Sunday, June 29, 2008

Listen to the Children

Too often we adults shun advice from children as too naïve and not worth our time to listen to.

Here is a twelve-year-old who has something meaningful and worthwhile to say and actually says it better than most adults. She addressed the United Nations meeting in Brazil with an elegance and style far beyond her years.

Please, take the time to listen, it is only a five minute segment of her speech but in that short time she paints reality far more succinctly than any adult I know ever has.

From her we have so much to learn and just maybe we can learn to share what we have with those who have nothing.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bunge Foods Responds Harshly to Protestors

I found this request for help on Rainforest Action Network website and want to pass it along to as many people as possible. Please help if you can.

Last week, thousands of indigenous people and small farmers in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul peacefully blocked roads, railways and invaded dams to draw attention to the global food crisis and policies that favor agribusiness over small farms. Despite the non-violent nature of their actions, six of the participants protesting in front of a Bunge soy-crushing facility were attacked with tear gas and rubber bullets, suffering severe injuries.

Bunge claims to defend human rights, but the company's actions speak far louder and more violently than its words.

Rainforest Action Network is calling on us to take action and hold Bunge accountable for these actions.

Bunge has blocked all incoming e-mails from anybody using Get Active—one of the most common online organizing tools. They effectively blocked emails from RAN supporters. Hence the fax action.

You can click here for more information on how to take action, including joining the RAN action to fax Bunge CEO Alberto Weisser’s office, demanding that he take action to prevent attacks on peaceful demonstrators.

Hundreds of people protested at the Bunge soy-crushing facility, where they were hoping to reclaim bags of food staples produced by family farmers that were supposed to be distributed to the community.

Military police swarmed the peaceful gathering and attacked non-violent protestors. We must hold U.S. corporations accountable for the violence that occurs in and around their facilities.

Bunge allowed a peaceful protest for food to become a violent confrontation between a corporation that benefits from record grain prices and hungry people who are increasingly displaced from their land by soy plantations.

Bunge Foods is a Bunge North America Company whose parent company is Bunge Limited headquartered in White Plains, New York. Bunge is one of the largest grain traders, grain millers, oilseed crushers and shortening and oil refiners.

From their website: “Our integrated agribusiness, fertilizer and food products businesses position us to meet the world’s growing demand for affordable, high quality food and capitalize on global trends in demographics, agriculture and economics. Integration enables us to supply global needs efficiently and create value in a variety of market conditions.”

It seems their goal to ‘capitalize on global trends’ overrides people’s right to peacefully protest.


The Everglades Could Soon be Whole Again

Florida Governor Charlie Crist is expected to announce a $1.75 billion deal to essentially buy the U.S. Sugar Corporation, including 187,000 acres of farmland that once sat in the northern Everglades. The purchase, reported by Time magazine’s Michael Grunwald, would resurrect the almost decade-old restoration project to rebuild the Everglades.
It is hoped that the project will re-establish storage reservoirs, treatment marshes and a flowway that will reconnect Lake Okeechobee to the Glades. This could help recreate the original north-to-south movement of the "River of Grass", and eliminate damaging pulses of excess water into coastal estuaries. That would be good news for panthers and gators, dolphins and herons, ghost orchids and royal palms.

The Florida Everglades was once a vibrant, free-flowing river of grass that provided clean water from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay. Today, this extraordinary ecosystem is dying due in part to U.S. Sugar Corporation who has been responsible for years of sucking water out of the glades and pumping polluted runoff into the lake. Now that ex-governor Jeb Bush’s industry-friendly aides, who pumped up U.S. Sugar with obscene amounts of subsidies and have fought hard to eliminate funding for the restoration project, have been replaced with more eco-aware legislators, the project to restore and preserve this American treasure could now be back on track.
The plan was approved in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2000 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in partnership with the South Florida Water Management District and numerous other federal, state, local and tribal partners, to enhance water supplies and maintain flood protection. It includes more than 60 elements, will take more than 30 years to construct and will cost an estimated $7.8 billion.
Once again, global warming is cited as a an important reason for why this project needs to be undertaken. According to a University of Miami expert in coastal marine environments, Dr. Harold Wanless, speaking at the Everglades Coalition’s annual conference in January 2008, recreating enough of the natural flow of water to the 2.4 million-acre marsh to rebuild its eroded peatlands could hold back salt water intrusion from rising sea levels and protect South Florida's drinking water supply. He pointed to conservative estimates that predict a two foot increase in sea levels by 2100, but cited other studies that indicate the rise could amount to 20 feet by 2200, which would submerge all of South Florida.
On a personal note, I visited the Everglades during summer vacations in the early 1960’s and again in 2005. The Everglades is not nearly as vibrant and teaming with life that I remember in earlier times. It feels good to finally report some good news for the planet.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Solar-Hydrogen House

This guy has the right idea on how to get off the grid, and is actually acting on it.
Mike Strizki, a civil engineer, living in East Amwell New Jersey, has discovered a method of making fuel out of sunlight and water. He generates enough electricity and hydrogen to heat and cool his home, and power his hydrogen-powered and electric-powered cars.
Imagine never having to stop at a gas station again, or paying a utility bill. Or being able to power your house from your car.
More details here.
He offers a great alternative to batteries for storing electricity by using hydrogen.
It might take a few years to make the cost of this system affordable, but it shows great promise for a new hydrogen-electric economy, one that eliminates or sharply reduces the greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change.
This is the type of ingenuity we need to get us away from fossil fuels and pollution.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

You say you want a Revolution

Let’s clean up our land, Let’s clean up our air, Let’s clean up our water. Very lofty goals. Everyone should be involved. But what is it going to cost? Let’s face it, cost is the only factor that either prohibits us or causes us to do anything.

According to a report by the Paris-based International Energy Agency, the cost will be approximately $45 trillion over the next several decades.

This is the price tag placed on the necessary "energy revolution" that will be needed to greatly reduce the world's dependence on fossil fuels while maintaining steady economic growth. More from the report: the world needs to build 1,400 nuclear power plants and vastly expand wind power, in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050.

Now that we have a bottom line figure and a game plan we can get started, right?

Trying to get the world’s population to agree on what is necessary is not feasible. “We require immediate policy action and technological transition on an unprecedented scale," IEA Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka said.

A U.N.-network of scientists concluded last year that emissions have to be cut by at least half by 2050 to avoid an increase in world temperatures of between 3.6 and 4.2 degrees above pre-18th century levels. This is assuming that greenhouse gases (and therefore mankind) is the main causal factor of global warming. Other scientists say the increase in global temperature is a natural phenomena and cannot be avoided.

Even if the climate change is a natural occurrence, not induced by mankind, we will all benefit from participating in a revolution of such a grand scale.

We have the technology in place right now to lessen our dependence on fossil fuel. Solar technology, wind technology and even nuclear technology, all, if allowed to be put into place, will greatly help alleviate our dependence on fossil fuel which would result in drastic decreases in greenhouse gas emissions..

Why aren’t we using them? Why are we stubbornly holding on to old ways of heating and cooling our homes? Money.

It is expensive to convert our traditional methods of heating and air conditioning to less eco-damaging methods.

Even if every government on this planet would miraculously agree on a method of such a large transition, coming to a decision on who would bear the cost would require a revolution in thinking. This financial investment is more than three times the current size of the entire U.S. economy, 1.1% of the world’s gross domestic product.

"Carbon capture and storage" technology, allowing coal-powered power plants to catch emissions and inject them underground, is needed now. This would only be an initial first phase. This plan can easily be seen as necessary in order to prevent future contamination of our atmosphere while developing technology to prevent contamination in the first place. Sort of like stopping the leak in the bucket until we build a better bucket.

That better bucket will need to come in the form of solar, wind and nuclear power plants. The world would have to construct 32 new nuclear power plants each year, and wind-power turbines would have to be increased by 17,000 units annually. Nations would have to achieve an eight-fold reduction in carbon intensity — the amount of carbon needed to produce a unit of energy — in the transport sector.

This is a huge undertaking. We can’t get politicians to agree on how to best spend our tax dollars to benefit tax payers with what is left over after they distribute their windfall to special interest groups, how are we ever going to get them to think about cleaning up the environment? If we follow the established method of relying on politicians to pay for this revolution, this price tag is going to be much greater than $45 trillion.

I think we can all agree that we are on a dangerous course regardless of what is causing global warming. Our whole ideology on how we use energy to support our lifestyles needs to be re-examined. Kate of Hills and Plains Seedsavers directed my attention to a wonderful animation that so marvelously portrays mankind’s existence that I just have to share it here. It is entitled Carbon Weevils.

Our current lifestyles are not sustainable enough to promote the healthy life we all want. Greenhouse gases are a major contributing factor to rising hospital visits which in turn increases health costs and reduces quality of life. Rising demand for fossil fuel increases the price of that fossil fuel. The increasing number of food recalls is testament that mankind cannot maintain a safe food supply due to the sheer number of people to be fed. The number of starving people is rising due in part to converting food crops into fuel crops. Even though the world produces enough food to feed everyone, if it isn’t profitable to do so we won’t. Corporations will only participate if it is in their best financial interest.

We simply cannot continue on this path. Getting the world to act together in the best interest of each and every one of us will indeed require a revolution.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Biomass energy cubes: alternative to coal

A biomass briquette that could become to coal what ethanol has been to gasoline, is being made from a mix of plant materials that include wood, corn stalks and switch grass. Unlike raw biomass, the cubes can be blended with or substituted for coal in existing burners with little or no modifications. This advantage might enable fuel cubes to enable companies to use biomass without building new facilities.

Burning these fuel cubes creates far less pollution than fossil fuels and producing them has potential to boost rural economies. As with ethanol, there are concerns about whether harvesting material for the cubes will generate side effects that outweigh their value as an alternative.

The aggregate is not limited to wood, corn stalks and switchgrass, which is what makes this idea so versatile. Other grains (such as alfalfa), grasses, agricultural residues or even municipal solid waste can also be used as substitutes or in addition to these items. The process compresses the substances into dense, coal-like briquettes and processes them until just the right moisture content is achieved much like the process used to make BBQ grill briquettes.

They generate nearly twice as much energy as other biomass, putting it on par with coal from the western United States. The cost is competitive with coal in some markets.

When burned, the cubes emit 90% less sulfur dioxides, 35% less particulate matter and 30% less acid gases compared to coal. That’s based on testing at the University of Iowa with supervision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Burning coal and gas releases carbon into the atmosphere that has been stored underground for centuries and was therefore not part of the natural balance. Using prairie grasses or grains won’t contribute because the carbon emitted was only recently stored in the plant material. Harvesting trees as a raw material would release carbon that had been stored there for decades as well as increasing pressure to clear forests. So the claim that using these briquettes instead of coal won’t contribute to global warming is true, depending on the raw material used.

A push is underway by a subgroup of Clean Energy Minnesota that is trying to come up with a system for scoring biomass fuels based on things like how much net energy they produce, how much carbon they divert from the atmosphere, and how else they affect the economy and environment.

Just as with the debate over using food products for ethanol based fuel, there is likely to be disagreements over using wood for biomass energy which could result in higher material prices for other industries.

The briquettes, cubes or pellets need to be produced close to the point at which they are grown in order to realize a transportation cost savings, because shipping costs for unprocessed biomass are far greater than for fossil fuels as they contain less energy per unit volume than fossil fuels.

For further reading:

Twin Cities Daily Planet

Biomass Energy

Role of Native Grasses in Wisconsin’s Bio-Energy Economy

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Are We There Yet?

Do we have a grand plan for taking care of this planet or are we just stumbling along trying to make the best of the situation?
Planned communities are pretty popular here in the U.S. for those people who don’t want to take a lot of responsibility for their living environment. They hire homeowners associations to decide on and enforce whatever rules that every inhabitant is forced to live by.
Would this concept work if it were applied to the entire planet?
Perhaps it is something we need to look into. This free-form self-managed method of caring for our environment has left us with many areas of the earth decimated through the free-reign plundering of natural resources. We have created groups and devised plans to clean up afterwards but why don’t we have oversight groups with well thought out usage plans whose permission would have to be attained before the plunder takes place? I know there aren’t any places remaining that this plan could be experimented with but if we began to turn our attention to that line of thinking it would lead to a more conservation conscious public outlook.
We could possibly even learn (retrain ourselves) to put the long-term health of the environment as a high priority right up there with profit making. It just doesn’t seem right that the few people who lay waste to the landscape in search of resources for the implied purpose of benefiting so many should not add the cost of cleanup to the cost of extraction without leaving a mess for someone else to deal with. We all participate in the destruction of our plant and the depletion of its resources every time we participate in wasteful fuel consumption, purchase plastic products, or throw away any still-useable item. Understanding that we must participate in this wantonness in order to survive, why can’t we also understand that our lifestyles can be scaled back to be less resource-wasteful. It can be done, it is practiced every day. The road block to this is of course convincing yourself that you can live just as comfortably with less. Denying the chance to prove it to yourself is putting the responsibility onto someone else.
Just as with homeowners associations we have put the responsibility onto someone else. Only, in the case of the environment, the responsibility is overwhelming and cannot be accomplished by just a handful of groups. Especially since it seems we are at odds about the importance of such groups.
Just because we have organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency or a Department of Conservation or the World Wildlife Fund or a Center for Environmental Law doesn’t mean our responsibility ends with them. We can still do little things to make their jobs easier. And in doing so provide benefits to all of us.
We can do things like pick up trash that some unthinking or uncaring slob has thrown to the ground. We can stop the use of animal parts as jewelry or decoration. We can grow our own food, give away items that are no longer useful to us but may benefit someone else instead of tossing it into the landfill or having sit around collecting dust. This “out of sight out of mind” thinking needs to be put to rest. Just because we throw it away doesn’t mean we are no longer affected by it.
Plastic is killing off large numbers of wildlife and it seems we will never be rid of innovative plastic items that we just cannot live without. So at least we can be more responsible in its use and not just callously throw it on the trash heap. Help reduce the use of plastic if you can with more sustainable items such as reusable cloth or cotton shopping bags, ask fast food restaurants and coffee shops to use your reusable cups instead of their throw away cups, if they refuse then don’t patronize these establishments. Your body could probably use a break from these nutrient-deficient places anyway.
Some magazines are in the habit of including a lot of paper in the form of several subscription cards and other loose-leaf advertising, write to them and ask them to stop this practice. If they don’t want to listen to you then stop subscribing to the magazine.
The excess paper, in the form of advertising, that your credit card companies, cell phone service providers and other monthly billings include amount to a lot of excess useless paper that gets thrown in the trash or shredded. Take the time to ask them to stop this wasteful practice. If enough voices are heard they will have to listen.
We simply must understand the effect that each and every one of us has on our environment. It is a cop out to say ‘I am just one person and cannot possibly have any effect’. If this thinking were true then why is it that we have piles of trash? Each person throws trash out and it accumulates into huge mountains. So please don’t hide behind this lame excuse. Let’s each of us think about how we are part of the picture and each one of us please do something every day.
So, to answer the original question, No, we do not have a master plan. But, all of us collectively working as if there was a master plan to keep this planet healthy wouldn’t that in effect be a master plan? We can make a difference.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Is Global Warming A Real Problem or Not?

One group of well-educated and well-intentioned scientists warn that the world’s population needs to act immediately to stave off the possible devastating effects of a warmer planet. And they have a lot of photographs and scientific documentation to back them up.

Another group of equally well-educated and well-meaning scientist warn that taking up arms against global warming is not only a waste of resources but could do more harm than good.

Who do we believe?

Arthur B. Robinson, who led a team of scientists at the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine in researching the hypothesis of the Kyoto Protocol, claims his research shows that greenhouse gas has a very negligible effect on global warming. He even goes so far as to say that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide have been beneficial to the environment. Robinson’s report outlines sharp increases in growth of forests in the United States and the Amazonian rain forests, arguably due to the increase in carbon dioxide emissions; trees respond well to carbon dioxide fertilization.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of the world's leading climate researchers, sees a greater than 90% likelihood that most warming over the last 50 years has occurred because of human-caused emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

At the core of the argument is not if the planet is warming but what is causing the higher temperatures. Throughout millennia the earth’s climate has gone through temperature changes. Warming and cooling is a natural cycle of any living thing. Your own body goes through this cycle. Earth’s oceans go through this cycle. Why are we raising such a overblown fuss with this particular natural phenomena?

Is it just human nature that when the number of participants gets larger the less likely the chances of agreement on any topic? Is this what we are seeing?

If there is proof that humans are not causing global warming and there is proof that that humans are causing global warming, where do we go from here?

There are some conspiracy theorists that claim that Chicken Little scientists created the scare in order to get more people involved in caring for the environment. Sounds a bit implausible but not entirely impossible.

While these two camps duke it out in the scientific arena, and the remainder of the world population that cares to chooses sides, the rest of us will go about living our daily lives enjoying the Summer sun, admiring Autumn’s changing colors, lamenting Winter’s freezing temperatures, and welcoming Springs promise of new life.