Sunday, February 28, 2010

Farmers vs. Fishing

It's simmering a little lower now, but different groups in California have been fighting for water for at least 150 years, and the droughts of the past few years have pitted farmers against fishing in a battle for water. Both depend heavily on surface water, as salmon need to spawn and farmers need to water their fields. Recently California Senator Diane Feinstein, a Democrat, has chosen farmers over fish, promising to fight the Endangered Species Act in order to protect the livelihoods of farmers. Recent information shows that there will probably be enough water to go around this year, pushing the struggle onto the backburner for awhile, but resentment is already building, as shown in this editorial by a California State legislator.

On one hand, I definitely value people more than fish, but on the other hand, I know that people are more adaptable than fish. My personal response is that Sen. Feinstein is being short-sighted. Do you agree?

Cleaning the Chesapeake, Prospective edition

Baltimore Sun article today on what property owners can do to limit their runoff into the Bay (rain barrels, rain gardens, and planting trees) and on the other options for getting more done, which mostly involve expensive government action. What do you think? The government is already going to force the city to spend more money on picking up litter. Should that be the city's priority for how it spends its money?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Bag taxes

We discussed bag taxes briefly in class, but here's an article from the Sun on the current tax in Washington (5 cents) and what's proposed in Baltimore (25 cents). They say a 5 cent tax has cut use by half, and they wonder what a 25 cent tax would do. What do you think the demand curve looks like for plastic bags?

One man interviewed in the article doesn't like the tax, saying, "I don't think we should have to pay for bags at the grocery store." I guess he doesn't realize he's been paying them all along through higher prices for his groceries!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Economy & pollution: an either-or?

Depending on the way they are constructed, poll questions have the ability to cause a biased response favoring the person or group that creates them. A prime example is a poll that was released last week by a public opinion research firm in Annapolis, MD. The poll asked:

Which do you think should be a higher priority for Governor Martin O’Malley’s administration right now?

• Taking steps to create jobs and improve Maryland’s economy, or
• Taking steps to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.”

The poll was paid for by the Maryland Builders Association, a group that is interested in dodging new stormwater regulations that are proposed for the state. The poll created the false sense that if the regulations took effect then jobs would either be lost or not created. Poll results showed that 77% of people statewide favored the choice of an improved economy. By constructing the question as they did the MBA made people choose a side when in reality people would like to see both occur. The fact of the matter is that pollution in the Chesapeake Bay has hurt the state’s economy, and an effort to curb pollution would have a positive effect.

When reading this article it made me think of all the times I filled out polls quickly, while failing to think about what was being asked. It seems as though it is an easy task to sway people with the wording of a poll, which is unsettling. In a society where polls are used in a variety of ways, it is important to read carefully for a hidden agenda.

After reading the article I totally agree with the CBF writer. New regulations would go a long way towards making the Bay healthier. The fishing industry which is a huge part of the economy in Maryland would see a boost in harvests, and the overall health of the Bay would draw more tourists. It would be interesting to force those that were responsible for the wording of the poll to live on an extremely polluted waterway, and to see if their mindsets would change. I have a feeling that they would realize that both of these are essential for the growth of Maryland as a state, and that with a healthier Bay comes a better economy.

--Chris Zorn

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Carbon Accounting

The article “When Coal Flows Between Countries, Who ‘Owns’ the CO2” discusses and debates the issue of who is responsible for carbon emissions when the fuel is traded internationally. A system to track the emissions of carbon globally is being constructed. This system would allow governments to tax those who release the most carbon. The question is where do we place the blame for the carbon when it is moving between countries. An example is cited where Australia is exporting 600 million tons of coal to China. China argues that it is the world’s factory nation and uses the coal to produce other nations’ goods. So should Australia take the blame for mining the coal, China for burning it, or should it be the consumer?

I believe the responsibility should fall where the carbon is released. In this case, China would be held accountable. If fireworks are purchased in a state where they are legal, then shot off in a state where they are banned, the blame will fall where they were shot off and not where they were purchased. If carbon emissions are taxed in the producing nation then consumers of the
product would feel the effect and demand would decrease. All nations should do their part to reduce carbon emissions. The government of the consumer nations should demand lower carbon products. This would be an incentive for countries like China to find cleaner methods of production. In the end, it will most likely be the consumers who pay for any decrease in carbon emissions.

--Scott Healy

"Emission free" fuel cells

I don't understand much about how these work, but the promise is sure nice: energy produced without emissions. This could really be a game-changer for the energy industry if these things work as advertised.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Chicken Poop & Climate Change

I read the article Could Chicken Manure Help Curb Climate Change” by Brian Winter which is about how chicken manure when incinerated can produce a byproduct called biochar to help reduce greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. This biochar represents a cheap and affordable way to deal with greenhouse gases and is environmental friendly. The biochar helps to reduce greenhouse gases by trapping carbon emissions in the ground for up to 1000 years and taking out CO2 from the air. Biochar acts as an excellent organic fertilizer which helps produce healthier plants that take out even more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. In addition to chicken manure, biochar can be produced from wood and switch grass too. The machine that incinerates the chicken manure can produce up to 9000 pounds of biochar a day and, “can sell high-quality biochar for $1 a pound” (Winter). When incinerated, the machine produces no smell and smoke while using a very little oxygen. This possesses a potential way for farmers to be very productive and creates a whole market demand for biochar.

I think the use of biochar is a great step in helping to reduce greenhouse gases. It is an environmental friendly way of going about trying to lower the amount of CO2 we put into the air. Although this is a step forward I still think we should still try and relay less on gasoline because it produces a large amount of the CO2 in the air. This machine producing biochar seems too good to be true. Actually doing something with the chicken manure ensures that the poop will not be dumped into local ecosystems that end up harming them. I think biochar is a smart way of going about reducing the greenhouse emissions and a great way to produce better crops for consumption.

--Steven Grigsby

Friday, February 19, 2010

Asian Carp Poised to Devastate Great Lakes

Like a Greek tragic comedy, the Asian carp were brought to America to help, but have now become a seemingly unstoppable force of destruction. The carp were brought to America in the 1970's to eat algae on catfish farms. After large floods in the 1990’s, the farms overflowed and allowed the Asian carp to escape into the Mississippi River. The carp flourished along the river and in highly infested areas along the Mississippi, Asian carp make up 97% of the weight of the fish population. Knowing the projected route, Michigan went so far as to try to close the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal in order to protect the Great Lakes from the invasive carp. This attempt was denied by the Supreme Court. Recent DNA of the Asian carp has been found in the Great Lakes and experts seem confident that the fish have breached the defenses. As it stands, a non-native species of fish with no natural predators is predicted to take over the Great Lakes.

Apart from the lack of diversity that would follow, this would be devastating to the economy of the Great Lakes. Some attempts have already been made to keep the invasive Asian carp out, such as by connecting a $9 million electric fence. Although this may sound like a lot to spend to protect from a carp attack, the fishing industry of the Great Lakes is estimated to be $7 billion annually. The carp will affect every state and province which relies on the Lakes. There will be some adapting that can be done to harness all benefits from the carp, but changes will cost money. This will forever change the lifeline of the Great Lakes economy for the worse, and there doesn’t seem to be a cure in sight for an already troubled region.

--Ed Plato

Rendell proposes 5% tax on natural gas industry in PA

This article details a plan that is about to be introduced in Pennsylvania, by Gov. Edward Rendell, to tax the natural gas industry. This plan, if put into motion, could put hundreds of millions of dollars back into a struggling budget. When looking at last year’s numbers it was estimated that with the tax the state would have made $107 million in its first year.

The idea for this tax arises because of the great influx of energy giants coming to drill for natural gas in the state. For example Mobil has just agreed to pay $41 billion for XTO Energy Inc. in part because of the drilling sites it holds in Pennsylvania. There was also an instance when the state opened 32,000 acres of state forestland to drilling; the leases brought in $128.5 million-- twice the amount officials expected.

With the increase of drilling the state is making more money, but there are some concerns regarding the environment. Drilling for natural gas is done through a process called hydrofracking, a process requiring millions of gallons of water. With its demand for so much water it creates a few environmental problems, including water pollution, and forest fragmentation.

To alleviate these concerns the Susquehanna River Basin Commission regulates how much water companies can withdraw for fracking. They are hoping that with the tax there will be more money to hire more inspectors to cover the increasing amount of wells. In addition to the regulations PennFuture has called for a temporary stop to drilling in state forests until scientists have studied its effects on wildlife and habitat.

I think that the tax is an excellent idea; it has the ability to increase the state’s budget. This in turn allows the state to better public education, and public roads among other important things. I also believe that the state of Pennsylvania is taking many steps in the right direction to make sure that the drilling companies are not hurting the environment while they go about their business.

--Joe Wascavage