007 by the Maryland General Assembly, has recently sent out a report outlining a new sustainable method for returning the native oyster populations to ecologically suitable levels while continuing an efficient harvest for the marketplace. Disease, overfishing and habitat loss has decimated oyster populations in the bay and thousands of watermen that used to make a living off the oyster harvest have stopped due to unsuitable population sizes. Therefore in order to help the oysters for both the environment and the economy the Advisory Commission has recommended first setting aside vast areas of the bay to be deemed oyster sanctuaries where fishing is prohibited and second adding millions of tax dollars to encourage growing oysters via aquaculture to sell commercially. The Commission recommends closing areas of the bay indefinitely to encourage the growth of disease resistant oysters to help bolster the native population. However, the commercial switch to aquaculture would not come cheap to the state of Maryland because the switch would require a change in laws restricting private oyster cultivation and an estimated $40 million dollars a year for at least 10 years to support the sanctuaries and switch to aquaculture.
I believe that this new legislation is a step in the right direction and will greatly help native oyster populations. Moratoriums on Rockfish worked wonders years ago to increase the population sizes and would undoubtedly do the same for oysters. However it is discouraging that portions of the bay would be closed permanently to oystering and would not be reopened even when population sized would returned to reasonable levels. About 95% of the world’s oysters are grown from aquaculture and it would be a shame to lose the unique historical business that wild oystering has to offer.
--Joe Ports

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The government is considering offering incentives to get people to trade in vehicles before model year 2001. Drivers could get up to $5000 toward a new car if they give up their older car and purchase new US-made cars that meet fuel efficiency standards.

Interesting way to boost GM and low-energy vehicles at the same time. A few problems: 1) messing with demand for durables can be expensive later; 2) I wonder how much energy savings this will actually promote, since some older cars are pretty gas efficient.

Any more that you can come up with?

End material for second midterm

Articles posted after this marker may appear only in questions on the final exam, not on a midterm.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Certification: a response to low resource prices

Vendors can raise prices if they can put special "sustainable" labels on their products, as niche markets are willing to may for them. An article in the New York Times highlights this for forestry, and a recent article in a publication by the Nature Conservancy describes how that organization is using a "local" label to raise selling prices enough to justify the higher costs of using sustainable methods. This is internalizing externalities in action, but it's tough when only parts of the market are internalizing a large share of the costs.

Renewables are expensive!

According to the New York Times today, wind and solar are still a long way from being cost competitive. Since wind power goes offline when there's no wind, a plan centered around wind requires backup, and adding backup really makes things expensive. Still, even figuring in the backup, solar checks in at twice the cost of wind. The low price of natural gas (see the next post) is making this all the more difficult. Ouch!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Natural Gas Glut in US

Recently, a globalized gas glut has led to lowered prices for gas that heats our food and homes and runs industrial factories throughout the world. This amazing trend comes after a shortage for natural gas in recent years. Darcel L. Hulse attributes this new imbalance among supply and demand to the global recession stating, “We had many years of ever increasing demand so the world geared up for that, but what the world did not prepare for was an economic recession that is global in scope and in impact.” There are six new production plants for natural gas coming on line. However, Asian and European markets, which use the most natural gas, are slowing.
The global capacity for gas exports will increase 25% from 200 million tons. The natural gas exports from Qatar, Egypt, Nigeria and Algeria which were suppose to enter European and Asian markets are now arriving on supertankers in the United States where there is a glut too. Natural gas prices have lowered in the United States as its use has fallen by two-thirds. The new imports will not lower the prices any further but will sustain the prices in the market until it comes out of the recession.
The new influx of natural gas into the United States has caused mixed reactions. Consumers will most definitely benefit from the lower prices. Many industrial products utilize natural gas in the production process to run machines and operate factories. Natural gas also provides one-fifth of the power generated by electric utilities. Proponents for energy independence, are on the other side of the issue, and are in fear that the new imports will ruin domestic production markets for natural gas. The domestic rig count will be cut by fifty percent as the imports increase. Prices for natural gas are down to $4 per thousand cubic feet from $13 only a year ago.
“The United States used to have gas bubbles all by itself; now the world can have a gas bubble,” said Donald Hertzmark. The once highly priced necessity for countries with little alternative energy sources has become abundant and will aide a global movement out of the recession.
Having a natural resource in such abundance is great for consumers and the producers who utilize it production processes. With such a high abundance and a lowered price, investments in renewable energy sources can be more heavily researched and tested. These practices will hopefully lead to greater energy independence and lead to developments of cleaner energy technologies.
-- Michael Fisher

Monday, March 23, 2009

Costs of Solar Power Falling

The cost of purchasing and installing solar panel systems in homes and businesses has been decreasing rapidly since a decade ago. That cost has dropped 27.6% from 1998 through 2007. In a study done by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the costs of 37,000 photovoltaic systems across the country were examined and it was found that the average price fell from $10.50 per watt in 1998 to $7.60 per watt in 2007. The study also revealed that the state in which the system is installed has an affect on the price of installation. Systems smaller than 10 kilowatts cost an average of $8.10 per watt in California, the second lowest average in the country next to Arizona. Maryland was found to have the highest average price at $10.60 per watt.

The solar panel industry is continuing to find new ways to drive costs of panels down by using new materials, new production processes, and streamlining installation techniques. The demand for solar energy is increasing as homeowners and businesses are looking to lower energy bills and leave a smaller carbon footprint. Economics is playing a major roll in the issue as photovoltaic solar energy still isn’t economical. It is said that this type of renewable energy needs to fall below $5 per watt in order to truly be competitive with other forms of energy production.

I believe that it is obvious economics will be the deciding factor with solar energy’s success or failure. Right now a small system for homeowners costs approximately $25,000. This price, roughly that of buying a new car, is not economical if a homeowner wants to recover their investment in a reasonable amount of time. The time it takes to recover expenses would also depend on the location of the home; closer to the equator would increase efficiency and shorten the time it takes to “break even”. I am totally interested in having a solar energy system on the house that I purchase in the future, if the cost declines or I stumble upon a large pile of money. Having household appliances connected to a solar power system would reduce energy bills significantly, however, a monthly payment for the solar power system would wipe out that affect and possibly cost more to the homeowner.
--Kevin Kelly

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Funding for Solar

For a change, Berkeley's crazy left wingers seem to have done something right. Solar panels have always been hard to sell because you basically have to front the cost of almost all of your power for the next 30 years before you get anything back. Under Berkeley's new model, the cost of solar panels is paid for by a loan taken out by the city, and residents pay it back as part of their property taxes. This article is about some people in southern California who are saving money from the new plan implemented by their city. Says one lady, "You know, I am happy it is also good for the environment."

Severin Borenstein (who works in Berkeley) says that we shouldn't fund solar because the technology is inefficient (i.e. it doesn't generate enough power to pay for itself even accounting for the externalities associated with traditional power generation) and it's hard to argue with him given his thorough study. He calls for increased resources to be invested in research, so that better solar panels can be produced.

There may be other ways that cities can use this mechanism to invest in increased energy efficiency, which would be good too. On top of that, though, I have to think that this new means of securing funding for solar might provide the impetus to get the research done that Borenstein calls for. Hopefully most everyone can agree on that!

Water markets kill a small town

An article in the New York Times today discusses the fate of Quillagua, a town with very little water in the desert of northern Chile.

My favorite quote is the, "market can regulate for more economic efficiency, but not for more social-economic efficiency." I'm not sure exactly what that means, but there's a grain of truth to it.

There are a few interesting issues here: first, if the town doesn't have enough water, it seems like it should die, and that might be sad but unavoidable. The twist at the end of the story, though, is that it sounds like the mining company that's taking all the water may be forcing that end by taking more water than it has water rights for. If that's the case, then trust in markets has blinded economists and policymakers to the potential for abuse- and that abuse, that externality, is killing the town.

Show me a transaction with no externalities and I'm a libertarian too- I just don't see too many of them out there!
-- James

Thursday, March 12, 2009

New Treatment for Wastewater

In the article “Green Iron” from The Economist, the author discusses a new solution for treating industrial wastewater. As we all know, wastewater that is dumped from factories into rivers and streams has large amounts of harmful dyes, nitrogen, phosphorus and other chemicals. These chemicals can have serious effects on the waterways ecosystem, kill fish, and can even contaminate drinking water. This is a serious issue for these and many other reasons.

Dr. Wei-Xian Zhang had previously developed a system for cleaning groundwater and contaminated soil using iron nanoparticles. This method was effective but very expensive, averaging $100 for a kilogram of these nanoparticles. In recent work, Dr. Zhang and fellow colleague Dr. Luming Ma invented a much more efficient and cost effective method. By using ordinary scrap iron that you might find in a junk yard, Dr. Zhang was able to devise a method for treating water being discharged from factories.

By adapting the standard technique for treating wastewater, Dr. Zhang’s created a method that passes water through iron filings held in large tanks. The industrial chemicals are attracted to the surface of the iron filings, which have a large surface area. Scrap iron can be purchased locally for 20 cents a kilogram and after being coated with a solution of copper chloride to increase the effectiveness, costs only rise about another 5 cents. This techniques effectiveness is much greater than the biological treatment method. The amount of nitrogen removed goes from 13% to 85%, phosphorus from 44% to 64%, and colors and dyes from 52% to 80%.

This discovery could make a huge impact on the way factories such as pharmaceutical companies, textile factories etc… dispose of contaminated wastewater. The external costs of such pollution are quite large. By developing a more effective and less expensive method, Dr. Zhang has in turn lowered the companies MAC (Marginal Abatement Cost). The MAC is how much it costs for companies to clean up pollutants in the water. By drastically lowering the cost of cleaning the wastewater, factories will be able to abate more pollutants than before and at a much lower cost.

The benefits to society from factories discharging less contaminated water are clear. The external costs will be much less and this new technology will enable and encourage factories to willingly do so because of increased efficiency and decreased costs. The added benefits of buying the scrap metal from local junk yards near the factories are important to look at as well. Instead of having these materials pile up in landfills, they would be put to good use and the amount of revenue collected from them would help stimulate the local economy. This discovery benefits society, the environment, the factories, and the scrap metal companies.
--James Stierhoff