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