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