April 29, 2008

Bioremediation and Mushrooms?

Jim Wilson / New York Times
The town of Ft. Bragg, CA is considering what to do about an old mill site which is polluted with dioxins.

"Among several toxic hot spots discovered here were five plots of soil with high levels of dioxin that Georgia-Pacific says were ash piles from 2001-2, when the mill burned wood from Bay Area landfills to create power and sell it to Pacific Gas & Electric."

The traditional solutions for this kind of problem include hauling thousands of truckloads of the contanimated soil to a landfill about 200 miles away, or burying the contaminated soil on site in a plastic-lined, 1.3-acre landfill.

"Alarmed by the ultimatum, residents called in Paul E. Stamets, author of “Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World.”
Using the mushroom method [of bioremediation], Mr. Stamets said, [the contaminated soil] is put in plots, strewn with straw and left alone with mushroom spawn. The spawn release a fine, threadlike web called mycelium that secretes enzymes “like little Pac-Mans that break down molecular bonds,” Mr. Stamets said. And presto: toxins fall apart. "

"At the April 14 meeting, Georgia-Pacific promised to finance a pilot project. Roger J. Hilarides, who manages cleanups for the company, offered the city at least one 10-cubic-yard bin of dioxin-laced soil and a 5-year lease on the site’s greenhouse and drying sheds for mushroom testing. And the City Council said it would approve the landfill but only if it came with bioremediation experiments. "

Beetles turn forest into CO2 Producer

From a study in Nature - "Mountain pine beetle and forest carbon feedback to climate change"
One of the effects of the global temperature rise is that the winter temperatures are no longer cold enough to kill mountain pine beetles in British Columbia. The warmer weather in the summer provides better conditions for the beetle as well. The result is that the mountain pine beetles are killing huge numbers of trees in the British Columbia forests.
Natural Resources Canada

(Red means dead in pine forests.) The dead trees release the carbon that they have captured throughout their lives making the British Columbia forests a net carbon producer until at least 2020. The pine beetle blight is now affecting 32 million acres, at least an order magnitude larger area than any previous recorded infestation. The result will be an average release of 13 million metric tons of CO2 each year between the year 2000 and 2020.

To put this in context, the amount of carbon released from this section of British Columbia is about 75% of all the carbon released from all Canadian forest fires.

As more carbon is released, the earth's temperature rises and allowing the pine beetle to expand into larger areas of the forest. Positive Feedback Loop.

The NY Times wrote about this in an article titled "The Beetle Factor in a Carbon Calculus"

April 5, 2008

Refrigerators - A Buyer's Market

Let me tell you my story about replacing my 21 year old refrigerator about a year ago.

My son's science teacher required every student in the class to conduct an energy audit of their house. I was stunned to find out that our refrigerator was the largest consumer of electricity in our house - by far.

It was consuming about 4,730 kilowatt hours of electricity a year. That’s about the same as leaving 5 - 100 watt light bulbs on all day, every day of the year.

I replaced the refrigerator with a new Energy Star refrigerator.

The new refrigerator uses about 80% less electricity than the old refrigerator. (That's not a typo!)

The first thing I noticed was that my electric bill went down by $40 a month!
Probably more importantly, this translated into a reduction of almost 2 tons of Carbon emissions per year.

(The rule of thumb in New England is 1 lb. of Carbon per kilowatt hour. The rule of thumb can climb as high as 2 lbs. of Carbon per kilowatt hour in other sections of the country where they use more coal fired plants to produce their electricity.)
On top of that, the new refrigerator is far quieter and filters our water.
Talk about a win-win-win! The planet is healthier, my family is healthier, and my finances are healthier.

Why am I mentioning this now? Because it is a good time for you to buy a new refrigerator if you haven't done so already.

It turns out that Energy Star refrigerators made after April 28, 2008 must be yet again another 20% more efficient than the refrigerators sold a year ago. So you can save even more than I did!

When shopping for a new refrigerator, check http://www.energystar.gov/ to see if the one you are considering meets the new standards.

The May 2008 Consumer Reports has an article on selecting refrigerators starting on page 35.
What are you waiting for?

April 3, 2008

Online Bill Paying Saves 24 Square Feet of Forest per Year

Think your family going green won't make a difference?

Wrong, says a U.S. study released on March 27, 2008 that shows one household ditching paper statements for Web transactions would save 24 square feet of forest a year.

By switching to electronic bills, statements and payments, the average American household would save 6.6 pounds of paper a year, save 0.08 trees, and not produce 171 pounds of greenhouse gases -- the equivalent of driving 169 miles.

The survey, whose results were vetted by the Environmental Protection Agency, said it would also mean avoiding the deforestation of 24 square feet of forest, the release of 63 gallons of wastewater into the environment, and save 4.5 gallons of gasoline used for mailing.

"Individuals who think they are only one person and can't really have an impact should re-evaluate their position. Even small contributions can have a impact when aggregated," said Craig Vaream, a member of the PayItGreen Alliance and JPMorgan Chase.

Solar Thermal - Can it replace coal?

Some people are starting to believe that Solar Thermal technology can supply over 90% of grid power, while reducing carbon emissions. High-efficiency is achieved because solar thermal plants do not need to convert energy to another form in order to store it. The future certainly looks bright for solar thermal technology!

One of the most common arguments against large-scale use of renewable energy is that it cannot produce a steady, reliable stream of energy, day and night. Ausra Inc. does not agree. They believe that solar thermal technology can supply over 90% of grid power, while reducing carbon emissions.

“The U.S. could nearly eliminate our dependence on coal, oil and gas for electricity and transportation, drastically slashing global warming pollution without increasing costs for energy,” said David Mills, chief scientific officer and founder of Ausra.

Time-Lapse Video: Retreating Glacier Valdez, Alaska

This remarkable image sequence captures a series of massive calving events at Columbia Glacier near Valdez, Alaska.

Composed of 436 frames taken between May and September of 2007, it shows the glacier rapidly retreating by about half a mile (1.6 kilometers), a volume loss of some 0.4 cubic miles (1.67 cubic kilometers) of ice or 400 billion gallons (1.5 trillion liters) of water.

The time-lapse was taken as part of the ongoing Extreme Ice Survey (EIS), an ambitious project to capture global warming-induced glacial retreat in the act. Beginning in December 2006, photographer James Balog and his colleagues set up 26 solar-powered cameras at glaciers in Greenland, Iceland, Alaska, the Alps, and the Rocky Mountains. Each unit will take a photograph every daylight hour until fall 2009.

In 2008, Balog's team began to return to each of the camera sites to collect images. In the end, they will have more than 300,000 images to analyze and stitch together to produce more dramatic videos like this one.

This kind of multiyear effort, says Balog, is necessary to "radically alter public perception of the global warming issue."