Sunday, 21 March 2010

Snippets from the Interwebs

When I used to write the Jersey Friends of the Earth newsletter in the 90’s, I would have a feature called Snippets whereby I would highlight lots of different stories in shortened form. There really is too much to keep up with environmentally nowadays so I will be doing the same “feature” every now and again. Here is the first.
Snippets Snippets Snippets Snippets Snippets Snippets
Champagne Charlies will notice a difference soon! Champagne bottles are going to be slimmed down for the environment. The bottles are as heavy as they are to contain the high pressure of the CO2 gas inside but they are being redesigned to lose excess glass and thereby lighten up.
link to article about champagne bottles
Genetically modified crops are touted as a saviour for global food production by increasing food yields, reducing pesticide use etc.
The India Times reports that the cotton boll worm has already developed resistance to Monsanto’s BT cotton.  Monsanto are now pushing BT cotton 2 – the sequel -  so yet another treadmill of increasing tech “solutions” and subsequent failure is born –they are even criticising the farmers! Ironically cotton yields are falling and pesticide use is increasing which is exactly what GM crops were promised to do – not!
Technology probably won’t be enough to stave off the forthcoming  difficulties in feeding the world. Initial successes of the “Green revolution” are looking  a bit jaundiced now.
Just for those who say there is no point in the West doing anything about CO2 emissions because China is building a new coal plant every week… When you know the other side of the story, that the denialists “accidentally” leave out, you might not be so cocky.
Also this story and this one show that those voices in America who argue against investing in renewables as pointless because “China will never do it” are dangerously misled/misleading. China will get to a sustainable energy supply system far in advance of the USA, not to mention a huge competitive advantage.
Plastics used in food containers often contain Bisphenol-A – a plastic additive that has got a lot of bad press recently. This latest research report might sound the death knell for the routine widespread use of this substance which is so prevalent in plastic bottles, food cans etc.
I was caught out myself because my beloved Sigg water bottle has a lining that proved to contain Bis-A. Sigg have apologised and have set up a “return and replace” initiative. Their new water bottles do not contain this chemical.
As if that wasn’t enough, Bis-A might have a hand in the tidal wave of obesity that assaults us in every other reality TV programme out there. This Newsweek article suggests that hormone mimicking chemicals, such as Bis-A, might engender excess fat cells in the very young. Tributyltin may also be an “obesogen” that causes more fat cells. So too some phthalates (used to make vinyl plastics, such as those used in shower curtains and, until the 1990s, plastic food wrap), and perfluoroalkyl compounds (used in stain repellents and nonstick cooking surfaces).
Things that make you go hmmm…
Extract from Simple Earth media blog follows:
“Now tobacco may be able to redeem itself by producing solar cells, according to researchers at the University of California at Berkeley.  By infecting tobacco plants with a genetically engineered virus, scientists have been able to “produce artificial photovoltaic and photochemical cells” which are biodegradable and may end up being “more environmentally friendly than traditional methods of making solar cells”.”
Grow your own solar cells - tobacco now healthier!
Annie Leonard is the face and voice of “The Story of Stuff” which I’ve linked to and talked about several times before. It’s simply great. Here she is live at Bioneers 2009
There are very significant moves afoot for companies to clean up their environmental act and become more sustainable.Here’s some links to how some of the biggest are getting on.
How a Subaru plant achieved a zero landfill status

Walmart sustainability summit (2007)
“The main event was a speech by CEO Lee Scott in which he stated in no uncertain terms that Wal-Mart is in this for the long haul, and expects its suppliers to be in it for the long haul too. Scott pointed out that while his company is aiming for zero waste and 100% renewable energy, this still only accounts for 8% of its footprint, and that Wal-Mart must green its supply chain if it has any chance of becoming sustainable”
Just in case anyone still believes that global warming is all a hoax or something cooked up by Al Gore to make money, just see how far back the warnings went.
Nicolas Sarkozy has proposed a “joie de vivre” index to complement/replace GDP. Like Bhutan’s happiness index and similar indicators, from such as the New Economics Foundation, these initiatives posit that simply measuring GDP is a very poor (sometimes literally) way of measuring what people really value. A lot of political effort is expended on improving GDP figures because that is the current measure of “economic” success unfortunately the consequences that follow often conflict with peoples’ sense of well being.

There are moves to tax sugary fizzy drinks in the States – Coca Cola watch out!
Algae as a productive source of biofuel is now being seriously investigated.  Like much research in renewable energy, we have lost 3 decades worth of time because of the yuppy/Republican years  when the world ignored what was necessary and went on a consumerist binge literally fuelled by cheap oil.
This story shows that algae was being investigated as far back as the Jimmy Carter years before subsequent political developments pulled the funding plug which caused some of the genetic legacy of suitable candidate organisms to be lost in the subsequent Bush type administrations, although Clinton bears some responsibility.
Do compact fluorescents use more energy than incandescents if manufacturing is taken into account? Life cycle analyses show that both LED and compact fluorescent bulbs are not even close. Both technologies use much less energy in total.
Insurance companies throw in the towel
Taken from the website
Property insurance may no  longer be available in the future if we can’t get control of climate change, says Nick Starling, the Director of General Insurance and Health for the Association of British Insurers. Climate change could end the continuing availability of property insurance.
The insurance industry might be overwhelmed by losses and  no longer be able to pay out for property losses with increased climate change, the Association of British Insurers announced this week.
Having examined scientific research commissioned by the British Meteorological Office, the ABI found that even the minimum of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit rise in global average temperatures (2 C) would increase annual British property losses to $77 million from inland flooding and windstorms.
A global average temperature rise of 10.8 F (6 C) was also played out in scenarios, along with  average global rise of 7.2 F (4 C) as well. At those levels the Director of General Insurance and Health for the Association of British Insurers said property insurance would simply no longer be possible for the insurance industry, which depends on actuarial history to determine risk.
Humanity is now moving completely outside of risk levels associated with human history.

Magnus Larsson: Turning dunes into architecture

This is a somewhat wacky, but highly creative idea, which involves forming desert sand dunes into buildings. A liquid is injected in a 3D pattern which solidifies the sand into a sort of concrete. Loose sand is removed and Bob’s your Uncle! Spectacular buildings

Reprinted from the wonderful Inhabitat – design will save the world – website
Scientists at Genomatica Inc. recently announced (click for original article) that they have developed strains of bacteria that are able to produce plastic without the use of oil or natural gas. The sustainable process utilizes little more than sugar and water to produce butanediol (BDO), which can be manufactured into everything from plastics and fibers to pharmaceuticals. Genomatica estimates that within a year the energy-efficient process will cost less than current hydrocarbon-based processes – a revolutionary development since close to 3 billion pounds of BDO are manufactured each year.
Peak oil – we’re probably there already. The world is much closer to running out of oil than official estimates admit, according to a whistleblower at the International Energy Agency who claims it has been deliberately underplaying a looming shortage for fear of triggering panic buying.

Here's a link to an abstract of a paper by Kuwaiti scientists which gives peak oil production in 2014. They also estimate world oil reserves are being depleted at 2.1% per year using current extraction techniques.
New labels listing the carbon dioxide emissions associated with the production of foods, from whole wheat pasta to fast food burgers, are appearing on some grocery items and restaurant menus in Sweden, which is expected to cut the nation’s emissions from food production by 20 to 50 percent, reports the New York Times.

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