Disconcerting stories here (climate threatens species at every altitude) and here (2010 was the warmest year, ever – around the world) remind us of the growing problem and consequences of climate change. However, on a positive note, we increasingly know how to address it.
Archive for January, 2011
Oklahoma family challenges Keystone oil pipeline
January, 17 2011
Oklahoma land owners fighting TransCanada over Keystone pipeline
The Globe & Mail
January, 17 2011
Oklahoma family sues TransCanada over land claim – Family of homesteaders argue against Canadian company’s move to claim land
The Calgary Herald & The Edmonton Journal
January, 17 2011
Oklahoma family fighting TransCanada efforts to build crude pipeline on its land (TransCanada-Keystone)
The Canadian Press
January, 17 2011
TransCanada Faces Legal Challenge From Oklahoma Landowners
DOW JONES NEWSWIRES (FOX NEWS BUSINESS & NASDAQ)
January, 17 2011
TransCanada pipeline hits Oklahoma roadblock
January 17, 2011
One of the largest deposits of hydrocarbons in the world, Canada’s Tar Sands, are also among the most carbon-intensive to produce, meaning their production and refinement produce more carbon emissions than most other sources of crude oil. That means more greenhouse gases and a greater contribution to global climate change.
A new report put out by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) includes maps marking the various carbon intensities of crude oil sources. I’ve taken those maps and merged them to produce one clear picture (click to see full size):
Aside from one relatively small Iranian oil source that involves a large amount of gas flaring, the Tar Sands operation is the most carbon-intensive.
Countries considering the import of Tar Sands crude should think twice.
We’ve got a small window to draw down our greenhouse gas emissions, increasing dependence on the world’s most carbon-intensive fuels is a bad idea.
Mo carbon, mo problems.
I wish I had a better picture, but this is “The Skunk,” a mostly black Toyota Camry with a white stripe of paint covering the hood, roof and trunk space. It looks like a police car but it’s cool – literally. It’s a real life example of everyday folks (in this case, my girlfriend’s family) taking advantage of the albedo effect to keep things cool, and it’s a small example of the much larger albedo change we need to start integrating into everyday design if we’re going to fight climate change.
Josh Romm, at Climate Progress, names “1 wedge of albedo change through white roofs and pavement,” as one of his 12-14 “wedges” the entire planet must achieve if we are to keep carbon dioxide levels at 450ppm (an important number because it allows us to avoid runaway, catastrophic climate change).
Think of the wedges as chunks of a pie chart that add up to a stable, climate friendly energy supply (that’s what climate change is all about – how we get our energy). Other wedges include fuel efficiency (e.g. “…all cars 60 mpg, with no increase in miles traveled per vehicle.”) and forestry, “End all tropical deforestation. Plant new trees over an area the size of the continental U.S.” See all of Romm’s wedges and his larger climate solution here.
Whitewashing – Tom Sawyer Style
Greenwashing is a popular topic in conversations about sustainability, but it’s small potatoes compared to the importance of whitewashing. Move over Tom Sawyer – here’s how Romm breaks down the value of a good whitewash:
“Over 50% of the world population now lives in urban areas, and by 2040 that fraction is expected to reach 70%. Pavements and roofs comprise over 60% of urban surfaces (roofs 20 to 25%, pavements about 40%). Akbari et al. estimate that permanently retrofitting urban roofs and pavements in the tropical and temperate regions of the world with solar-reflective materials (e.g. white and light coloured surfaces, my addition) would offset 44 billion tonnes of emitted CO2, worth $1.1 trillion at $25/tonne.”
Put another way:
“Permanently increasing the solar reflectance of urban roofs and pavements worldwide would offset 11 billion car-years of emission. This is equivalent to taking the world’s approximately 600 million cars off the road for 18 years.”
As a climate solution, Romm notes that his albedo change is technically geoengineering, although he prefers geo-reverse-engineering, “…since we are mostly undoing the albedo decrease caused by all the dark roofs and dark pavement we have covered the planet with.”
White is the “new black” in the fight against climate change. It’s what’s cool.
An annotated transcript of a radio ad airing in Washington D.C., paid for by TransCanada and part of a concerted effort to convince American decision makers that a tar sands pipeline is in the U.S. national interest. Environmental groups on both sides of the border are questioning the accuracy of the ad, particularly its claims about positive economic benefits and pipeline safety: http://dirtyoilsands.org/whattheadsdontsay
Look at the incredibly low energy return on investment (EROI) for tar sands oil in this graph from American Scientist – in some conditions a negative return on the energy invested. This is what people are referring to when they say burning natural gas (EROI of close to 20:1) to extract and process tar sands bitumen is like spinning gold into straw. We’re not even talking about the greenhouse gas emissions involved.
In an increasingly carbon constrained world, one where electric car owners and their societies will favour the cleanest, most efficient conversion of energy sources into electricity, there won’t be a place for tar sands.
Energy return on investment (EROI) for different energy sources. Lighter color indicates range of EROI, depending on conditions. Source: Charles A.S. Hall and John W. Day, Jr. in “Revisiting the Limits to Growth After Peak Oil” in American Scientist, May-June, 2009.
Here’s what the original article has to say about investing in sources with a lower EROI, like solar:
“There are situations in which investing in energy resources with very low EROI values can make sense — for example, if most of that energy investment is front-loaded and the subsequent operating energy requirements are relatively low. This is the case with solar water heating. It takes a lot of energy to produce copper absorber plates, piping, and other solar collector components — but most of those energy inputs are “upstream” (that is, they have already been expended by the time your solar water heating system is hooked up).
It can make good economic sense for an individual — or a society — to invest in that energy producing system as long as the ongoing energy input is renewable (sunlight, wind, or wave power, for example) and as long as the system can be maintained and operated for a long time.”
It also makes good environmental sense, investing in energy systems that don’t continually release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
I’ve made a lot of seemingly important purchases later in life – the things many people think you can’t live without. My car comes to mind (a relatively fuel-efficient, safe and second-hand car purchased last December).
I’d like to think I made the purchases with a clear mind about their frugal use and environmental impacts (the car is insured for “pleasure” use and I don’t use it for daily commuting). My first cell phone hopefully falls into a similar category.
It’s true, I have never owned a cell phone, a fact that shocks people when they hear I’m an environmental communicator. My friends have implored me for years to “get with the 1990′s,” annoyed by my “offlineness,” but truth be told, the reason I’m finally getting one is because A) I’ve launched a new press release service that requires more constant contact with clients and B) I’ve found a phone that I’m comfortable with from both safety (SAR radiation level) and environmental impact (recycled and non-toxic materials) points of view.
The phone is the Samsung Blue Earth, and it has one of the lowest SAR radiation ratings on the market (.196 vs. 1.17 for the iPhone 4). It’s even got a solar panel on the back that can top up the phone’s charge via outdoor or indoor lighting. It also has decent features, including a touch-screen, integration with Gmail (so my 6000 media contact database will be close at hand), and it does limited video recording and has a specialized document viewer. I haven’t tried out the eco-mode settings yet, but apparently it’ll conserve battery power, remind me to take out the recycling as well as count my carbon emissions for trips spent walking vs. taking the car.
I’m not pretending that this phone doesn’t have an environmental impact, but after reading about the effects North American demand for electronics is having in China, particularly with respect to rare earth mines, I’m happy to report that this phone has taken a pass on at least one rare earth (Beryllium). The solar panel is also a positive step, reducing power consumption and increasing battery life.
As a personal artifact that conspicuously appears in our daily life, I like the symbolism of this cell phone’s solar panel. I also like the sustainable values and myths integrated into the phone’s operation and user interface. If you’re going to have something in your personal effects that represents a positive sustainable future, why not start with your cell phone?
The Blue Earth is a a small success in more sustainable cell phone design – hopefully we’ll see more from Samsung and other cell phone makers (ahem, Apple) in the future.
That’s the headline in today’s Guardian newspaper – an interesting read.