Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Nuclear Waste Troubles Linger

The articles that I read discussed the major problems of the cleanup of former nuclear weapon sites that are causing enormous budget increases and delaying deadlines. State officials where these sites are located are frustrated and want more action to be taken by the Department of Energy, who is responsible for overseeing the clean-ups. Since the radioactive waste projects started there have been many issues that have come up but the first and foremost is funding. The shortage of funding for each of the several nuclear weapon sites has led to delays, which has caused budget increases by the billions. The cleanup sites have been faltering and need further investment to ensure safety. One article compared it to replacing the roof on a house that is going to be torn down, but the waste needs to be cleaned up before it leaks into the nearby water tables. Employees are saying that the DOE and its contractors are punishing them for “raising technical and safety concerns”. In addition, the contractor from the Hanford site in Oregon has been cited for making 34 technical decisions that were unverified by the DOE. The Savannah River Site in South Carolina has been successful in creating the world’s largest liquid bomb stabilizing plant, which mixes the waste with molten glass in stainless steel canisters where it will last for millenniums. Despite this success, there is now a need for a place to store the waste canisters especially since the Yucca Mountain proposal was cancelled.
            This is a very serious matter, as seen in the Fukushima disaster, where they are still trying to recover. It will be complicated process finding enough funding for each site, but keeping strict regulation on the DOE-chosen contractors could prevent future budget increases and deadline extensions. How to distribute funding is always tricky but slowing funding to sites where contractors have caused problems would cease current accusations that the contractors are just being “rewarded for bad behavior”. Next to the urgency to complete these projects, the problem of where to store the stabilized waste has yet to be determined. Perhaps following in the steps of other countries like France, where they have found methods to recycle radioactive waste would reduce the amount that needs to be stored while also finding a beneficial use. As the completion dates get pushed decades away and budgets continue to climb it is clear why frustrated state officials want the DOE funding to go their state’s cleanup site. It is also clear that because of budget cuts by Congress contractors and the DOE have discredited workers who bring up safety issues in order to prevent additional costs. Although there are inevitable complications due to the magnitude of these projects, concern for radioactive waste contaminating the country’s water should be a top priority. Experts are in agreement that these sites completion dates cannot continue being push farther away. The leakages will happen sooner or later, it is just the matter of how soon. 
--Gianna Rosati

Monday, December 2, 2013

Dead Zones

    Algae blooms are typically green, red, or brown, and are slimy and smelly. Gigantic blooms have become an increasing problem all around the world. The blooms deprive the water and other organisms of vital nutrients and water before the die and rot. When this occurs, fish cannot survive the hypoxic and nutrient deprived conditions. This creates “dead zones.”  A large cause of the algal blooms is because of agriculture. Algae can multiply quickly in water where nitrogen and phosphorus are abundant, and these are the two prime nutrients we focus on when talking about agriculture runoff from fertilizers.
     Not only do algae blooms kill huge numbers of fish, but they also can cause a severe loss in tourist revenue if beaches have a reputation of being full of green slime. Real estate prices in areas with significant algae blooms have seen an extreme drop. Not only that, but every facet of the economy in summer residency areas feels the effects, from car washes to supermarkets. A conservative estimate of the yearly impact of algal blooms in the United States is $100 million, and that number only includes the ocean side of things, not freshwater, which are in the billions.
     A 10-year study of the Chesapeake Bay concluded this summer and found that algal blooms have been dramatically affecting the bottom feeding fish in the bay, causing wide-spread dead zones. These fish include croaker, white perch, spot, striper, and flounder. All of these fish are a key part of the bay’s ecosystem and a huge support of the commercial and recreational fisheries. The algae kill the bottom-dwelling invertebrates that these fish eat.
     While agriculture is an extremely important part of Pennsylvania’s and Maryland’s economy and history, these states have to find a way to get farming and fishing to work together. Both industries need to develop more sustainable strategies, so that the long run outcome is more desirable. Agriculture dumps a huge amount of fertilizers on the soil to meet the demands of the food industry, and the nutrients from these fertilizers ends up in places like the bay, causing the algae blooms. While meeting food demand is crucial, I do not believe sacrificing the entire bay’s ecosystem is worth it. Many people rely on the fisheries as their way of life, and the bay is a huge tourist and recreational attraction, as well a historical and important part of everyone in the watersheds life. Heavier control on fertilizer use and more regulations on having buffer zones on farms are necessary. Enforcement of policies is huge, because I do not believe most policies are properly enforced. For the fishing industry, over-harvesting needs to be addressed immediately. If the pollution of the bay and overfishing continue, soon there will be no fish left to harvest. If the problem of algae blooms, as well as the numerous other problems with pollution and water quality throughout the Chesapeake Bay, is not properly addressed, the fishing industry on the bay will eventually collapse completely.
--Rachel McCloskey

Monday, November 25, 2013

Farming Amazonia

An article in the NYT by an ecology professor at Brown University takes a surprising look at a soybean farm in Brazil, on land that used to be rainforest. To me, that's already kind of wrong: rain forest supports huge biodiversity and carbon sequestration, among other environmental issues: there's a reason it's called the "lungs of the planet," and turning that into Iowa (as the article title suggests) just seems to me to be a Bad Idea. The author goes to look at it, though, and unsurprisingly sees more than I would.

It's sure not all good news: 15% of CO2 emissions comes from land use change. Still, the original people who converted the forest into pasture weren't very productive farmers, and these new mega-fields of soy are apparently more efficient. More efficient = less waste = less environmental damage and less need to convert more land, so that's good, right?

Did you know that there was a 61 mile long conveyor belt in Morocco moving phosphate ore to the Atlantic to become our fertilizer? Whoa.

A last quote: "One thing is clear: In the coming decades we will need to produce a lot more food. I’m not suggesting Mato Grosso’s farms are the answer, far from it. But it’s time to move beyond the oversimplification that large-scale agriculture is incompatible with environmental goals....We need to admit that food production is going to be the dominant use of land in the 21st century, and to decide whether we are going to farm more land or farm more intensively. Then we can move on to the grand challenge of making our farms sustainable."

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Green Revolution

Y'all just need to know what this is. I think this may be the first time I've ever linked to a wikipedia page, but that kind of general overview is good enough for a minimum level of awareness. You folks at least need to know what it is! There is likely to be some kind of short essay question related to this topic on the reading quiz: be sure you know what this is, and then, say, some of its good and bad characteristics. Hint: saving a billion lives is a good thing!

Out with the coal, in with the nukes

    Poland is one of the most coal dependent countries in the world. 88% of the electricity generated for Poland is through the use of coal. In order to decrease their carbon emissions, Poland has decided to go with nuclear power plants. Nuclear energy is the most cost efficient plan for Poland. The government intends to build a three gigawatt nuclear plant. It is expected to cost about 16,178,100,000 billion dollars. They hope to have the plant completed by 2023. This would increase their spending on power infrastructures to 8.3-11.8 billion dollars a year on top of the current 18 billion dollars. After the plant is operational, Poland can generate money by connecting their power grid with neighboring countries and selling electricity. Poland believes that this plant would help them meet the EU requirements to reduce carbon emissions. In 2010, the UN signed a climate treaty that would hold the rise of global temperatures to below 3.6 Fahrenheit. However, the current carbon emissions make this goal unattainable.
    After reading these two articles, I believe that this would be a good idea for Poland. They are too dependent on coal as a source of energy. I always thought that nuclear energy should be the next step in using energy more efficiently, at least until we have cost efficient green energy sources. One of my biggest concerns with the use of nuclear power plants is the risk of a meltdown. If something were to happen to Poland’s plant, how would they respond? Japan is still struggling with issues at Fukushima Daiichi. The problems from Fukushima Daiichi are one of the main reasons that Japan will not meet its requirement to reduce carbon emissions. This makes me wonder what type of precautions the Polish government will take in order to prevent a disaster similar to Japan’s.
--Seung Shin

Blood Ivory

    Since ancient times, ivory (“the hard white substance, variety of dentin, composing the main part of the tusks of an elephant”) has been deemed a very precious and valuable element.  It was mainly used for the creation of jewelry and other intricate objects as a symbol of wealth and status.  Today ivory is still considered a prized possession (mainly in Asia) where people use it for the same status symbol of the past.  The issue with these ivory symbols is that it stimulates a lucrative illegal trade that fostered the murder of an estimated 25,000 elephants in 2011. 
    Although the trade of most African elephant ivory has been prohibited since 1990 in over 170 countries, the black market business not only still exists but has been thriving better than ever before. It is estimated that illegal trade of ivory boast a profit of $8 to $10 million dollars annually, which raises the issue at hand.  With so much money to be made how can we destroy an industry that is killing off an important species of animal in Africa (“The forest elephant population in Central Africa shrank more than 60% to roughly 100,000 in 2011 from about 322,000 in 2002”)? (See Blackboard for the article if the link is gated for you.)
    This past Thursday, November 14 2013, the United States took a bold approach in the attempt to try and discourage the trade of ivory.  In Commerce City, Colorado, the U.S. Government along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife services crushed  6 tons (approx. 2,000 elephants) worth of illegal ivory that they have collected over the past 25 years.  The demonstration was designed to show illegal traders around the world that the ivory no longer holds value and should not be accepted as a precious element any longer. 
    In my opinion, the illegal trade of ivory is an issue similar to the illegal drug trade.  While we all know that elephant poaching is wrong and should be avoided, we also can see that the business brings illegal traffickers huge profits.  I believe that while crushing the ivory has brought a positive light to the U.S. amongst many environmentalist groups and people around the world, it may not even create a dent in the trafficking world.  If anything, I think that by crushing 6 tons of ivory may have only stimulated the industry more by showing that the amount of ivory is even scarcer than before. The best remedy for this situation in my opinion would most likely be to legalize the trade of ivory while at the same time creating boundaries on the amount of elephants allowed to be killed per year and setting aside certain areas where elephant poaching is strictly prohibited.  While I understand that this solution is very expensive, (government regulation cost/possible increase in taxes) I think that it would be the most effective first step in combating an industry that has thrived for as long as we can remember.
--Bernard Mathis

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Fracking: a technical word or just cursing?

Five years ago when the TV series "Battlestar Galactica" was popular people used to imitate the show by using the word "frak" or "frack" as a curse word. Today many people opposed to extractive industries continue to see "fracking," now a common shorthand for the technology of hydraulic fracturing, as something of an expletive. In Joe Nocera's NYT column today, he calls out the people who can't get past fracking as an obscenity to see it for the good it provides. He notes that the process is not totally environmentally benign, but that increases in the state of the art are minimizing the impact, and the state of Colorado is putting into place numerous safeguards to try to get the benefits with as few costs as possible. On the other hand, some groups won't hear anything good about it and just find the whole process objectionable. 

I think it's a little too easy to vilify your opponents, and that's happening on both sides here. Joe is angry at the knee-jerk opposition, and they are angry at fracking. It's the same, "I'm not talking to you!" attitude that shut down the government. Disappointing!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Environmental Impacts of Ethanol

Nice long piece by the Associated Press about the impacts of ethanol. Everything that we've talked about last month and some issues we'll discuss soon such as the Conservation Reserve Program come up. A short summary: five million acres set aside for conservation have been put under the plow as corn prices rose, and about 45% of the produced corn is for ethanol. (Another about 45% goes for animal feed.) Although they've done and redone the math estimating the effects of the ethanol policy, the final conclusion is that the program is at best a wash with respect to the environmental impacts. However, like any other program, it has taken on a life of its own: now all of the beneficiaries are willing to spend a lot of money to make sure that the mandate to produce a certain amount of corn ethanol continues to be the law of the land. Rural areas depend upon the policy and come to see it as their right. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack talks about how it has locked in farm income at record high levels, and so he doesn't want to change it. He says that air and water quality have improved, but the article notes that the billions of pounds of fertilizer used over the past few years lead to poisoned water sources. Maybe it's not worse than burning that much fossil fuels, but it's no free lunch.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Sumatran Tiger Decline

    The Sumatran tiger has seen a significant decrease in numbers over the past 30 years, dropping from about 1,000 in the wild to about 400. Benjamin Otto, writer for the Wall Street Journal, explains how habitat loss is the biggest factor in the population decline. The Sumatran tiger is a jungle cat found mainly in Indonesia, residing in thick forest areas. However, these forests have become a major economic source, bringing in a $20 billion business for the small country. Pulpwood is the main natural resource that big businesses Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) and Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) have taken advantage of for years. Otto cites Greenpeace in stating that APP and APRIL have accounted for almost half of all tiger habitat loss in Sumatra between 2009 and 2011. He grimly asserts that unless these big businesses can find more sustainable practices, the Sumatran tiger is at serious risk of extinction. However, Lee Poston, a special guest writer for CNN, blames the main reason for decline on poaching. Poston explains that in order to protect villagers and livestock, humans will kill the tigers despite their dwindling numbers. Poston does mention how habitat loss is a factor in the decline, but he uses that point to further strengthen his poaching argument. He empathizes with the villagers, noting how without the livestock, they would have no source of income. However, this does not give them the right to further endanger the tiger. The two authors present issues affecting the health of the Sumatran tiger, both accusing human actions as the main source of decline.
     Although poaching is a major concern, the bigger, overall critical issue revolves around habitat destruction. The abundance in pulpwood has provided Indonesia with a very profitable source of income, so it is clear that the industry will not stop for just a few hundred tigers. Habitat destruction also comes with several other related problems, further exacerbating its effects. Because there is less habitat for the tigers, crowding will occur in the little habitat they have left. This disrupts the established ecosystem and possibly may lead to a scarcity in food. Habitat destruction also drives the tigers to look elsewhere for food, namely in the local villages. This leads to the killing of local livestock and therefore poaching as a result. Poston made the point that if the poaching would cease and the tigers were left to recover on their own, the population would skyrocket. However, as mentioned before, eventually a scarcity in food will prevent the population from growing to a substantial number unless there is enough habitat to accommodate to it. Poston is not incorrect in stating that poaching is a concern for the health of the tiger population, but he does not explain the overall effects of habitat destruction like Otto. Otto clearly states why habitat destruction is detrimental to the tigers and why the cost of losing the tigers may not enough to outweigh the $20 billion pulpwood industry. Poston does note the villagers’ dependence on livestock and the economic costs of having the tigers around on a more local level. However, habitat destruction is the main trigger in a series of events that could mean the end of the Sumatran tigers.
--Natalie Yee

Where do old phones go to die?

        This article talks about the situation of electronics recycling around the world, the result is: the situation does not look pretty. In many countries, such as Ghana, India, and China, women and children collect electronic waste and burn them so they can extract the metals- copper wires, gold, silver and other materials inside, which they can sell for money. When electronic products are burning or cooking, the waste can produce toxic smoke that would cause huge problems for human health. And the working process can cause water and air pollution. The article also mentioned that European Union and Japanese government has doing really good job to avoid electronic waste pollutions by requiring electronic factories to collect and recycle their own products, or working with other company to do the recycling job. Around the world many countries have joined together to protect the global environment, the Basel Convention was an example. It is an international treaty that makes it illegal to export toxic electronic waste. However, the United States remains the only industrialized country that has not joined the treaty. Unfortunately, the United States’ government has not taken any actions to address electronic recycling.
        After reading this article, I think the public should not only rely on government regulation or industry’s action: consumers should also take steps to protect the environment. For example, we could carefully use our electronics and keep them in good working condition to extend their usefulness. Also we can recycle the ones we no longer use through certified recycling services. On the other hand, the public should push government to pass a law or an act which require the electronics factories to take responsibility to recycle their own products.
--Jian Jiao

Typhoon Haiyan

    Typhoon Haiyan is 2nd category 5 typhoon to hit the Philippines this year, and one of the strongest storms on record with wind speeds reaching 195 mph. The impact Haiyan has had on the Philippines is massive. The actual death toll is unknown as its current number is still rising and is expected to reach 10,000. The effects of this storm are devastating and many people are still not accounted for. Many roads are not navigable, and officials in the country are still trying to gather information on the extent of the damage caused by Typhoon Haiyan. The impact this storm will have to the Philippines’ economy is not as adverse as the devastation on the ground. Although aid is being given to the Philippines by 29 nations little aid is reaching victims, especially those in remote locations. The Typhoon would shave between 8 to 10 percent off the region's gross domestic product next year, and roughly 1-2 percent of the Philippines's overall growth. Much of the damage to the economy may be limited to the agricultural sectors of the areas hit hardest by the storm.
     I was surprised at the differences in the tones of the different articles. The articles that cover this story were very different: one was very cut and dry and focused more on the current and future economic effects the storm will have,  and the other focused on what effect this storm is having on the areas effected and the people currently. With climate change producing larger and more violent storms like Haiyan, Katrina, and Sandy I think it is important that we provide as much aid as needed. Without the current efforts of the nations involved in relief efforts a natural disaster like this affecting a country like the Philippines would be much more extreme. As this is an unpreventable natural disaster I think it is also important that we help better prepare areas before a storm like this makes land fall in the future. I think that developed countries should provide future aid and make large investments to build better more storm tolerant infrastructure in the Philippines.  
--Michael Sarlo

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Republicans for Green Energy

Interesting article on Bloomberg today about one part of the Republican coalition that advocates for solar energy. The "Green Tea Party" wants people to be able to free themselves from dependence on large power companies, and they support people's rights to allow third parties to install rooftop solar on their homes in exchange for a share of energy sold to the local utility. (The rights had been blocked by laws in Georgia and North Carolina in part to protect the power companies from being forced to buy energy they say they don't need from these third party providers.) Some choice quotes:

Utilities “don’t like the competition,” said Barry Goldwater Jr., son of the late senator and presidential candidate. “I’m a conservative Republican and I think people should have a choice.”

[On the other hand,] “We’ve had disagreements over solar,” said Virginia Galloway, director of Americans for Prosperity’s chapter in Georgia. [Americans for Prosperity is a group founded by the Koch brothers that often supports Tea Party causes.] Coal and gas both can generate electricity cheaper than solar, and requiring utilities to buy it will boost costs. “We oppose any mandates that would raise utility rates.”

Solar panel prices have fallen 59 percent since the start of 2011 to about 83 cents a watt, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That means solar power costs an average $143 a megawatt-hour worldwide now, down from $236 in the first quarter of 2011, according Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Nuclear costs about $101 and natural gas $70, by comparison.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Gold Mining and Peru's Rainforest

The Peruvian Amazon rainforest is the home of a diverse number of plants, fish, birds, mammals, reptile and amphibians. It is also a place that is visited by tourists from around the world. The Amazon rainforest produces around 20% of the planet's oxygen, and it absorbs carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses. Gold mining is affecting the rainforest in Peru, destroying the habitat of a diverse number of plants and animals.
Years of illegal gold mining have affected the Amazon rainforest in Peru. The Carnegie Institution of Science and Peru’s Minister of the Environment, using satellite images were able to map and know the extent of the damage caused by gold mining. They discover that this process affects the water of the area, because it contaminates the water with mercury, which is used to extract the gold from the soil. This is so important becaue  “twice the size of California, the Peruvian Amazon is one of the largest surviving stretches of tropical rainforest anywhere on Earth”.
  With the increase in the price of gold in 2008, the number of small miners in the Amazon has increased significantly. Some of the miners are local poor people that do this type of job in order to support their families, and others are rich businessmen that use expensive equipment in order to extract the gold from the mine.
Until 2008, Peru's mining regulation decisions were all made by the Ministry of Energy and Mines — a clear "conflict of interest." Around 50,000 small-scale miners in Peru are mining without permits or any government regulation…”  Because of conflicts of interest in the policies of Peru, I think that an international organization that cares about the environment should try to impose some type of control of the situation and implement stronger regulations. If we don’t take care of the problem now, we are going to be affected in the future with environmental consequences.
Justin Catanoso, a journalist who recently was in the Peruvian rainforest, proposed a solution. He said that richer countries should work together on an international level in order to pay countries that have diverse and important forests that have not been touched. In my opinion countries should think about the future not only about the present, because what is happening on the Amazon rainforest in Peru is going to affect us in the future when climate change continues to increase in a dangerous way.
--Josmayre Soler

Deforestation in the Congo Basin

     The Congo Basin in Central Africa encompasses the second largest rainforest area after the Amazon but the region remains one of the least developed in the world. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Central Africa lost approximately 91,000 km2 to deforestation in the 10 years between 1990 and 2000. The size of the region's forests was estimated at 2,403,000 km2 in 2000. Recent studies indicated that Congo Basin forests are under increased pressure with an average gross rate of deforestation two times higher over 2000-2005 than over 1990-2000 mainly due to agriculture expansion. The realization of the transportation infrastructures, which are already planned and funded, could multiply deforestation by three. Global forests have lost 130 million hectare (321 million acre) between 1990 and 2009 and carbon emissions from deforestation represent around 12% of total global green house gas emission.
     However, there’s a more serious factor affecting the prospects of the Congo Basin forests: unrelenting timber demand from around the world. China, Europe and the US are importing vast quantities of wood products; these are powerful incentives for the continued extraction of wood from the Congo Basin forests.
     Since 2008, the Reducing Emission from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) Initiative has become an important part of the discussion around the post Kyoto Agreement on climate change. The main principle of REDD+ is that the international community should transfer money to developing countries which make efforts to reduce deforestation and improve forest management.
     Since forest clearance for subsistence farming and the logging industry are crucial causes of the massive deforestation, the principal issue in this case is not just how to stop forest depletion, but how to manage forest resources effectively and efficiently. These articles discuss environmental damages that Africa can face if some resolutions are not taken on forest management. The unique solution is not just the compensation from international community, but Congo Basin’s countries must improve their forest management locally. For instance, they should start by environmental education of rural populations. Local governments should promote planting trees, and promote national parks to protect endangered plants and animals. Since large-scale timber operators are also involved in the deforestation process, local governments should impose higher taxes on wood extraction licenses. Those companies must also contribute financially on the process of planting trees. Additionally, Congo Basin countries should provide alternative forms of energy such as hydroelectric and solar power to reduce massive fuel wood use.
     Furthermore, Congo Basin’s countries can follow initiatives such as the Green Belt Movement (GBM) founded in 1977 by the late Nobel Peace Price winner, Prof. Wangari Maathai. The GBM has planted over 51 million trees in Kenya. The GBM works at the grassroots, national, and international level to promote environmental conservation, to build climate resilience and empower communities, and to foster democratic space and sustainable livelihoods. Finally, since carbon emissions from deforestation in Congo Basin represent around 12% of total global greenhouse gas emissions, with an estimated forest carbon reserve of 46 billion tons, this problem of deforestation will have negative environmental impacts on the entire world. Therefore, the international community must definitely help countries in that region to solve the problem of deforestation.
--Abdel Mouncharou

Operation 1-1-1

Operation 1-1-1 is a campaign pushing policymakers to support environmental restoration in local communities in states surrounding the Gulf Coast such as Florida, Alabama, Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. It provides a platform or forum for business owners, fisherman, all coastal residents, and any supporters of a cleaner coast to share stories and ask for help from these policymakers directly. The campaign is supported by the Walton Family Foundation, a group that promotes lasting environmental and economic growth, who previously invested $91 million in environmental initiatives in 2012.
The reason this campaign is so important is because the Gulf States are in the process of receiving millions of dollars from fines due to the 2010 oil spill. The Walton Family Foundation is using this campaign to attempt to have those millions of dollars allocated towards the restoration of the Gulf. The restoration will produce many jobs, help businesses around the coast, and boost the economies of the five states.
I believe this campaign is a great idea and the principles behind it make a whole lot of sense. The Yahoo article states that the Gulf Coast environment is the “backbone” of the region’s economy. The pristine beaches and marine life brings in thousands of tourists which generate $2 billion in spending each year in Mississippi alone and 18% of Mississippi Coast jobs are related to tourism. This shows how much of the economy in these states rely on tourism and with restoration of these areas tourism will increase and therefor cause the economy to grow.
Besides tourism the Gulf Coast produces around 40 percent of seafood to the lower 48 states of the U.S and brings in $41 billion in recreational fishing (Yahoo, 2013). With restoration these figures will be maintained or improve which will also cause the economy to grow. I think all or most of the fine money should be put towards restoration of the Gulf Coast also because the fines are from damage done to the Gulf in the first place.

--Dan Mazzone

Friday, November 8, 2013

Sochi Olympics not waste-free after all

In the past few days news has come out of Sochi Russia, that Russian contractors have broken their “Zero Waste” Olympic pledge, a pledge that was part of the foundation for Sochi’s bid for the Olympics. Contractors who are building railroads, and roadways are currently dumping round the clock into an illegal Sochi landfill. The government only fined the contractors three thousand dollars, but continued to let the landfill stay open. The landfill resides in an area protected by the Russian Water Code. This is what makes the landfill illegal to be in existence. Environmental experts are stating that water and liquid from the landfill has begun to seep through porous rocks into underground water springs, therefore contaminating about 50 percent of the water in Sochi. Experts expect the water to be contaminated for 10-15 years after the dumping is over. The contractors are saying that they have stopped dumping, but residents of Sochi have stated that they see dumping round the clock in the landfill.
There is no room in the budget to spend to extract the waste from Sochi so the money needs to come from somewhere. In my opinion I think that the contractor should have to pay to correct all of the environmental damage. However part of the blame falls on the Russian Government, if they are going to write a pledge to have no waste and claim they are going to set up recycling plants, and ways to dispose of the waste in a green format and then not do anything, that is a problem at least in my eyes. Nobody forced them to make the waste free Olympic pledge but instead they made it themselves. If they can't achieve what their own pledge set out to do then what’s the point of the pledge at all? The government along with the contractor needs to provide clean water to the residents of Sochi and reimburse any costs the residents face during this time of water contamination. It will be interesting to see if in these next 100 days more environmental issues come up in Sochi or if this is the only speed bump the pledge has hit.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Reinjection of produced water

I just wanted to get something up on the blog since we talked about it today and I didn't know. Reinjection of produced water is definitely a big deal, according to two sources. The first talks about the Marcellus shale (in PA-NY, among others), where produced water contains a fair amount of radioactive material as well as chlorides and barium. He differentiates "injection wells" from "production wells," so maybe the produced water is injected into different wells nearby? The produced material is so nasty that it shouldn't even be exposed to the air: it should be sent right back down after the gas is extracted. If the water is cleaned, it can be reused in the next well, but that's expensive. The second source is more geared to the non-professional and gives more or less the same information: most produced water is indeed reinjected, because it's too expensive to clean it up enough to dispose of it in other ways. It also reminds us that fracking really uses a large amount of water.

Looks like I still have plenty to learn myself! I can't do economics without good awareness of the environmental science.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Environmental Kuznets Curve

The greatest threat to biodiversity is habitat loss. In particular, let’s talk about forests. According to studies, forests have been growing in countries with a per capita income above $8,000. These studies can be explained by the environmental Kuznets curves.

                                Hypothetical Kuznets Curve

Late pre-industrial and industrial countries like El Salvador, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Kenya have chopped trees far faster than the rate at which trees can grow back. None of these countries have per capita incomes above $5,000. These countries favor the marginal utility of consumption over the marginal utility of the environment. Countries like the United States, Denmark, and France all have forest growth and per capita incomes above $8,000. These countries favor the marginal utility of the environment over the marginal utility of consumption. A big factor affecting the environment is that countries switch from being industrial economies to service based economics.
I believe that economic growth benefits biodiversity, but there needs to be more than income growth. A few of the things that must be addressed are environmental taxes, environmental education, and stopping social inequality. If people internalize their external costs, then there would be monetary drawbacks to chopping forests and incentives to planting forests. This allows forests to grow. If people gain an education about the necessity of having a healthy environment, then this allows people to be activists and fight for the environment. As biodiversity is hard to quantify, knowledge is a key ingredient to fighting forest degradation by allowing people to see hidden costs of habitat destruction. Social equality has been very bad in North Korea, Zimbabwe, and Sierra Leone. This restricts the economy and thus propels environmental derogation as citizens make money by any means necessary. At the very least these three factors speed up the process of forest growth making woodland habitats available to contain a plethora of biodiversity.
--Forest Krueger

Friday, October 25, 2013

Gasland & FrackNation

I didn't mean to end a debate as much as start one by exposing people to FrackNation, but it doesn't seem like that's what it's done, so I wanted to encourage you to read a few more articles about the movies. In other words, here's MY version of the essay I asked you to write!

When Gasland first became popular, the gas industry responded by debunking the claims of the movie. Fox responded with more evidence on his claims. A seemingly fair evaluation of the evidence was posted on the NYT website here, mostly validating Fox's claims.

Again, this is not my area of expertise, and I'm not sure where the truth lies. That said...

Floating Windmills

    Although it hasn't been as common this semester, often students like to write about new environmental technology. We've had past posts on everything from technological devices to capture carbon from the air (which I imagine costs significantly more than a tree, which does the same thing) to biotech-based energy solutions such as gas-from-algae. Today the NYT has one I haven't heard of: offshore wind energy from floating windmills. The article does a good job of noting that while of course there are far-flung hopes of salvation for us all, more likely there are going to be unexpected costs and difficulties associated with making these things fully operational. Japan's putting some serious money behind this one, though, so we'll see.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

China's ongoing problems with air pollution

    I decided to look at China’s air pollution issue and how it comes with a heavy price tag for the Chinese. While China has one of the biggest economies as far as growth, they’re paying for it; Vicki Ekstrom says, “Although China has made substantial progress in cleaning up its air pollution, a new MIT study shows that the economic impact from ozone and particulates in its air has increased dramatically. Quantifying costs from lost labor and the increased need for health care, the study finds that this air pollution cost the Chinese economy $112 billion in 2005. That’s compared to $22 billion in such damages in 1975.” Researchers looked at both short term and long term effects on health, and in doing so they found that two main causes for the increase in pollution’s costs are rapid urbanization in addition to the increased number of people exposed to the pollution. Also, higher incomes raised the costs associated with lost productivity. Nam, a researcher, says that pollution led to a $64 billion loss in gross domestic product in 1995.
    China has become the world’s largest emitter of mercury, carbon dioxide and other pollutants. Even after significant improvements over the past 25-30 years, the concentrations were still five times higher than what is considered safe. These high levels of pollution have led to 656,000 premature deaths in China each year from ailments caused by indoor and outdoor air pollution, according to World Health Organization estimates from 2007. China is taking steps to respond to these health and economic concerns. In January, the nation set a target to limit its carbon intensity by 17% by 2015, compared with 2010 levels.
    That article is from February of last year and still today, almost 2 years later China still is dealing with intense air pollution. Today this article was released discussing the continuous air pollution issue in China. Choking smog all but shut down one of northeastern China's largest cities on Monday, forcing schools to suspended classes, snarling traffic and closing the airport, in the country's first major air pollution crisis of the winter.  An air pollution level above 300 is considered hazardous, while the World Health Organization recommends a daily level of no more than 20. Some parts of Harbin, the gritty capital of northeastern Heilongjiang province and home to some 11 million people today, saw a reading of 1,000.
     Visibility was reportedly reduced to 10 meters; the smog is expected to continue for the next 24 hours. Air quality in Chinese cities is of increasing concern to China's stability-obsessed leadership because it plays into popular resentment politically and to the rising inequality in the world's second-largest economy. Domestic media have run stories describing the expensive air purifiers government officials enjoy in their homes and offices, alongside reports of special organic farms so cadres need not risk suffering from recurring food safety scandals. The government has announced plans over the years to tackle the pollution problem but has made little progress.
    The information revealed in both of these articles seems like enough to cause for major concern in China and should inspire the Chinese government and citizens to address this air pollution problem immediately. People are expressing their anger over social media and in another article I read it says some citizens are even starting to protest. This caught my attention because the Chinese people are some of the last people I would expect to publicly show frustration with their government.  China has been dealing with this issues for decades and it isn’t going to be fixed overnight but, one suggestion I have for China’s government is creating incentives or subsidies for companies and/or regions of the country that keep air pollution at a safe level.
--Joseph Fleming

Friday, October 18, 2013

Green vs. Gold in Romania

Over the past two months Romania has been protesting the plans for Europe’s largest planned mining expedition in the town of Rosia Montana. Canada’s Gabriel Resources owns a majority of this corporation that is planning on mining 314 tons of gold and 1500 tons of silver.  Thousands are protesting the mining because the process will include using cyanide and razing four mountains, overall having a huge impact on the environment.  These mines are also full of ancient Roman history that would be 95% destroyed after the mining.
Others are arguing that mining will create jobs for the local people as well as add money into the Romanian economy.  The mining project is estimated to create 3000 jobs and Romania would receive 6% royalty on the gold extracted.
Lawmakers are still in the process of passing this right to mine and are torn between both viewpoints.
My question to you all is what should the Romanian lawmakers decide?  Should they risk the cyanide that will enter the environment as well as destroying four historical mountains or should they lean towards gaining more money in their economy and creating 3000 more jobs?
In my opinion, they should not mine.  It does not seem worth it to Romania.  Not only will they be destroying ancient mines but they will be greatly affecting the environment.  It is said that they will be creating a cyanide lake along with causing tons of pollutants in the air.
--Rebecca Aikman

More on "clean coal"

We have heard a lot this semester about the proposed EPA restrictions on coal plants, and the WSJ (gated link) has an update for us. (See Blackboard for a copy.) A company has invested quite a lot in trying to build a "clean coal" plant in Mississippi. The plant will hopefully soon be completed, but cost overruns have continued to climb- the total cost is now projected at nearly $5 billion, a far cry from the $2.5 billion or so originally projected. Taxpayers will split these cost overruns with shareholders of the company building the plant, leaving them facing surcharges on their power bills and the state of Mississippi with some of the highest priced power for years to come. Then again, they'll be burning a locally available source in a very clean way, so while the total and average costs are high, the marginal costs should be very low. I wonder which is going to be less expensive: off shore wind power or coal gasification?


In some sort of order....

Pork Production Problems- Assessing Externalities
Costs and Benefits of State Parks
Chicken Farming
Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining
Organic Vegetable Production
Forestry and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed
Chemical Fertilizers and the Chesapeake
Natural Gas Extraction
GMO or No

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Shutdown killed the crop report

For the first month since 1866, the USDA crop report will not be issued. I know, I know, you're thinking... who cares about this anyway? I have a strong memory from college of looking through a list of majors and thinking, "'Agricultural Economics?' I have no idea what I want to do as a career, but the one thing I can tell you for sure is that it's not THAT! Could anything possibly be more dull?" I admit, it doesn't sound as sexy as "sustainability" or "six-figure salary upon graduation" but about 20% of our country's land and 1/3 of the water used in the US is used in agriculture, so if you want to know a) how to help the environment, or b) the origin of a lot of big business, look no farther. That's why the government is involved, and it's a real shame when that important work doesn't get done.

Externality of the day: lung cancer

Air pollution has been conclusively linked to lung cancer. I wish I lived in the suburbs... but at least I don't live in Beijing!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Offshore wind power for Maryland

    Earlier this year the Maryland legislature passed a bill to incentivize the construction of an offshore wind farm about 10 nautical miles off the coast of Ocean City. The construction of a wind farm is projected to generate 850 jobs during the building process and 160 long-term positions. Once the farm is built it is predicted that energy bills for Maryland residents will increase by $1.50 monthly. This amount will decrease over time because the fuel from the farm is free. The cost to the community lies in the expensive capital investment needed to build the farm.
    Despite the capital costs, the tradeoff draws dependence away from foreign sources of energy, leading to economic and natural sustainability practices. Maryland plans to draw at least 20% of our energy needs from in-state renewable generation by the year 2022.
    During the time from 1999 to 2009, energy costs to Maryland ratepayers increased approximately twofold. Although offshore wind capital costs are high compared to traditional fossil fuels, the fuel cost is zero, making operational costs competitive. The Maryland Department of Business & Economic Development produced a regional employment model to estimate the total economic impact of offshore wind over the next five years. The analysis stated the impact at $1.3 billion, with $5.6 million in additional state tax revenues. This figure includes direct and indirect effects of the farm.
    This is a profitable opportunity for Maryland. The burden to each ratepayer is negligible compared to the gains derived from an alternative from fossil fuel energy. The placement of the turbines off the coast cuts down on complaints by Maryland residents about noise generated by the farm. However, the distance from the shore also adds the difficulties involved with transporting the energy across the ocean floor. From an economic and environmental standpoint the construction of a wind farm for Maryland is a sound choice.
--Joshua Moore

One problem with quotas

Later in the semester we'll talk about fishing, and a common solution to problems of overfishing is the quota. Joey's post earlier this semester pointed to an article that talked about how quotas imposed in Rhode Island increased safety and made harvesters better off, among other things. They work pretty well until the government gets shut down. Then- not so much....

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Oil Exploitation in the Yasuni National Park, Ecuador: Hard Lessons

President Correa is coming under fire from many people by deciding to have foreign companies come in to drill for oil in the Yasuni National Park.  Much of the concern over this is amplified by the history of drilling for oil in the country by Texaco (which merged with Chevron in 2001), which did not use generally accepted practices that might have prevented the vast majority of damage that was done. Rather than following established procedure for control and disposal of wastes, the company often merely dumped them into an unprotected hole in the ground – which allowed the chemicals to seep into the local water table – or even pumped them directly into nearby rivers.
Standard practices that have been well established for decades allow for the extraction of oil while preventing the resulting waste products from leaking into the surrounding environment, and in many countries regulations are in place that require oil companies to use acceptable practices to prevent any negative impacts like those seen in Ecuador. Unfortunately, these requirements were not enforced in the past, and still even the state owned oil company Petroamazonas admits a spill occurs about every week (2013).  The country has also been unable to hold Chevron accountable for their brand’s past activities; the suit had been settled in Ecuador but is now in court here in the US.
It seems that, while terrible situations have been created in the past, it is not very difficult to extract the oil with minimal impact on the local environment.  However, to ensure that similar things don’t happen in the future people involved need to take precautions to ensure they don’t repeat or past mistakes.  Several things they need to do are: closely monitor the activities of the gas companies, make certain that the companies legally accept responsibility for any negative effects of their activities, and ensure support for any necessary corrective action by the foreign governments where the oil companies are based.
If these procedures had been followed before, the majority of problems could have been avoided or at least dealt with quickly once discovered.  And if they are now adopted, they may be used to allow further oil exploration without the vast majority of negative effects that Ecuador has experienced in the past.
--Stephen Anderson

Robots to the rescue

The main difference between renewable sources like solar power and non-renewables like natural gas continues to be cost. If solar is price competitive people will buy it. One way to get there would be to tax carbon emissions, but that doesn't seem to be happening. Another way to get there is to improve the technology behind solar, and people have been working on that for decades. Recently, though, that research has taken a new direction. Instead of improving the technical efficiency of each panel, some firms are developing robots to reduce the cost of setting up a solar power plant and others to be sure that panels are kept as clean as possible to maximize exposure to the sun. Hey, whatever works!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Solutions, not just problems

Most people think about negative aspects and problems when faced with the task of looking at current events. While raising awareness is good and it is important for us to identify what is wrong, sometimes we forget about the practical solutions to these problems and get caught up thinking there is little we can do. I think it is important to remember that in order to help create positive change on our planet, we need to both be aware of the problem and its possible solutions so we can change how we live our daily lives. That is why I researched two organizations that are moving in what I believe to be is a positive direction in making our world a better place.
The first of these organizations is Earthship biotecture. Earthships are a concept created by Michael Reynolds, an expert in sustainable living. He calls his creation the “epitome of sustainable design and construction.” An earthship is a passive solar house that is built into the earth and made out of natural and recycled materials. The walls are made of tires and recycled bottles and cans, and are designed in such a way that heat from the sun is stored so that the house can maintain a homeostasis much like the earth does with thermo mass. Water is collected via precipitation and filtered/ treated before used for practical purposes, including watering the indoor vegetable garden. The house is run on electricity that is harvested from the sun and the wind. It is designed to be as eco-friendly and independent as possible, costing about roughly the same as a conventional home. The only difference is that you would no longer have to pay for utility bills such as heating and electricity. The organization also has much cheaper and simpler models for mass production to be applied to third world countries and basically anyone in need.
The second organization researched was the New Earth Project. The project is a global sovereignty movement that takes the solution to societies problems to the extreme. They basically want to restart civilization and implement new communities, institutes, and retreats in various locations around the world to promote a healthier future for humanity that is more aligned with nature. Their manifesto is: “health sovereignty, regeneration of environment, primacy of peace, justice & liberty, protection of indigenous and cultural wisdom, harmonization of global commerce with sustainability, elimination of all threats posed by wmd & nuclear weapons, the cultivation and appreciation of all spiritual & cultural values, the establishment of ethical and accountable governance worldwide, the advancement of our education & new modalities for learning, furtherance of all individual freedoms, rights & responsibilities, elevation of beauty, artistic expression and human creativity, the restoration of honest and open debate in our media, the safe-harbouring of breakthrough medical cures, protection of technological advancements, the promulgation of free energy, economic reform."
I personally think both of these concepts are exactly what we as a collective whole need to start looking towards if we want continue to live harmoniously on this planet. With our population growing exponentially and our resources being drained more and more, it is vital for us to slow down our consumption and to live a more healthy and sustainable lifestyle.
--Kyle Espenshade

[Editor's note: also check out Kyle's music here.]

The (dubbed) War on Coal

     The Obama administration has just recently imposed strict regulations for all new coal fired power plants.  It is a clear effort by the administration to allay the United States’ dependence on coal which provides 40% of the country’s electricity. Coal is unquestionably the dirtiest of the fossil fuels, however it is ubiquitous and cheap which explains the country’s protracted dependence on it. Many believe this move is essentially a “war on coal” because it creates an 1100 pound limit per megawatt hour on carbon whereas some of the more advanced current plants emit about 1800 pounds per megawatt hour (Associated Press). New plants would be required to install carbon capture and storage technologies to fulfill the requirement which can cost billions of dollars. There are only two current models that exhibit such technology,-which are still in construction-one in Kemper County, Mississippi and Saskatchewan, Canada (Associated Press). Opposing parties believe this hindrance is technologically infeasible given that the coal plants have yet to be showcased. The EPA has stated that the impact of the regulations will be negligible since the price of natural gas (a substitute) remains low; however there are plans to promulgate these regulations for all existing coal plants by the end of the year which would engender a starkly differently result.
     If this legislation does end up passing then I believe coal production will begin a gradual decline.  I think it is evident that this is the Obama administrations way of subsidizing renewable and less carbon intensive sources of energy. Any legislation regarding the environment is particularly difficult to promulgate because it is such a polarizing issue. It seems to be a short term versus long term debate, right wing versus left wing respectively. In the short term a negligent amount of jobs will be lost but in the long run it is a prudent move to build a renewable energy sector that will boast many more jobs than lost.
--Tyler Bailey

Government shutdown and agriculture

Check me out: I'm all next generation media on y'all today. Here's a video clip talking about what the government shutdown means for farmers. Hint: there's a lot less harvesting going on....

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

No more oil shocks?

***First article for second set of material.***

Today in class Forest talked about how oil futures were high right now. Well, that may have been true earlier, but as this article puts it, "the bearish overall outlook for crude prevail(s)."

That analysis is the short-term version of the long-term trend described in today's NYT article on oil, which contends that, "It is likely that the world has already entered a period of relatively predictable crude prices." It says that increased supply from the US, Canada, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, driven by application of the technology developed to frack natural gas is keeping up with difficulties posed by decreased access to the products of other countries such as Iran and Libya. Demand is tempered by increased efficiency in use, by mandates to increase use of biofuels, and by changes in society such as the ability to order things online. When one vehicle is delivering everyone's packages, that's a lot fewer car trips to the store!

Meanwhile China has accounted for more than half of the global demand growth over the past five years. This year China is expected to pass the US as the largest importer of oil, and it's expected to stay there for a long time. However, the government there is restricting that growth, so while use will continue, the growth rate is expected to slow. Also, increasingly cheap access to natural gas is inspiring investment in how to have that product fill the niche of petroleum. It's been a quick fix to update heating systems, and more and more cars are running on it.

All in all, a very economic story! We'll talk more about it in class.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

European Union Approves Backloading Plan to Improve Emissions Trading System

    On July 3, 2013, the European Parliament approved a measure that would help rescue the emissions trading system. In 2005, the emissions trading system was designed to reduce carbon pollution by 2.8 billion tons by 2020. The system sold permits to companies that would allow them to produce greenhouse gases. Every year a cap of pollution would be set that companies could produce. Every year the cap got smaller and permits became more expensive so that companies would be influenced to switch to green technologies and reduce pollution waste.
    Since the beginning of this system, the worldwide economy faced recessions. Due to the economic downturn, the European Union became generous to companies and oversupplied the market with 2 billion permits. With an increase in supply the tax for pollution went down to about 2.5 Euros. The European Union initially estimated that a tax of 30 Euros per ton of carbon was needed to influence companies to switch to green technologies. In July, the European Parliament adopted a measure called “backloading” that would decrease the supply of permits by 900,000,000. With a decrease in supply the price of the tax should go up. The market reacted immediately following the decision. The market tax for pollution rose to about 5 Euros. There is still about 1 billion surplus in the market.
    I believe the positive to this system is that companies are producing less pollution. The impact would be greatly felt unless the extra 1 billion permits are also withheld from the market. A 5 Euro tax on pollution does not give enough incentive for companies to switch to green technologies. This system could have more negative effects. With increase in the tax, companies have to reallocate funds and invest in more physical capital. Unemployment might rise because companies don’t have money to pay employees. Some of these companies also might be able to sustain themselves because the tax is too high forcing them to shut down. More aggressive measures are needed in order to rescue the European emissions trading system.
--Nieco Magtanong

Coal miners suffer as natural gas increases

          The U.S. has overtaken Russian as the number one producer of oil and natural gas. According to the Wall Street Journal (see Blackboard for the article), the U.S. produces 22 million barrels a day; and that is 200,000 more barrels than Russia. The increase in the production of natural gas has had a detrimental impact on coal country.  For more than a century, Hanlan County, Kentucky has been dependent on the coal industry for employment, fuel and the means to support their quality of life. Unemployment has risen from 9.8% to 17.2 % in the past two years. Forty-two percent of coal miners in eastern Kentucky have lost their jobs. The Duncan family is only one example of the many casualties of the trend away from coal mining towards natural gas production. Scott Duncan worked in mining for 18 years. He once earned $80,000 per year. Unfortunately, he, his wife and three teenage children now use food stamps to supplement their food costs. The C.V. Bennett family owns one of the only mines still operating in Harlan County. Today, the C.V. Bennett family has only 100 employees. 400 less employees than what it had five years ago. It is no doubt, that the boom of natural gas production and new federal limits on greenhouse gases has led to the economic downturn for eastern Kentucky’s coal miners.
          The production of natural gas is positive for the environment and the economy in the long-term, but the loss of mining jobs in the short-term is still devastating. New technology often leaves many workers displaced and their quality of life drastically reduced, due to the lack of skill for the new developing technology among the old workers of its rival industry. The coal mining industry is a huge part of American history and it has been a viable industry for many generations. New federal limits on greenhouse gases have further crippled the coal mining industry as it increases the cost of production. A possible solution to the economic downturn of the coal industry would be to increase export volumes, reduce costs, diversify resources and invest in new technology that will make the process of mining more environmentally friendly. Yet while many others lag behind government environmental mandates, others have adapted and mastered the requirements and means for survival in the coal industry. Queensland Coal Industry in Australia has stayed ahead of the economic downturn for the coal industry by implementing many of these same strategies listed above. Thus, it is possible for emissions to be reduced, while viably remaining a competitor with natural gas production, but at what cost, and will each company be able or willing to make the necessary changes?
--Fredrick Jones

Monday, October 7, 2013

Leaden externality

Although lead acid batteries don’t often come up in conversation, these items are fundamental to a commuting lifestyle and play a role in the day to day life of almost every American family. The disposal and recycling of these types of batteries is the topic of an important debate. As many as 4.5 billion pounds of lead acid batteries are exported by America every year, with a large number headed to Canada or Mexico. The job of handling these batteries pays well but comes with extreme health risks. Recently the CEO of RSR Corp., David Finn wrote a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency calling for the ban of these exports. Government regulations in Canada and Mexico as far as dealing with the waste are far less strict than they are in America. Particularly in Mexico, entire communities are suffering from higher levels of lead in drain water and soil. These people are dealing with the costs of a process in which they have no benefit. Recycling plants in the United States are better funded and more closely watched, but as recently as last spring an Exide plant in Vernon, California was closed after a high levels of lead were found in the surrounding soil.
It is the responsibility of the companies that produce these batteries to see that they are recycled and disposed of correctly. A full on ban of exports isn’t necessary, but the EPA should find a way to hold companies accountable for hiring cheap smelters outside the country. Keeping in mind that even recycling plants held by the bounds of the Federal government can’t get it right tells us that these companies are more focused on production than the environmental hazards. If there were more of an incentive and accountability for American companies to be more conscious of the health of the workers, the community and the planet, this problem could be fixed.
--Steven Brand

Sunday, October 6, 2013

New data on fracking

As we prepare to move into the energy unit, it's nice to have a little help from Joe Nocera, who is touting some new research into fracking. Hydraulic fracking is a means of extracting natural gas from shale formations, which are all over the US. Natural gas contributes less to climate change than does, say, burning coal, but one reason that people have been skeptical is that the apparatus used in fracking doesn't capture all of the gas that is released by the frack. When methane escapes into the atmosphere, it is about 20 times more damaging than the CO2 that is the most commonly cited pollutant. Thus, the amount of methane released by the apparatus is quite important: if the amount is small, then natural gas is much better than coal, but if the amount is large, fracking may be just as bad as coal. Nocera's investigation isn't done, but it sounds like technology can make things significantly better in this case. That's good news for people who would rather get their energy domestically rather than sending our billions to Iraq.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Energy Department's Loan Program Revival

The Energy Department’s loan program has been used in the past to fund the development of green energy technologies. The Obama administration has recently decided to renew this program. This program does not have to go through Congressional approval, though it is thought by many to be controversial because the program has failed in the past. Under this loan program “Hundreds of millions” of taxpayer dollars have been lost due to the failure of start-up companies such as Solyndra, but many others have been successful. Under the loan program the Tesla Motor company has already made an “early repayment of $465 million.” Despite the controversies associated with the loan program, officials from the Energy Department describe that this program can help bring new green technologies into the market that previously would not have been able to enter. The loan program takes risks using taxpayer money to invest in start-up companies, but it can result in the development of new green technologies that decrease the negative impact we have on the environment.
I think that reviving the Energy Department’s loan program is a smart choice. I think it is a good idea to promote the development of clean energy technologies. As the article stated, many new technologies may be available but are not being comercially developed due to lack of initial investors. This program gives companies a chance to make something new and potentially beneficial. I think this is a step in the right direction because there is currently very little being done to change our energy consumption habits. I also think this loan program is a smart decision based on the Obama administration’s recent carbon pollution stance. Since the pending standards will not allow new coal companies to open unless they are using cleaner methods, this loan program can help fund cleaner coal technology that could help the coal companies survive. The program has been very successful in the past despite some setbacks. I think they will be able to learn from the mistakes of failed companies such as Solyndra and be able to make smart investment choices in the future. Changes need to be made now to prevent further disruption of the environment and I think that funding start-up companies and giving them the chance to create new technologies is one of the only realistic options we have right now.
--Marielle Langston

Fishes Killed In China due to Ammonia

   Thousands of fish across a 19-mile range on the river of Hubei Province in central China were killed due to pollutants emitted from a local plant. When officials took tests of the water upstream from the Fu River they encountered high levels of ammonia, which is typically used in many fertilizing agents. Officials say that the concentrations they found in the water of ammonia was 196 milligrams per liter, which are extremely high from the 12 milligrams usually found in concentrations of water and about .02 mg in drinking water.  According to the news Hubei Shuanghuan Science and Technology Company was the one to blame for this disaster, which specialized in producing sodium carbonate and ammonium chloride and was ordered to cease production until investigators found the cause for the leak. The company has had four violations already as of 2008 says Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, which tracks air and water pollution. Mr. Jun says that the authorities take little action against the company and fine them, way too little which is why incidents keep repeating themselves and causing environmental harm. The odd smell in the atmosphere caught many peoples attention on what was going on. 110 tons of fish have died due to this incident. Unfortunately the water was not used as drinking for the communities surrounded by the river but people panicked and bought bottled water because they thought they were drinking contaminated water. Pollution is always a concern in developed countries but luckily the contaminated water in the Fu River didn’t get into the Yangtze, which is China’s longest river and the source of drinking water for millions.
I think that if the company has already had violations against them they should be enforced strictly so incidents in the future don’t occur due to negligence. I believe local fisherman that make a living off selling fish have been impacted severely because of so many fish have died and no one is willing to buy them and the future might not look so sharp either because of the scare. Another problem is that the ammonia levels are so high in the water you don’t know when they might decrease and for what period of time will the fish in the water be safe to eat again. I do believe that all these disasters that have been happening in coastal waters will eventually lead to aquaculture where fish are grown in controlled environment because the numbers are dramatically dropping. Water companies seem to benefit form these kinds of disasters because they see an increase in the demand for water but clean water regardless should freely available to the community in such incidents. The Yangtze was saved from the ammonia, which is a great thing because most of the drinking water in the region comes from there. Official do worry that the Yangtze might one day be affected by pollution because so many occurrences keep happening that can be avoided if companies take proper precautions.
--Daman Singh