Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Snippets from the Interwebs 3

China is installing the world's largest system (click link for Technology Review article) for generating electricity by collecting methane gas emitted by fermenting cow manure. Anaerobic digestion systems are very highly favoured in future to digest not only manure, which is what everyone is familiar with but also green and food waste – even special energy crops. It’s true that capturing methane and burning it produces CO2 but the carbon is from the planet’s “currrent account”, not the fossil fuel “deposit account” that contributes to altering the climate. Methane is also 23 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than CO2 so it makes sense to collect and burn it anyway, particularly if by doing so, the obtained energy substitutes for and displaces the use of fossil fuel carbon.
If all the toilet roll inner tubes produced every year in the United States were placed end to end they would stretch for a million miles, or 4 times further than the Moon
Scott paper have announced a new “tube free” toilet roll – click link to see original story
Ocean acidification
This article from the geological society (yes, the original British, established in 1807, one) has more on ocean acidification. Scientists, from the University of Plymouth and the University of Santa Catarina, Brazil have studied the effect, on foraminifera (a species of plankton with a calcium carbonate shell) of increased levels of CO2 in the ocean. They state that at a mean pH of 7.8, the pH level predicted for the end of the century, calcified organisms begin to disappear, and non-calcifying ones take over. The current level is about 8.07. The pre-industrial level was about 8.18, thus ocean acidification is actually a reduction in alkalinity. Sea water des not need to actually become acidic before very serious effects happen.
Unless we curb CO2 emissions (forget climate change for the time being) we risk mass extinctions, degrading coastal waters and encouraging outbreaks of toxic jellyfish and algae. Similar lowering of ocean pH levels were closely associated with massive extinctions in the past.  Plankton are right at the bottom of the ocean food chain and they also sequester colossal quantities of CO2 in their shells, not to mention replenishing the oxygen supply of the atmoshere. We shouldn’t do anything to change them - but we sure as h*ll are doing.
Peak Everything
The World Business Council for Sustainable Development reported, back at the end of last year, that an expert group had been set up by the European Commission  to screen a list of forty-nine "potentially critical" raw materials whose availability to industry could come under threat as global competition for natural resources intensifies. Of particular worry to Europeans are rare earths, collections of metals and elements found in a wide range of gadgets and consumer goods, including batteries used in electric cars. The Chinese are developing a stranglehold on supplies of many of the most important ones. Recycling will never mean as much as it will do when we can’t get enough stuff to make our stuff.
Blade Runner meets Babylon
27 story house
Text and picture adapted from from the New York Times 29/10/2010 (click picture for link to original story)
One family are going to live in this 27 story house in Mumbai. All five of them.
The tower, known as Antilia, is the new home of India’s richest person, Mukesh Ambani, whose $27 billion fortune also ranks him among the richest people in the world. And even here in the country’s financial capital, where residents bear daily witness to the stark extremes of Indian wealth and poverty, Mr. Ambani’s building is so spectacularly over the top that the city’s already elastic boundaries of excess and disparity are being stretched to new dimensions.
Here’s the understatement of the year:
A gawking city has greeted the new tower with a mixture of moralizing and astonishment, envy and condemnation, all sprinkled with Freudian analysis of the most basic question: Why did he do it?
“We are all sort of perplexed,” said Alyque Padamsee, a long-time advertising executive and actor in the city. “I think people see it as a bit show-offy.”
One way to do “food security”
Land grabbing… or at least buying up land.  South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, India, Saudi Arabia, China, Qatar, Kuwait. are buying up large areas in Africa to supply themselves with food and other agricultural products. Also leading the rush are international agribusinesses, investment banks, hedge funds, commodity traders, sovereign wealth funds as well as UK pension funds, foundations and individuals attracted by some of the world's cheapest land.  Here’s a link to an Observer investigation of this trend.
LONDON, Sept 28 (Reuters) - Scotland should produce enough renewable electricity to meet all its power demand by 2025, First Minister Alex Salmond said. "I'm confident that by 2025 we will produce at least 100 percent of our electricity needs from renewables alone, and together with other sources it will enable us to become a net exporter of clean, green energy”


Stuart and Gabrielle said...

Hi Nick,
Nice clear explanation of the current and deposit account of greenhouse gases. So many people just don't seem to understand this important difference.
The world's most expensive house is astonishing. It has been compared (hopefully) to the Taj Mahal but I can't see one iota of architectural beauty in it. Supposedly, this chap creates wealth and jobs for his poorer neighbours and whilst I understand we will always have rich and poor, I worry about the scale of the difference between them. It does seem that Bill Gates has become a super-philanthropist and is encouraging other billionaires to pledge likewise, so it's not money itself that's the problem, just what you want to do with it.

Nick Palmer said...

Thanks for the comment. I'm not sure if you know, but I follow your blog. I try to understand both the rarefied academic and the intensely practical aspects of sustainability and blogs like yours, of people "doing it", really help.