Saturday, May 28, 2011

Fracking for oil/ soy to China

Couple of odds and ends:

1) Hydrofracking is also being used to open up new oil fields for exploration, per today's NYT. As with gas, access to fuel is a good thing, but how clean can they make hydrofracking?

2) On a completely unrelated note, China is moving to control more agricultural products, in this case soybeans in Brazil. More demand for the product has to be good for farmers, but the article notes that contracts to ship raw materials across the world limit Brazil's development of its own industry, whether livestock, biofuels, or whatever.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Pennsylvania Frackers fined....

ONE MILLION DOLLARS!

After contaminating local drinking water, including making the Susquehanna river bubble with gas, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection decided to fine Oklahoma-based "Chesapeake" Energy about 1.3% of its CEO's 2009 salary, or about 0.0001 of their revenue last year.

For what it's worth I actually own stock in Chesapeake. They are a huge operation with some tremendous assets, and I think they can extract from them profitably while still being environmentally responsible. At the same time, they could use some encouragement to be responsible, and this wink and nudge from the Pennsylvania government is, if anything, an indication that they don't need to worry about it. That's disappointing.

High food prices = Brazil deforestation

No surprise there, but the connection is being made quite directly here, as new laws are allowing increased deforestation in order to expand agricultural production. A coalition of farmers argues that "None of the world's large farm producers that compete with Brazil - the United States, Europe, China, Argentina and Australia - obliges its producers to preserve any forest." Can't argue with that!
One antidote is to increase agricultural productivity, but that seems to be tailing off. Just two years after the Bank's World Development Report 2008 featured the continued importance of agriculture in helping countries develop, a new World Bank book has appeared apparently arguing that the most trodden path out of poverty in India, at least, is away from agriculture and toward nonfarm development. So is agriculture no longer the investment of choice for the Bank and other organizations who want to improve the lives of the poor? Are we happy with a level of agricultural productivity that precipitates deforestation? Tough questions!

Monday, May 23, 2011

One shock away

An article in today's Washington Post discusses China's influence on food markets. As Chinese demand for food shifts out and supply remains relatively constant, prices go up, as with the 25% of US soy that the Chinese now consume. World Bank President Richard Zoellick now says that we're one shock away from a serious crisis. Hopefully some of the pressure will be relieved by a decreased emphasis in the US on corn ethanol, but I'm not holding my breath.

Bonus reference in the article to "gelatinized donkey skin." Mmmm.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Econ & environment in action

Interesting interview with Winfried Kretschmann, the governor of the German state Baden-W├╝rttemberg. A member of the "Realo" wing of the Green party, the guy actually wants to balance environmental wishes with economic growth. "Of course I want [economic growth], but not come what may. It must be sustainable. Unfortunately, regional governments can't do more than that. After all, I can't decide what will grow and what won't. But we can create the conditions in which the economy will grow in a certain direction. And that's what we plan on doing." and " Baden-W├╝rttemberg must remain an outstanding auto-industry location, but we must ensure that different types of cars are being produced. We want green product lines to be developed in all the traditional core areas of the industry. That will secure our prosperity because it is the only way to remain competitive in the global marketplace." The interviewer seems like a real jerk, but in spite of him Kretschmann manages to affirm a commitment to clear environmental regulation: "These sectors want a clear and predictable environmental regulatory framework that will enable them to capitalize on their know-how and their technological lead. Although we already have that, we must now speed things up and point all areas of industry in the right direction. I'm a firm believer in having clear regulatory policies within which entrepreneurship can unfold." An attempt at a realistic balance of environmental regulation with entrepreneurship and growth? Sure not something we get much of in this country!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Solar support slashed in Britain

Solar installations that were heavily subsidized before have had their subsidies sharply cut as of March. Arguing that falling subsidies on the continent should be matched in the UK, legislators apparently overloooked the fact that similar economies of scale are not yet possible there yet, and in fact are now likely never to be. Budget cuts hurt!

Energy from supermarket waste

CNN reports on how supermarket waste can be either turned into prepared foods or used in anaerobic digesters to produce energy. While large donations to food banks do occur, one recipient supposes that they receive about 1% of all supermarket waste. It's hard to know exactly what's going on since the major chains have a code of silence, refusing to speak to the media (or even to be interviewed by Karen and Nia for a class project). Corporate waste is potentially a huge resource, though as with most resources it requires some investment to use.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Oil from E Coli

The US Department of Energy’s BioEnergy Institute has teamed up with the fairly new company LS9 to further innovate their E. Coli strand that produces crude oil. Right now at this stage there is enormous potential with the strand of E. Coli, however it is still in the adolescent stages and the technology needs more development before it is commercially available. There seems to be a debate as to if there should be so much money poured into this bio fuel.
I believe this is just putting a band aid onto the problem. Even if this technology pans out to be something of a miracle cure to the crude oil problem, I don’t think we have the ability or the current technology to implement such a system. Instead of finding a renewable resource, it seems that we are just switching to a different means into getting the same thing, instead of crack, its cocaine. I would rather see a company making strides in implementing wind farms in areas of huge wind potential then a company figuring out how to get crude oil in a different way.
--Tyler McCleaf

How much are hybrid cars worth?

Hybrids have been around for almost a decade now… yet somehow they haven’t taken over the market like predicted by celebrities and hybrid enthusiasts. There is a simple reason for this not happening too: Money. Hybrid cars simply cost too much and consumers, with hybrid vehicles only representing less than 3 percent of the market, completely ignored them. All of this might me a moot point now because the Obama administration is seeking legislation which will all but push U.S. drivers into fuel-efficient cars.
Regulators, in the near future, are set to consider numerous proposals regarding fuel efficiency, with one proposal that would lift, by law, the minimum average fuel economy to as much as 62 mpg by 2025. The debate gets really hot when the price of cars are brought in to play. Automakers are saying that these new mandates could pass as much as $10,000 to the price of a new car, plummeting sales almost by 25 percent. On the other side, environmentalists argue that the costs of these fuel-efficient laws are tiny when compared to the large effects of global warming and our dependence on foreign oil. They also believe that technology has come such a long way since the primary round of hybrids that the added cost of purchasing a hybrid can be cut by as much as a third.
I personally am on the fence with this issue. The reason being is because they are making cars with such great fuel efficiency now that the added cost of purchasing a hybrid is just way too much. With that said, if the “P2” system, which is the newest hybrid technology that supposedly will cut down the price of hybrids, can be installed and used effectively in the future, I don’t see a reason why we shouldn’t be purchasing hybrid cars. The main sticking point now I believe is just the additional price tag. Would you be opposed to purchasing a hybrid car if the price between its counterpart wasn’t nearly as steep?
--Jeremy Desmond

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Importing a way around green laws

The article I read was in regards to worldwide carbon emissions. Upon discovering the damaging effects that carbon can have on the atmosphere many of the larger developed countries got together and made an agreement to try and reduce carbon levels. One way they were able to accomplish this was to develop technology that produced less carbon, termed “greener” technology. This is all well enough and certainly important but this article focuses on the unseen effect of developed countries trying to lower their carbon emissions. Basically it goes on to describe that the developed countries import some carbon heavy products rather than producing them domestically in an attempt to keep their carbon footprint low. The obvious downside to this plan is that while it may be helping that particular country it is still having a negative effect on the global level. A chart in the article depicted this increase in developing countries carbon output, showing that from around 2003 it began to spike to the level that it is at now. To conclude the article the author argued that we could either increase the tariffs on these items in an attempt to promote domestic production, or we could try and help the developing countries further develop carbon friendly technology. While both solutions may help in reducing worldwide carbon emissions I would have to side with providing greener technology to the developing countries. The set back to this is that it is not necessarily the developed country's job to pay for and help developing countries, but with that being said the world is starting to run on a more global level everyday and sooner or later we need to look at having the whole world well settled and taken care of. This obviously sounds very idealistic but I would rather that than the alternative.
--Russell Hayman

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Even for politicians

Ideology seeks to trump geography as California's fairly liberal Senator Feinstein joins with right winger Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma to repeal the massive government support for ethanol. Wouldn't it be something if common sense prevailed? Commenters find the current policy ridiculous "even for politicians." We'll see if some of these policies can finally be laid to rest.

Monday, May 9, 2011

UK Economic Recovery poses 'threat to the environment'

This article discusses how the UK economic recovery has had dire effects on the environment. As the economy in the UK begins to shift back towards recovery many environmental factors are being overlooked. With more people wanting to buy new and larger houses outside of the city, people are spreading out and consuming more of the natural resources. The European Environment Agency (EEA) states that if the general public continues to grow and spread out there will be problems with water supply and wildlife. Another cause of these environmental concerns are the increases in international shipping. Since the UK has become increasingly dependent on importing goods, there have been large increases in the amount of transportation services for theses goods. Studies have shown that greenhouse gas emissions have risen by a quarter between the years of 1990 to 2008 due to all the new transportation necessities. These emissions are estimated to raise the summer temperature 2.5% by the year 2050. This presents another problem and scientists estimate that because of the temperature change, there will be higher precipitation during the winter months and a drier climate during the summer months. This can present untold economic devastation to the area due to limitations of precipitation. Grower times for crops would be shorter and less could be harvested, therefore further increasing dependence of imported goods.

This article really brings into the light the importance of understanding what economic growth can have on the environment. With a new influx of money, people will be more likely to purchase more and increase the size of their carbon footprint. I understand that countries are aware of this and support it because buying more helps the economy, however just because it helps the economy does not mean it is ok for the environment to suffer. The article mentioned that tighter restrictions on automobile emissions haven’t been put into place in over 20 years. I think this is where countries need to focus their attention. It is inevitable that with stable gas prices and the increase of money, people will be driving more which means more GHG’s are being emitted. To help decrease these emissions, countries need to have in place better emission standards so that as the times change so can the rules. Twenty years ago, people were not as concerned with their emissions and because of that, the restrictions were not expected to be as low. Hopefully as this new problem has been presented to the UK, the government can respond in time and implement tighter emission restrictions. As for urban sprawl and development, new systems of public transportation should be developed so that people with longer commutes, due to moving away from cities, can be transported more efficiently and reduce individual GHG output. The sooner the UK government gets started fixing these problems the better it will be for the economy and the environment.

--Scott Haines

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What to do with dried sludge

Blue Plains Advanced Water Treatment Plant processes “375 million gallons of the area’s wastewater per day.” They have created a new fertilizer product called Blue Plains (Class B), which is dried sludge (with the water removed from it) and lime added to it. This product is transported free of charge to different locations in Virginia which cost the water treatment plant about $10 million. The water treatment plant plans on improving their product to a Class A product which would be much safer and eventually sold to the public.Those individuals in opposition to the production and use of biosolids claim that “no class of biosolids can be viewed as safe.” There have been many reports of Class B biosolids causing illness among people who reside near where these biosolids have been applied to the land; however, Class B biosolids have been found to work as a great fertilizer. Also, a permit is required to be able to apply Class B biosolids to a piece of land. In general, there are very strict regulations for the use of Class B biosolids. The controversy of this issue is that people are skeptical of the use of biosolids and their potential impacts on the environment such as increasing levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in waterways from agriculture runoff.

I believe that Class B biosolids should not be used on the land because of the negative effects it has on the environment and the public; however, I do think that Class A biosolids should be used as long as they are proven safe for the environment and the public. There are too many negative externalities involved with Class B biosolids, but with Class A biosolids the benefits seem to outweigh the costs. The Class A biosolids does not contain any pathogens, so this biosolids would be safe to use for food crops. Unfortunately, the Class B biosolids could contain a large number of diseases. The water treatment plant has the challenge of finding a way to dispose of all the waste created by the residents. Therefore, they should try to recycle as much as the material as possible instead of relying on landfills to dispose of the material. Between the tradeoff of disposing of the sludge in a landfill and reusing the treated material as a fertilizer, if possible the reuse of the material seems like the better choice.
--Pamela Hargest

Monday, May 2, 2011

Gas prices: out of control

On January 24th, 2011, an article was published named “The peak oil catastrophe-in-waiting” by Tam Hunt. In the article, it has been stated that higher prices of oil are to be expected in the future and a decrease in production. Oil prices have been a significant factor of most recessions in the past fifty years, and Tam Hunt wants the public to be aware of this situation. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), “The world is heading for a catastrophic energy crunch that could cripple a global economic recovery because most of the major oil fields in the world have passed their peak production.” Apart from this, there are additional credible sources such as the German military and U.S. Department of Defense pointing to unbelievably high prices and oil depletion.
I found the article very interesting and very important as Tam Hunt makes one realize how important it is for us to find an alternative or any other backstops. If so many sources are identifying and claiming the peak oil situation then surely it must be true that immediate actions will be necessary. As one may experience these ridiculous gas prices, it makes me worry what will be the gas prices in the future and how a common citizen will be able to commute from one point to another when gas will be very expensive. Apart from the article, the other thing which comes up to mind is that maybe the governments want people to reduce their carbon footprints. For that reason, gas prices are being raised so people find other alternatives to commute such as taking public transportation or riding a bicycle.
--Syed Hussain

Tradeoffs in fishing

Most likely due at least part to human influence, whether pollution or overfishing, the salmon fishery on the West Coast continues to struggle. Environmental groups used to rate salmon a highly sustainable product, but that rating has gone south, and with it, the value of the product. Apparently sustainability labeling actually makes a difference, which is a good sign for realistic environmentalists.

On other other hand aquaculture, the popular solution to overfishing, is now coming under increased scrutiny. Tilapia, a highly productive and somewhat tasty fish species, has been raised successfully all over the world, but questions about associated environmental damage and decreased nutritional value of farmed fish persist.

One partial answer? Minimizing waste: keeping systems as closed as possible. Waste generated in production processes becomes pollution. Waste produced by farmed fish- or the fish themselves when they escape their cates- become pollution, damaging the environment. Excess inputs whether food given to farmed fish or water put on agricultural land create problems, and being efficient is the solution.