Eco Buzz

Target’s ‘Made to Matter’ Collection Boasts Expansion of Sustainable Products

Triple Pundit - Wed, 2014-04-16 22:32

Target recently unveiled its latest move toward expanding sustainable, organic and natural product offerings. Housed under its “Made to Matter—handpicked by Target” program, 120 new organic or natural health, wellness, grocery and beauty products will roll out to all of Target’s 1,754 stores over the next several months.

The post Target’s ‘Made to Matter’ Collection Boasts Expansion of Sustainable Products appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

Categories: Eco Buzz

This giant vacuum will suck the pollution out of rivers

Gristmill - Wed, 2014-04-16 21:13

Dyson vacuums are legendary; they’re the main reason divorce is so ugly. So imagine what happens when you put that powerful technology to work cleaning rivers instead of rugs.

Did you picture marine trash getting slurped up into the world’s biggest vacuum bag? Ding ding ding! James Dyson hasn’t actually CREATED his super-sucker yet, but he’s made a design for the M.V. Recyclone boat, a.k.a. the U.S.S. Sucky. Check it:

James Dyson

The barge would scoop plastic off of a river’s surface before the junk can make it to the ocean, explains Fast Co. Exist:

The famed designer’s recycling barge, which uses the same cyclone technology as found in Dyson’s vacuum cleaners, has large nets that trap plastic floating on the river’s surface. A suction system then pulls in the waste, where it’s separated and then sent for processing.

Plastic trash in the Pacific got 100 times worse in just the past four decades. When barnacles and fish snack on plastic, you can bet it’ll sneak upward into the food chain. By sucking a little more, Dyson just might help your fish and chips suck a bit less.

Filed under: Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

Here’s what fracking can do to your health

Gristmill - Wed, 2014-04-16 19:33

If you know one thing about fracking, it might be that the wells have been linked to explosive tap water. Of course, a tendency toward combustion isn’t the biggest problem with gas-infused water; it’s what could happen to you when you drink it.

Although the natural gas industry is notoriously tight-lipped about the ingredients of the chemical cocktails that get pumped down into wells, by now it’s widely known that the list often includes some pretty scary, dangerous stuff, including hydrochloric acid and ethylene glycol (a.k.a. antifreeze). It’s also no secret that well sites release hazardous gases like methane and benzene (a carcinogen) into the atmosphere.

So just how dangerous are fracking and other natural gas extraction processes for your health (not counting, for the sake of argument, explosions and earthquakes)? Is it true, as an activist-art campaign by Yoko Ono recently posited, that “fracking kills”?

The answer to that second question is probably not, especially in the short term and if you don’t work on or live across the street from a frack site (which, of course, some people in fact do). But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to start fracking away next to kindergartens and nursing homes: Gas extraction produces a range of potentially health-endangering pollutants at nearly every stage of the process, according to a new paper by the California nonprofit Physicians Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy, released today in Environmental Health Perspectives, a peer-reviewed journal published by the National Institutes of Health.

The study compiled existing, peer-reviewed literature on the health risks of shale gas drilling and found that leaks, poor wastewater management, and air emissions have released harmful chemicals into the air and water around fracking sites nationwide.

“It’s clear that the closer you are, the more elevated your risk,” said lead author Seth Shonkoff, a visiting public health scholar at the University of California-Berkeley. “We can conclude that this process has not been shown to be safe.”

Shonkoff cautioned that existing research has focused on cataloging risks, rather than linking specific instances of disease to particular drilling operations — primarily because the fracking boom is so new that long-term studies of, say, cancer rates, simply haven’t been done. But as the United States and the world double down on natural gas as a cleaner alternative to coal (as this week’s U.N. climate change solutions report suggests), Shonkoff argues policymakers need to be aware of what a slew of fracked wells could mean for the health of those who live near them.

Even given the risks involved in producing natural gas, it’s still a much healthier fuel source than coal; particulate pollution from coal plants killed an estimated 13,000 Americans in 2010, while a recent World Health Organization study named air pollution (to which coal burning is a chief contributor) the single deadliest environmental hazard on earth.

Still, how exactly could gas drilling make you ill? Let us count the ways:

Air pollution near wells: Near gas wells, studies have found both carcinogenic and other hazardous air pollutants in concentrations above EPA guidelines, with the pollution at its worst within a half-mile radius of the well. In one Colorado study, some of the airborne pollutants were endocrine disrupters, which screw with fetal and early childhood development. Several studies also found precursors to ground-level ozone, which can cause respiratory and cardiovascular disease. Silica sand, which is used to prop open underground cracks and which can cause pulmonary disease and lung cancer, was also found in the air around well sites; one study of 111 well samples found silica concentrations in excess of OSHA guidelines at 51.4 percent of them.

Recycled frack water: About a third of the water/chemical/sand mixture that gets pumped into wells flows back up, bringing back not just the toxic fracking chemicals but other goodies from deep underground, including heavy metals like lead and arsenic. Some of this wastewater is treated and recycled for irrigation and agriculture or dumped back into lakes and rivers. Multiple studies found that because the menu of chemicals is so diverse, treatment is often incomplete and has the potential to pollute drinking water supplies with chemicals linked to everything from eye irritation to nervous system damage to cancer, as well as the potential to poison fish. Even if wastewater is contained, spills can be a problem: One Colorado study counted 77 fracking wastewater spills that impacted groundwater supplies, of which 90 percent were contaminated with unsafe levels of benzene.

Broken wells: Drinking water supplies can also be contaminated when the cement casings around wells crack and leak, which studies estimate to happen in anywhere from 2 to 50 percent of all wells (including oil wells, offshore rigs, etc.). Methane getting into drinking water wells from leaky gas wells is the prime suspect in Pennsylvania’s flammable faucets; a study there last year found some methane in 82 percent of water wells sampled but concluded that concentrations were six times higher for water wells within one kilometer of a fracking well. A Texas study found elevated levels of arsenic at water wells within three kilometers of gas wells. (While the Texas study linked the contamination to gas extraction in general, it was unclear what specific part of the process was responsible).

Many of these issues could be improved with engineering advancements, like gadgets that monitor for leaks and capture gas emissions, or hardier cement. Regulation can also play a role: Just yesterday, the EPA released a series of reports on methane emissions that could eventually inform restrictions on them as part of President Obama’s climate plan.

This story was produced as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
Categories: Eco Buzz

Energy Efficiency: The Nation’s Cheapest Energy Resource

Triple Pundit - Wed, 2014-04-16 19:14

What method of electricity generation is cheaper than solar, wind, oil or even coal? Trick question; it’s energy you don’t need to produce in the first place. Energy efficiency programs aimed at reducing energy waste cost utilities only about 3 cents per kilowatt hour, while generating the same amount of electricity from sources such as fossil fuels can cost two to three times more, according to a new report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

The post Energy Efficiency: The Nation’s Cheapest Energy Resource appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

Categories: Eco Buzz

Mark Ruffalo, you are our chosen green celeb! (We hope you like fruit)

Gristmill - Wed, 2014-04-16 19:03

The people have spoken, and one lucky man in Hollywood will be the happy recipient of a fruit basket.  The entire Grist staff just breathed a collective sigh of relief, because this guy can get pretty riled up when things don’t go his way.

That’s right, folks – Mark Ruffalo beat out five fellow actors and one supermodel to be crowned as Grist’s greenest celebrity. What about this rugged hunk won the hearts of our green-minded audience? Was it his outspokenness against the natural gas and oil industry? Was it his valiant efforts to protect water resources through his own nonprofit? Was it the ease with which he makes Henry David Thoreau sound incredibly sexy? Let’s just go ahead and circle “all of the above.”

And Adrian Grenier, if you’re reading this: We’re sorry we don’t have more Entourage fans among our readers. But hey – you know what you can do to change that!

So, Mark, keep an eye out for a delightful collection of seasonal fruit on your doorstep. And since we hope you actually enjoy eating it, we promise it won’t be from Edible Arrangements.

Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics
Categories: Eco Buzz

This velomobile is basically an electric car without the hassle

Gristmill - Wed, 2014-04-16 18:31

If the words “recumbent trike” make your lip curl, we understand. Weird bikes often seem to perpetuate the myth that cyclists are fringey oddballs disconnected from reality. But the ELF deserves a second glance:

A team from Durham, N.C., designed the semi-enclosed, three-wheeled contraption to marry the best aspect of bikes and cars. The result is a low-impact EV that gives you some protection from the elements and plenty of room for groceries. Pedal when you can, but let the solar-powered battery kick in if you’re hauling bags of kitty litter uphill.

The ELF can go up to 30 mph and carry up to 350 pounds, but doesn’t need any of that pesky car stuff like a license plate, insurance, or actual gasoline. The battery’ll charge in 90 minutes when plugged in, carrying you up to 14 miles — farther if you put your thighs to work.

The ELF’s main problem is its $5,495 price tag. Then again, if you’re basically getting 1,800 mpg, it could be worth it — more than 300 ELF owners seem to think so. If, like moi, your wimpiness forever prevents you from turning cyclist, velomobiles like the ELF just might be the gateway drug.

Filed under: Business & Technology, Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

“Years of Living Dangerously” host on the climate change stories we need to tell

Gristmill - Wed, 2014-04-16 16:57

If you thought the title of Showtime’s new series, Years of Living Dangerously, was just a reference to the perils of climate change, think again: “I almost died on that show,” one of its hosts, M. Sanjayan, told us when he came into the Grist office earlier this month.

Sanjayan helps tell the story of climate change by journeying to exotic places like the Andes and Christmas Island. But when he’s not swashbuckling around the world in the name of the environment and science, he’s still vouching for it: previously, as the head scientist at the Nature Conservancy, and now as the executive vice president of Conservation International. He also keeps the conversation going through media outlets like the Huffington Post and CBS News.

We talked with Sanjayan about his brush with death, finding the face of climate change (hint: It’s not a polar bear’s), and coming to grips with the fact that, at this point, we’re going to have to adapt to the hot new conditions we’ve created. And, in our lightning round video at the top of the post, we asked him what we really wanted to know: Neil deGrasse Tyson or Bill Nye?

Here’s an edited and condensed version of our conversation.

Q. We wanted to start by asking you about Years of Living Dangerously and any notable, meaningful moments.

A. I almost died on that show. Yeah. I was actually ready to quit pretty early on – literally almost died.

Q. Wow – what happened?

A. They sent me to the Tupungatito glacier in the Andes, on the Chile-Argentine border. It’s a pretty big mountain. And we were going to the top of it and then cresting it and then going into sort of a caldera to look for very old ice, with an ice scientist by the name of Paul Mayewski. He’s a University of Maine professor. The problem is, we were doing this really fast. And so we base-camped at like 10,000 feet and then in a day we went to 20,000. And it’s very steep, it’s very loose, and there were boulders the size of basketballs coming down the mountain.

We started with a crew of 12 people total. Four of them didn’t summit, which gives you an idea. There was a lot of attrition. The main camera guy we brought from New York got deathly ill on day two. He had to be evacuated out. So we flew in by helicopter a Chilean cameraman to replace him. He got kicked in the head by a horse, so he was out. So the [assistant producer] took the camera and started shooting. The director couldn’t get out on the glacier; she was just sort of throwing up. And I was like, “I’m going to die. I literally could die here.”

Q. Science!

A. Exactly. It gave me a real sense that the scientists we were following on the show were going to the ends of the Earth to get data. Quite literally. And they were risking a lot, in very physical terms, to get what they thought was necessary to learn about the future of the planet.

Another journey I did was to Christmas Island, the Pacific atoll, with a woman named Kim Cobb. Kim studies coral because coral grows in a really unique way that’s very tightly linked to temperature. So you can drill into the coral head and figure out what the ocean temperature was very precisely. I can tell you November 1972, this was the temperature. Really amazing. And then she uses fossilized coral to go back 7,000 years.

Kim was probably in her late 30s, a mom of three, and she’s underwater with a giant, 100-pound drill, drilling cores out of coral. There’s one flight in every week from Fiji and Hawaii. That’s it.

M. Sanjayan.

Q. Did you walk away from that project with a different perspective on climate change?

A. Without a doubt. Look, I’ve gotta tell you, I’ve felt a bit like a fake when I’ve gone out and talked about climate, because I only understood it intellectually. I study it. I read the papers. It was an intellectual argument — it wasn’t a story that I could tell. I didn’t feel it in my bones.

I went on Lettermen a few years ago, and he hammered me on climate. He’s really passionate about climate, and he just came at it really hard. And I zigged and zagged and parodied and joked, and kind of got myself out of there. But I knew how I dodged it – he was asking me something really serious that I couldn’t talk about in any personal way. It seemed distant.

And so part of this was actually going out with these guys and seeing it on the ground myself. And I came away with the sense that these stories now are real.

Q. So would you tell the story of climate change differently now?

A. Yeah. I mean it’s here, it’s now, it’s us. Michael Mann recently had a great quote: “We are the polar bear.” And he’s right — I think this show shifts the focus squarely on the human faces; a preacher’s daughter in the Southeast, a rancher in Texas, Indonesian foresters. Real people who are dealing with real issues right now.

Q. It seems like the conversation has really changed recently from mitigating climate change to adapting to it?

A. I don’t want to give the impression that we’re giving up on mitigation. I think emissions control, a price on carbon, and things like reforestation schemes are all hugely important. But I think focusing on adaptation makes [sense]. It makes the argument much more present. And it’s what people are worrying about — if you’re a Texas rancher, the here and now is way more important to your life than something in the future. And by dealing with the here and now, I think it provides a brilliant entry point to dealing with the long-term challenge.

Think about what it was like when, during President Garfield’s time, we realized that there were these things called microbes. They were invisible and tiny and they could really fuck you up. And no one would believe you that [they were] there. Lister in Europe had already figured this out, and it was sort of trickling into America, but not really getting accepted. But when Garfield got shot, he died of an infection — not because of the bullet wound, but because doctors didn’t know about [microbes], and they stuck their finger in the wound.

What’s interesting about that anecdote is we didn’t say we’re going to get rid of microbes. Now that we know they’re there, our goal isn’t to get rid of microbes; it’s adaptation. And that provides a much better entry point to then deal with bigger questions of sanitation and public health.

You almost see an analogy today with climate change. By focusing on adaptation and here and now, I think it allows you to have the bigger discussion about what’s happening to the planet.

Q. I think there’s a thirst now for scientists to become communicators. Where in your evolution did you decide, “I’m a scientist but I’m also going to embrace this role as a communicator.”

A. I grew up in West Africa in a very insulated family very far away from any kind of city. And so as a small family, we told stories. I think the storytelling was always within me. It just got married to my passion of science.

I think you’re right, though, that more scientists are understanding it. Maybe 10 years ago, 20 years ago, as a scientist your responsibility was to publish a paper. That was it. I think people generally understand now that there’s so many more venues to communicate outside of peer-reviewed publications. And that’s just how the world has evolved. Corporate CEOs are being more communicative now, too, it’s just what it demands.

I mean Darwin did that, right? Darwin went and did this big experiment and then sat on his work for a decade plus. And then he communicated it. And then he went on the road with it — literally did a road trip.

Q. Still, there’s so much uncertainty about how climate change is going to play out. We can’t even predict what the weather is going to do tomorrow. That’s hard for people to deal with – even folks who know that climate change is a real threat.

A. You could look at people and say, “Without a doubt, you’re very likely to die of heart disease. That’s what’s going to kill you.” And they will say, “Great, I understand what you’re saying. I will start my diet tomorrow. I will start exercising this weekend.” Clearly. But I am more optimistic, I think more recently there has been a movement — I do sense that things are changing, and quite dramatically. And this Showtime series will do part of it. I think we’re at a real tipping point, and it kind of depends whether it’s the next two years or the next 10 years. And I’m hoping it’s the next two years.


Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy
Categories: Eco Buzz

No, the IPCC climate report doesn’t call for a fracking boom

Gristmill - Wed, 2014-04-16 16:19

You might have heard that the latest installment of the big new U.N. climate report endorses fracking, urging a “dash for gas” as a bridge fuel to put us on a path to a more renewable energy future. These interpretations of the report are exaggerated, lack context, and are just plain wrong. They appear to have been based on interviews and on a censored summary of the report, which was published two days before the full document became available.

The energy chapter from the full report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says “near‐term GHG emissions from energy supply can be reduced” by replacing coal-fired power plants with “highly efficient” natural gas–burning alternatives — a move that “may play a role as a transition fuel in combination with variable renewable sources.” But that’s only true, the report says, if fugitive emissions of climate-changing methane from drilling and distribution of the gas are “low” — which is far from the case today. Scientists reported Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that methane measurements taken near fracking sites in Pennsylvania suggest such operations leak 100 to 1,000 times more methane than the U.S. EPA has estimated. The IPCC’s energy chapter also notes that fracking for gas has “created concerns about potential risks to local water quality and public health.”

To protect the climate and save ourselves, the new IPCC report says we must quit fossil fuels. That doesn’t mean switching from coal to natural gas. It means switching from coal and gas to solar and wind, plugging electric vehicles into those renewable sources, and then metaphorically blowing up the fossil-fueled power plants that pock the planet.

Stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations at “low levels” requires a “fundamental transformation of the energy supply system,” the IPCC says. Overall, its latest report concludes that we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 70 percent by midcentury, and stop producing any such pollution by the turn of the century, if we’re to keep warming to within 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.7 F. And nothing is more important in meeting those goals than revolutionizing the way we produce electricity. Humanity’s thirst for electricity is the biggest single cause of climate change, with the energy sector fueling a little more than a third of global warming.

Wind, solar, hydro, and other renewable forms of energy account for a little more than half of all new generating capacity being built around the world, the report says. But that is not enough. The report notes that renewable energy still requires government support, such as renewable portfolio standards and prices and caps on carbon emissions.

But, as desperately as we need to be curbing fossil-fuel burning, we just keep increasing it instead. Greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector rose 3.1 percent every year from 2001 to 2010. In the 1990s, they rose just 1.7 percent annually. “The main contributors to this trend were a higher energy demand associated with rapid economic growth and an increase of the share of coal in the global fuel mix,” the report states.

Of course, slaking our thirst for electricity with renewables wouldn’t just be good for the climate. The energy chapter highlights “co-benefits” from the use of renewable energy, “such as a reduction of air pollution, local employment opportunities, few severe accidents compared to some other forms of energy supply, as well as improved energy access and security.”

A revolution doesn’t sound so scary when you put it that way.

Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy
Categories: Eco Buzz

Global Renewable Energy Investment Drops, But Installed Capacity Rises

Triple Pundit - Wed, 2014-04-16 16:04

2013 global renewable energy investment fell for a second year running, but costs kept falling and renewables' share of power generation kept on growing. In an annual report on renewable energy investment, the FS-UNEP Collaborating Centre and Bloomberg New Energy Finance review 2013 developments and conditions in renewable energy investment worldwide.

The post Global Renewable Energy Investment Drops, But Installed Capacity Rises appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

Categories: Eco Buzz

Foldaway Wind Turbine Charges Phones Outside [Video]

eco.psk - Wed, 2014-04-16 16:00
Trinity can charge a mobile or tablet.
Categories: Eco Buzz

Power plants lose legal bid to douse you with mercury

Gristmill - Wed, 2014-04-16 15:45

When it proposed strict pollution rules in late 2011, the EPA paid no heed to the $9.6 billion worth of costs that coal-burning power plants would have to swallow. Its only concern in drafting the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards was keeping mercury and other poisons out of the environment — and away from Americans — by demanding that power plants use scrubbers and other clean-air technology.

And on Tuesday, over the legal whimpers of the coal industry, federal judges said that’s just fine.

Coal power plants are responsible for half of the country’s mercury pollution and two-thirds of its arsenic emissions. By cracking down on this health-harming, brain-damaging, ecosystem-ruining pollution, the EPA has estimated that the standards will prevent 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks — every single year. Thousands of lives will be saved.

The power plant owners felt it was unfair that the government cared about public health but didn’t care about their bottom lines. More mercury in your air means more money in their pockets. So they sued. And they were joined in their battle by the governments of conservative-led states like Alaska, Kansas, and Michigan.

On Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected the lawsuit, ruling 2-1 that the Clean Air Act does not require the agency to consider costs to an industry when imposing new pollution rules on it.

“Basically, the petitioners and our dissenting colleague seek to impose a requirement that Congress did not,” one of the judges wrote in her opinion.

Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics
Categories: Eco Buzz

James Dyson Wants To Clean Our Rivers With A Vacuum Boat

eco.psk - Wed, 2014-04-16 15:15
The M.V. Recyclone barge is a concept designed to suck up plastic and other trash from rivers and seas.
Categories: Eco Buzz

Why it matters that Democrat Mary Landrieu is bashing Obama over energy

Gristmill - Wed, 2014-04-16 14:58

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) is running against President Obama instead of her likely Republican opponent, Rep. Bill Cassidy. Her first reelection ad of the year compiles clips of her standing up for her state’s oil and gas interests, attacking Obama for policies like the brief moratorium on offshore oil drilling imposed in 2010 after the disastrous BP oil rig explosion. “It’s 300,000 people that go to work every day in this industry,” Landrieu intones. “You can’t just beat up on them.” Implicitly working-class men — they have beards and engineer hats, but they’re too old to be hipsters — look on in solemn assent.

Landrieu also recently brought together 10 other Democrats from red or swing states to push Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline by the end of May. “It has already taken much longer than anyone can reasonably justify,” they argue in a letter sent to the president last week.

This is surely a good strategy in Louisiana, a state where Obama lost to Mitt Romney by more than 17 points — and where the oil industry directly employs around 62,000 workers and pays $1.4 billion a year in state taxes.

And Obama knows it’s in his interest to have Democrats hold onto the Senate. That’s why Paul Waldman of The American Prospect argues that there’s no harm done by Landrieu’s pro-fossil-fuel pandering in her new ad:

I’m guessing the administration doesn’t mind a bit.

They know this is all in the game. And you’ll notice that the ad doesn’t actually describe anything in particular Landrieu has done. It’s a bunch of clips of her talking—talking on TV, talking at hearings, and so on. Landrieu is showing voters that she feels what they feel, and is angry on their behalf. If I were the administration, I’d say, “Talk all you want.” This is just posturing, and it doesn’t do any real damage if a southern Democrat postures against the Democratic party or a Democratic president. Because on balance, they’d rather have even a not-particularly-loyal Democrat in that seat than a Republican.

Now, there are certainly times when posturing turns to action, and real harm can be done. Some conservative Democrats in the past made a great show of being as critical as possible of Democratic goals, forcing the party to cater to them, and then siding with Republicans in the end (former Nebraska senator Ben Nelson comes to mind). But if all you’re doing is striking a pose? Knock yourself out.

Waldman’s analysis is correct in the abstract, but not totally applicable to Landrieu. Landrieu doesn’t just talk about how she prefers oil industry profits to clean air, clean water, and a stable climate. She acts on it. And her views matter more than those of the average senator, now that she is chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. That’s why her ad brags that she holds “the most powerful position in the Senate for Louisiana.”

As I noted upon her ascension to the chairmanship, the American Petroleum Institute is quite happy with her taking on that role. She has a lifetime score of just 51 percent from the League of Conservation Voters, the second lowest of any Senate Democrat. Here are some of her career lowlights, from my previous piece:

In 2011, she voted in favor of an amendment sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to reverse the EPA’s decision to label CO2 a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. … In 2011, she voted against the Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act, introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), which would have done exactly as its name suggests. She voted for an amendment to the 2012 transportation bill that would have opened up vast areas of coastline to offshore drilling, potentially damaging coastal industries and interfering with military activity.

Landrieu also recently suggested that the U.S. consider lifting the ban on exporting crude oil, which would incentivize more drilling.

In her new ad, Landrieu boasts of having “forced” the Obama administration to end the offshore drilling moratorium. Surely she exaggerates, but it’s certainly true she did everything in her power to get those oil rigs back up and pumping immediately after one of them despoiled her state’s coast. Here is what The New York Times reported in October 2010, upon the administration’s lifting of the moratorium:

Senator Mary L. Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat who has been among the most vocal critics, called it “a step in the right direction” but said the administration must speed the granting of permits and offer more clarity about the new rules.

Ms. Landrieu has single-handedly blocked Mr. Obama’s nomination of Jack Lew as White House budget director to protest the moratorium and said she would not release her hold yet. “When Congress reconvenes for the lame-duck session next month, I will have had several weeks to evaluate if today’s lifting of the moratorium is actually putting people back to work,” she said.

Robert L. Gibbs, the White House press secretary, called Ms. Landrieu’s continuing hold on Mr. Lew’s nomination “unwarranted” and “outrageous” and called on her to stop playing politics with the nomination.

Oil and gas companies know who their friends in Congress are, and how to reward them. That’s why they are donating generously to Landrieu’s campaign. If they thought it would be more beneficial to have a Republican in her seat, they wouldn’t support her. It actually helps the industry to have a few Democrats from dirty-energy-producing states who will side with the Republican caucus on energy and climate issues, lending the anti-environment stance a veneer of bipartisanship.

From an environmental perspective, Landrieu presents an interesting conundrum. Any Republican from Louisiana would be even more disdainful of environmental protection than she is, and if Republicans take over the Senate, the Energy Committee would be chaired by Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who is also more anti-environment than Landrieu. On the other hand, if Landrieu lost reelection while Democrats retained the Senate, she could be replaced as energy chair by a pro-environment Democrat such as Maria Cantwell of Washington. But with Democrats also facing competitive races this year to hold onto seats in states like West Virginia, Alaska, Iowa, Colorado, North Carolina, and New Hampshire, it is unlikely that they could lose Landrieu’s seat without losing the Senate.

Still, what Louisianans need is not more pandering to their dirty incumbent industries, but real talk about how rising sea levels, extreme weather events, oil spills, and salinization of the Bayou are threatening their land, biodiversity, health, safety, and livelihoods. Unfortunately, they won’t be getting it from Mary Landrieu, or from her Republican opponent. The oil industry still has too tight a hold on Louisiana.

Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics
Categories: Eco Buzz

Here’s a wind turbine you can toss in your purse

Gristmill - Wed, 2014-04-16 14:17

Hate it when a strong breeze musses your hair without generating any electricity? Same. So the Trinity portable wind turbine is a welcome invention, in addition of reminding us of The Matrix.

© Skajaquoda

Trinity will love he who is The One is only 12 inches tall when collapsed, so it can slip into your bag or backpack. Whip it out and it extends to 23 inches high, with three aluminum legs. Adds Treehugger:

The device has three wind blades (a Savonius design) that can be folded into the body of the device for transport, and open up when deployed, which spin a 15W generator and charge a 15,000 mAh battery when the wind is blowing.

It can charge your phone and other gadgets via a USB port, and at four pounds, the thing probably weighs less than your laptop. Donating $249 to the Kickstarter campaign will get you a Trinity of your very own come January, if Minnesota research firm Skajaquoda meets its $50,ooo goal:

It also has a little hole in each leg for stakes so Trinity won’t, you know, blow away. Speaking of which, does that mean we can make electricity just by blowing really hard? Someone get a Trinity so we can test this out. I, at least, am full of hot air.

Filed under: Business & Technology, Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

Bike Turns Plastic Cups Into 3D Printer Ink

eco.psk - Wed, 2014-04-16 14:00
The Mobile Fab is a beautiful example of innovative recycling.
Categories: Eco Buzz

Scientists are using mushrooms to get gold out of your old phone

Gristmill - Wed, 2014-04-16 13:03

The chemicals and heavy metals in our phones are bad news — both for the workers exposed to them during mining and manufacture, and for anyone who lives near the landfill where they offgas. (Although the iPhone’s gotten greener, there’s still a LOT of mercury and chlorine inside that shiny li’l puppy, making for unappetizing drinking water.)

Even worse, extracting precious metals from old phones is pretty toxic, requiring cyanide and sulfuric acid. Or rather, it was pretty toxic, until scientists figured out you could do it by using ‘shrooms.

It turns out if you smash a phone into powder and pass it through fungi roots, a.k.a. mycelium, the chemically engineered mycelium will basically be a magnet for the gold. “Heh heh, totally!” explain the scientists. “Hey, is that a dragon eating a rainbow?”

Not only can ‘shrooms do the job, but they’re about four times as efficient as the old toxic methods, according to Gizmodo:

The researchers say this process recovers 80 percent of the gold, compared to just 10 or 20 percent in the common but toxic chemical processes.

We knew ’shrooms were great. Don’t mind us as we lie in this field here for about eight hours. We’re just testing this gold recovery thing.

Filed under: Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

Why it’s a big deal that half of the Great Lakes are still covered in ice

Gristmill - Wed, 2014-04-16 11:07

Over the winter, as polar vortices plunged the U.S. Midwest into weeks of unceasing cold, the icy covers of the Great Lakes started to make headlines. With almost 96 percent of Lake Superior’s 32,000 miles encased in ice at the season’s peak, tens of thousands of tourists flocked to the ice caves along the Wisconsin shoreline, suddenly accessible after four years of relatively warmer wintery conditions.

The thing is, all of that ice takes a long time to melt. As of April 10, 48 percent of the five lakes’ 90,000-plus square miles were still covered in ice, down from a high of 92.2 percent on March 6 (note that constituted the highest levels recorded since 1979, when ice covered 94.7 percent of the lakes). Last year, only 38.4 percent of the lakes froze over, while in 2012 just 12.9 percent did — part of a four-year stint of below-average iciness.

And as the Great Lakes slowly lose their historically large ice covers over the next few months, the domino effects could include lingering cold water, delayed seasonal shifts, and huge jumps in water levels.

Already, the impact of this icy blockade can be felt. On March 25, five days after the official beginning of spring, the Soo Locks separating Lake Superior from the lower Great Lakes opened for the season. But after a long and harsh winter, Lake Superior’s nearly 32,000 square miles were still nearly entirely covered in ice. It would be another 11 days before the first commercial vessel fought its way across Lake Superior — with the aid of several dedicated ice breakers — and down through the locks.

Detroit District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers FacebookThe trip across Lake Superior to the Soo Locks, which usually takes 28 hours, took these first ships of the season nine days. A third ship had to return to Duluth after being damaged by the ice.

More than 200 million tons of cargo, mostly iron ore, coal, and grain, travel across the Great Lakes throughout the year. Even a little ice can make a big dent on this total. Only three shipments of coal were loaded up during March — 69 percent less, by volume, than last year. Shipments of iron ore from the northern reaches of Minnesota were so low that the U.S. Steel plant in Gary, Ind., had to scale back production significantly in early April.

A sluggish start to the shipping season is just one of the cascading effects of the Midwest’s cold and icy winter. Some are good, and will allow the region to recover from years of historically low water levels. Others, like this delayed shipping season, less so.

Like the shipping troubles, some of the more unexpected things the lakes and their ecosystems could face in the next few months are the direct result of the lingering ice and cold:

  • Throughout the winter, huge numbers of ducks that feed by diving below the water for fish ended up starving to death. Connie Adams, a biologist in New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, told the AP that the die-off was “unprecedented.”
  • Next in line for concern are a huge number of the Lakes’ fish species. Warming water temperature often biologically triggers migration to traditional spawning grounds, and experts expect that northern pike, lake sturgeon, steelhead, and rainbow trout could make moves far later this year. As Shedd Aquarium research scientist Solomon David told Michigan Radio, later egg laying could mean younger and far weaker fish come next winter, leading to an even longer impact.

Other changes will come about long after the ice melts, as water levels are predicted to rebound to levels not seen in the last few years. Seasonal shifts in water levels, with winter lows and summer highs, are normal. “If things stayed in sort of a balance, we would see all the Lakes’ water levels going up and then going down. Every year: up, down; up, down,” says Drew Gronewold, a scientist with NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory. But, “when water levels change a lot over time, something is happening in one of those two parts of the season.”

Over the last few years, the summer highs and winter lows have both been well below their long-term average, as climate change produced far more rapid rates of evaporation. In December 2012, the Michigan-Huron system set a new low, breaking a record that had stood since the 1960s, according to Keith Kompoltowicz, the chief of watershed hydrology for the Army Corps of Engineers’ Detroit District.

A three-year look at water levels in Lakes Michigan and Huron, including a six-month forecast, from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District. The solid red line marks recorded levels, the red vertical lines a range of six-month projections, and the blue shows the long-term averages. The black bars indicate record highs and lows.

Though Kompoltowicz says the usual March and April rise in water levels is occurring later than usual this year, already the lakes are seeing water levels that they haven’t had for several years. This past March marked the first time since April of 1998 that Lake Superior had reached its long-term average. And over the next few months, melting snow will feed the lakes and colder water could lower the rates of summer and fall evaporation. The amount of rain could either add to or subtract from this total. The Army Corps of Engineers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration generally forecast water levels six months out, and predicted levels for this September, Kompoltowicz says, range from 10 to 13 inches higher than lake levels were a year ago.

Here’s what higher lake levels could mean:

  • Shippers may be hurting now, but higher lake levels will allow them to load more cargo per boat later this year, according to the Chicago Tribune. These higher water lines also mean that those who manage the Great Lakes’ harbors won’t have to invest huge sums of money in dredging out the bottom. Ships will carry more, at less of a cost, once the ice melts.
  • Fluctuations in water levels could also help maintain the diversity of plant and animal species along many coastal wetlands, according to Kurt Kowalski, a wetland ecologist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Great Lakes Science Center. Too many years of consistently low water allows certain species, often non-native plants, to take over.
  • And even far less large-scale ripple effects will matter. Scott Stevenson, the executive vice president of the company that manages Chicago’s harbors, told the Tribune that higher water levels will allow them to rent out 100 expensive slips along the lakefront that shallow water took out of commission last year.

Though water level changes even over a several year period are normal, the rebound from record-low water levels is going to be a relief from the hand-wringing of the last few years. But it will likely be a temporary one. A hot summer with little precipitation could mute the effects of the icy winter. And, even if the lakes have more water this year, 2014 could be nothing more than a blip as climate change continues to wreak havoc. “We don’t know, as this winter really exemplified, what’s going to happen,” Gronewold says. “If we’re going to have three more severe winters, or flip back to three more winters like we’ve had the past few years.”

This story was produced by Atlantic Cities as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Filed under: Climate & Energy
Categories: Eco Buzz

Shell Joins Pledge For Drastic Cuts In Greenhouse Gases, But…

Triple Pundit - Wed, 2014-04-16 05:12

Shell signs Trillion Tonne Communiqué pledge to cut greenhouse gases but it looks like an empty promise.

The post Shell Joins Pledge For Drastic Cuts In Greenhouse Gases, But… appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

Categories: Eco Buzz

Fuzzy Math on Pennsylvania Fracking Jobs

Triple Pundit - Wed, 2014-04-16 04:03

Incumbent Republican Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania has been campaigning for re-election on a platform that touts the 200,000 jobs created through his support for natural gas fracking, but the Pennsylvania fracking boom is not all that it's cracked up to be.

The post Fuzzy Math on Pennsylvania Fracking Jobs appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

Categories: Eco Buzz

Seafood Traceability Makes for Better Products and a Healthy Bottom Line

Triple Pundit - Wed, 2014-04-16 03:59

The environmental benefits of seafood traceability are obvious: By tracking a fish through the entire supply chain –- from capture to plate –- you can ensure the fish wasn’t caught using illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices. But many companies, like Norpac Fisheries Export, are discovering that traceability is also good for their bottom line.

The post Seafood Traceability Makes for Better Products and a Healthy Bottom Line appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

Categories: Eco Buzz
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