Solutions and sustainability

A Livable Shade of Green

N.D.Kristof, New York Times
When President Bush travels to the Group of 8 summit meeting this week, he’ll stiff Tony Blair and other leaders who are appealing for firm action on global warming.

“Kyoto would have wrecked our economy,” Mr. Bush told a Danish interviewer recently, referring to the accord to curb carbon emissions. Maybe that was a plausible argument a few years ago, but now the city of Portland is proving it flat wrong.

Newly released data show that Portland, America’s environmental laboratory, has achieved stunning reductions in carbon emissions. It has reduced emissions below the levels of 1990, the benchmark for the Kyoto accord, while booming economically.

What’s more, officials in Portland insist that the campaign to cut carbon emissions has entailed no significant economic price, and on the contrary has brought the city huge benefits: less tax money spent on energy, more convenient transportation, a greener city, and expertise in energy efficiency that is helping local businesses win contracts worldwide.
(3 July 2005)

Producing ethanol and biodiesel from corn and other crops is not worth the energy

Turning plants such as corn, soybeans and sunflowers into fuel uses much more energy than the resulting ethanol or biodiesel generates, according to a new Cornell University and University of California-Berkeley study.

“There is just no energy benefit to using plant biomass for liquid fuel,” says David Pimentel, professor of ecology and agriculture at Cornell. “These strategies are not sustainable.”

Pimentel and Tad W. Patzek, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Berkeley, conducted a detailed analysis of the energy input-yield ratios of producing ethanol from corn, switch grass and wood biomass as well as for producing biodiesel from soybean and sunflower plants. Their report is published in Natural Resources Research (Vol. 14:1, 65-76).

In terms of energy output compared with energy input for ethanol production, the study found that:

— corn requires 29 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced;
— switch grass requires 45 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced; and
— wood biomass requires 57 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced.

In terms of energy output compared with the energy input for biodiesel production, the study found that:

— soybean plants requires 27 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced, and
— sunflower plants requires 118 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced.

In assessing inputs, the researchers considered such factors as the energy used in producing the crop (including production of pesticides and fertilizer, running farm machinery and irrigating, grinding and transporting the crop) and in fermenting/distilling the ethanol from the water mix. Although additional costs are incurred, such as federal and state subsidies that are passed on to consumers and the costs associated with environmental pollution or degradation, these figures were not included in the analysis.

“The United State desperately needs a liquid fuel replacement for oil in the near future,” says Pimentel, “but producing ethanol or biodiesel from plant biomass is going down the wrong road, because you use more energy to produce these fuels than you get out from the combustion of these products.” …
(5 July 2005)

Canada awards $46 million to ethanol plants

Editors, Oil & Gas Journal
HOUSTON, — Canada has allocated $46 million (Can.) to five companies to build or expand ethanol plants across Canada in a second round of funding under its Ethanol Expansion Program (EEP). The awards range from $7.3 million to $15 million.
Building new plants will be Commercial Alcohols Inc. in Windsor, Ont., Husky Oil Marketing Co. in Minnedosa, Man., and Integrated Grain Processors Cooperative Inc. in Brantford, Ont.
In addition, Permolex Ltd. will expand its facility in Red Deer, Alta., and Power Stream Energy Services Inc. will convert a recently closed starch plant in Collingwood, Ont.
With this funding, along with $72 million previously allocated to six projects under the program’s first round and private investments from involved companies, about $1 billion is being invested in Canadian ethanol production expansion.
The EEP is expected to result in production of 1.2 billion l./year of fuel ethanol by yearend 2007, bringing Canadian production to 1.4 billion l./year, said Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Andy Mitchell.
Canada plans to have 35% of all gasoline in Canada contain 10% ethanol by 2010.
(7 July 2005)

Climate Change Solutions Focus of New KLD Index

Amy Blumenthal & Karen Myers, KLD Press Release
“KLD has launched new Global Climate 100 Index which includes companies taking positive steps to reduce global warming as a solution to climate change through the use of renewable energy, alternative fuels, clean technology, and efficiency.

KLD created the Global Climate 100 Index in response to growing demand from institutions and individuals for investment strategies that address global warming.

The Global Climate 100 Index is made up of companies that KLD expects will provide near-term solutions to global warming while offsetting the longer-term impacts of climate change through renewable energy, alternative fuels, clean technology and efficiency. …”
(5 July 2005)

Wind Power Has A Head Of Steam

Laura Cohn, Businessweek (US)
A big North Sea project highlights the upside of turbine technology

The quaint town of Whitstable on England’s southeastern coast is known for its fresh oysters, sandy beaches, and charming vacation cottages. But if a group of energy companies has its way, Whitstable will soon be known for something else — wind power.

In June, Shell WindEnergy, E.ON UK Renewables, and CORE, a joint venture of British and Danish wind power companies, unveiled a plan to build the world’s largest wind farm 12 miles off the British coast, where the estuary of the Thames River flows into the North Sea. The ambitious $2.7 billion project will add 1,000 megawatts of capacity, enough to meet one-quarter of London’s power needs, by 2010. …
(11 July 2005)[They’ve been insisting its the 11th July since about the 4th!]


Hell or high water

G.Hinsliff & M.Townsend , The Observer
Long article that goes through the whys & where-fors of the water shortage in the wettest anglophone nation. Rainfall extremes, utility privatisation, wasteful businesses and consumers, and housing & urban design all come in for a bucketing.
… A decade on from the summer of 1995 – when Yorkshire Water cut off supplies to thousands of homeowners and its managing director famously admitted to not taking a bath for three months – environmentalists argue that few lessons have been learnt about drought. …

This time, however, Britain is not alone. Spain is rationing water amid its worst drought for 60 years, draining public swimming pools. Portugal’s crops are so badly hit it has applied for EU food assistance. Severe droughts are hitting countries from Cuba to Cambodia to Australia.
It is too early to tell whether the dwindling rainfall reflects genuine climate change or just a seasonal blip, but it certainly fits the global warming pattern. And with scientists forecasting still drier summers in future, the race now is to stop drought becoming a permanent feature of British life. …
(3 July 2005)
Just for the record, the drought mentioned across southern Australia appears to have broken, just in time to save this winters grain crop.

Earth getting darker as sunlight decreases
08:41am 7th July 2005

Staff, Daily Mail (UK), PUB
The Earth is getting darker because of pollutants in the atmosphere, scientists claim in a report published today.
The cause of “global dimming” came to light following the September 11 terrorist attacks when flights in New York were grounded and scientists noticed brighter days and cooler nights, the investigation for BBC Focus magazine says.
It is thought atmospheric pollution is to blame. Sunlight is bounced back into space after hitting particles created by car fumes, aerosols and high-flying aeroplanes. …
To the surprise and bewilderment of scientists around the world hundreds of instruments recorded a drop of around 10 per cent in sunshine reaching the surface of the earth from the late 1950s to the early 1990s – that is around 2 to 3 per cent a decade. …
(7 July 2005)

Experts Predict Polar Bear Decline – Global Warming Is Melting Their Ice Pack Habitat

Blaine Harden, Washington Post
SEATTLE, July 6 — As the pack ice that is the bedrock of their existence melts because of global warming, polar bears are facing unprecedented environmental stress that will cause their numbers to plummet, according to a report by a panel of the world’s leading experts on the species.

In a closed meeting here late last month, 40 members of the polar bear specialist group of the World Conservation Union concluded that the imposing white carnivores — the world’s largest bear — should now be classified as a “vulnerable” species based on a likely 30 percent decline in their worldwide population over the next 35 to 50 years. There are now 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears across the Arctic. …
(7 July 2005)

Water Shortage May up Japan Utilities’ Oil Demand

Staff, Reuters

TOKYO – Water shortages in western and southern Japan have forced at least two utilities to reduce hydroelectric generation and crank up oil-fired power plants, spurring market expectations that utilities’ demand for oil may rise this summer, traders said on Friday.

A possibly serious dearth of water in coming months may also affect nuclear power plants, which use huge amounts of the liquid to turn steam-driven turbines and as a coolant, traders said. …
(4 July 2005)

Urban sprawl produces rich pickings for farmland owners

Staff, MSNBC

Urban sprawl in the US is sending the value of farmland soaring to record levels as investors pump money into property development or buy land for recreational purposes, according to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.

The findings, made by the bank’s Center for the Study of Rural America, show that healthy crop receipts in the past two years have led to record highs in net farm income. …
“This is impacting farmland values far beyond cities as urban sprawl forces farmers to sell their land and make purchases in more remote farming regions,” the study said. …

The study also said the sluggish performance of the stock market had led to demand for farmland by investors seeking a safe investment. Urban residents were pushing up farmland values by their “desire to have a quiet retreat in the country”, it said. “Recreational demand is expanding into more remote areas. Land suitable for hunting, fishing and other recreational activities is increasingly in high demand.” …
(5 July 2005)