Sunday, 28 August 2011

Snippets from the Interwebs 8

Windpower marches on

Coal, if you discount the negative externalities it produces, generates the cheapest power around. Natural gas is probably second (and a helluva lot cleaner, pollution-wise and greenhouse gas-wise).

The Brazilian authorities have this week (August 24th) confirmed that wind power in the country currently costs less than natural gas, after a series of energy auctions saw wind farm operators undercut other forms of energy generation.

By the end of last year, wind power in the U.S. was cost-competitive with natural gas, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) reported in January.


Ocean Acidification, global warming’s probably more evil twin, may be one of the root causes of the devastation of oyster farms in the Pacific NorthWest


The seas off Canada’s Newfoundland coast have been one of the world’s richest fisheries for nearly 500 years. Click here for a CBC archive about the rise and fall of the Atlantic cod fishery. In the 1950s modern trawlers arrived in the area and by 1992 the fishery was closed for lack of fish. Cod stocks in the area remained at less than 5% of their former levels for decades in spite of the closure.  Since then the Grand Banks have been a case study for fisheries mismanagement and total ecosystem collapse brought on by over-fishing, a problem that is a severe threat to fish-stocks in the rest of the world.

This new study therefore brings some hope to the area. Canadian researchers from Queen’s University have found that cod are now at 34% of their pre-collapse peak, and biomass of all predatory fish is at more than 50% of pre-collapse levels. The collapse of cod has led to subsequent increase of haddock and pollock as well as herring which is what the cod used to eat. This imbalance of the food chain will take a longer time to recover.


For 1 in 6 people, access to water requires hard work: hours of walking, waiting in line and heavy lifting.

The time spent fulfilling this basic need keeps many children out of school and prevents women from carrying out all the domestic and income generating work for which they are responsible. In much of the developing world, it is often necessary to walk five miles (8km) or more every day to fetch water. In the dry season, it is not uncommon to walk twice this distance. Collecting water can be dangerous too. The traditional method of carrying water – carrying a 5 gallon (20 litre) water bucket on the head – can severely damage the spine, causing severe pain. Step forward the Wello – click this link for their website - a cheap plastic roller tank that takes a lot of the effort out of fetching water



Taken from Greenpeace’s website:

The world's #1 sportswear brand, Nike, has accepted our Detox challenge: today (August 17th - NP) it has officially committed to eliminating all hazardous chemicals across its entire supply chain, and the entire life-cycle of its products by 2020. This is a major win for our campaign to protect the planet’s precious water, and create a toxic-free future.

Nike's announcement comes just five weeks into our Detox campaign, which began when we launched the "Dirty Laundry" report, revealing commercial links between major clothing brands - including Nike, Puma and Adidas - and suppliers responsible for releasing hazardous chemicals into Chinese rivers.

Puma was first to break away from the pack, opening up an impressive lead by announcing that it would go toxic-free. Puma's commitment to remove all hazardous chemicals from its entire product-portfolio must have left their competition wondering how they were going to raise their game. Now, Nike and Puma are the front-runners, and Adidas is far behind.


Here’s an interesting piece of research from “Environmental Health Perspectives” headlined:

“Lower Prevalence of Antibiotic-resistant Enterococci On U.S. Conventional Poultry Farms That Transitioned to Organic Practices”

It basically says that farms that transition to organic methods of rearing poultry quickly find a much lower prevalence of antibiotic resistant enterococcus (nasty) bacteria in their flocks. Not so much from the well known organic practises but more from the removal of the routine use of antibiotics that are in conventional food stuff, put there to “promote” growth etc. In cattle production, the routine use of antibiotics, described as ionophores because of their growth enhancing characteristics, rather than their bug killing abilities, can cause confusion. The U.S. Department of Agriculture sent a letter to Tyson Foods in 2007 to remove labels from chickens that said "raised without antibiotics" because of the use of ionophores in their feed.

The conclusion of the paper?:

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that the voluntary removal of antibiotics from large-scale U.S. poultry farms that transition to organic practices is associated with a lower prevalence of antibiotic-resistant and MDR Enterococcus.”

(NP) MDR= multi drug resistant


Plastic2oil recently announced that they would be “mining” the waste plastic landfill sites of  a large paper processor using their own technology that converts waste plastic (usually mixed polymers that have limited reusability) into a diesel oil substitute.


Renewable energy continues to make large strides, which is a conclusion you probably won’t have reached if you follow the mainstream media. Renewables 2011 goes into detail about the fast progress that has been made. Click for full report – Renewables 2011

“Renewable resources wound up supplying 16% of global final energy consumption and showed strong growth in all three sectors tracked – power, heat and transport. When it comes to electricity, renewable resources supplied an estimated 20% of global annual demand. Renewable power accounted for approximately 50% of new electric capacity globally and delivered nearly 20% of the global electricity supply. By early 2011, fully 25% of global power capacity from all sources came from renewables”

Renewables accounted for about 26% of China’s total installed electric capacity, 18% of generation, and more than 9% of final energy consumption in 2010.”

“Germany met 11% of its total final energy consumption with renewable sources, which accounted for 16.8% of electricity consumption, 9.8% of heat production (mostly from biomass), and 5.8% of transport fuel consumption. Wind power accounted for nearly 36% of renewable generation, followed by biomass, hydropower, and solar photovoltaics ”


source of quotes:


This article explains how India could utilise portions of the “desert” state of Rajasthan for large concentrated solar power plants that could supply much of the energy they need in just a few years. CSP is where the sun is concentrated by mirrors onto a central point to generate steam.



According to Shelton Group (a PR investor relations company), “a tipping point in American consumer interest in green products has occurred with 70% of consumers in our surveys saying they are searching for green products where green is defined as more energy efficient, natural, sustainable, etc.” Specifically, a few of Shelton Group’s market research findings in support of this green tipping point are:

Recycling: Growing in popularity with 64% of Americans saying they regularly recycle aluminum cans, plastic bottles  and newspapers

Energy Efficient Lighting: 55% said they’ve replaced most of their incandescent light bulbs with compact  fluorescent or LED bulbs

Energy Efficient Appliances:54% said they’ve purchased an Energy Star qualified appliance


Biofuels deservedly have a dodgy reputation due to the Americans’ efforts at turning corn (maize) into ethanol which led to a jacking up of world food prices and wasn’t even of  any real benefit because the process took more or less the same amount of energy to create the biofuel as was available when using it. See EROEI… (or even the Elmer Fudd version of the article - someone obviously has too much time on their hands…).

Corn-into-ethanol is not the end of the biofuel story because the principle is still sound even though the previous practice was dumb.

Taken from The Green Economy Post:

12 Synthetic Biology Biofuel & Biochemical Companies to Watch

A detailed review of 12 U.S. based synthetic biology, biofuel & biochemical companies that are developing third and fourth generation biofuels, bioindustrial & household chemical, and food additive products


Spin merchants continue to ply their morality free trade.

click for original article

“Over the last six months, some of the largest virgin fine-paper manufacturers in North America have launched major marketing initiatives holding themselves up as environmental leaders.  They support these claims by postulating that virgin paper manufacturing generates the same or less greenhouse gas emissions than recycled fine paper”

The Paper Task Force Final Report differs:

making fine paper from waste paper is a more efficient process than making paper from trees, it uses less energy, less water, creating less effluent, and generating fewer greenhouse gas emissions.  These facts are supported by the most comprehensive, independent, scientific lifecycle analysis of the impacts of paper manufacturing”


Taken from

Bank of America announced an agreement in June, with ProLogis, and NRG Energy and the US DOE’s Loan Program Office, to finance the deployment of up to $2.6 billion of commercial and industrial rooftop solar installations, all across the USA.

This will be the largest distributed solar deal in history, which will create the equivalent of over 10,000 job-years, while providing 733MW of distributed solar energy, which is enough to power 100,000 homes across 28 states.


Taken from

In York, the Nestlé plant, that churns out over a billion Kit Kats and 183 million Aero bars annually has achieved a zero waste milestone four years early.  For a company and brand that received sharp criticism last year for procuring controversial sources of  palm oil last year, Nestlé and Kit Kat’s waste diversion efforts are more steps in the right direction.


Conventional agricultural practices have a large impact on greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, also soil erosion etc.

Organic produce and pasture based meat and dairy have less of an environmental impact than their conventionally produced counterparts, a recently released report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found. Titled A Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health, the report includes lifecycle assessments of 20 popular types of meat, dairy and vegetable proteins.

A couple of quotes:

Meat, eggs and dairy products that are certified organic, humane and/or grass-fed are generally the least environmentally damaging (although a few studies of the impact on climate show mixed results for grass-fed versus confined-feedlot meat,” according to the report. “Overall, these products are the least harmful, most ethical choices.”

“Well-managed grazing and grass-fed operations are better for the environment…Organic feed production and grazing practices are also better for the environment.”


A lot of recycling is of the type that collects a raw material and recycles it into something else. This is described as “repurposing”. The type of recycling whereby a plastic bottle is used to make another plastic bottle is somewhat rarer.

Pepsico have announced the 7up recycled PET bottle click here for press release

ecogreen bottle


A ubiquitous component of the global supply chain is the pallet. Annually, 500 million new pallets are manufactured. They become part of the roughly 2 billion pallets that are in circulation in the U.S. at any given time. 93% of all goods move on a pallet.

Observation from one of my day jobs means I can vouch for the fact that the waste involved in the use of pallets is large.

Step forward the Ecoaluminum pallet made from recycled aluminium. It’s lighter than wood, doesn’t absorb chemicals mould etc


Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Jonathan Livingston Festo

 I think this “flying seagull” creation is fascinating. Talked about here, in one of the always amazing TED talks, by one of its creators.

Also featured in the longer video is the Manta ray and the Airjelly – a flying jellyfish like device. Not featured is their Air penguin (click for link) 

interview with the creators

Article about Festo Smartbird


Sunday, 21 August 2011

Some like it hot – not! Climate Crock of the Week

Another masterpiece from Pete Sinclair. In it he contrasts the views and rhetoric of the usual suspects such as Rush Limbaugh, Lord Monckton, Alex Jones and Joe Bastardi, who misrepresent the truth, with actual events in the real world. He also shows just how long science has been warning the public about the dangers of altering the atmosphere  - at least 55 years. Now that the pigeons are coming home to roost climatically, and eventually climactically, it’s about time for the “we told you so”s to start. As an illustration of just how insane and incorrigible some people are, the propaganda blitz from the denialist pundits is still in top gear.


Saturday, 20 August 2011

How much would you pay to save your bacon?

Unfortunately there is is a lot of propaganda around that alternative or renewable energy sources are not economic or efficient, compared with conventional sources.  Such distorted thinking seeks to persuade people that conventional energy sources, such as coal, are a lot cheaper than wind, tidal, solar energy etc.
We heard a local voice, Mr Derek Bernard, express such propaganda during the question session that followed Sir David King’s recent (July) address at Durrell about the effects that climate change can have in store for small islands. Mr Bernard had the nerve to claim that the figures on the performance of wind energy etc just did not add up. Professor Sir David King mildly commented that he can’t have been looking at the same figures that he had seen…

This article (click link) from sketches out the fundamentally misleading nature of such propaganda, which rarely compares apples with apples because, in the evaluation of economic and environmental costs, an awful lot is left out of the accounting procedures used.

An extract follows:

“Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal unearths some rather alarming truths about the “externalities” associated with the extraction, transportation, processing and combustion of coal for the production of electricity in this country. When these externalized costs, which include health, environmental and economic impacts, are factored in, this doubles or even triples the cost of coal-powered electricity, making it more expensive than solar, wind, and other alternative sources”

Another aspect of the “conventional” view weighing heavily on our prospects for getting a more sustainable civilisation any time soon is the amount of money invested in it compared with general items of expenditure.

Here's a link to an article about the continuing campaign by the Daily Mail to muddy the waters and steer people away from all things alternative energy related.

Diverging slightly, here’s a great graphic.

This reminds me of a frequent cry during the late 60s and early 70’s about the American space programme.  Some pointed to the amount spent on the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programmes and said we shouldn’t carry on with them because all that money could go to relieving world poverty instead. Others pointed out that the expenditure on the space programme was dwarfed by the amount that the Yanks spent on cosmetics and toothpaste which defused the argument a bit.


Sunday, 14 August 2011

Can’t see the wood for the dead trees

A comment to a letter I had published in the JEP on behalf of J-CAN (which was in answer to a previously published climate denialist eccentric’s letter) although otherwise spot on illustrated an error that some make in their appreciation of the threats from climate change. This particular online comment (from "Pip Clement") included this phrase:

 “Fortunately for most of the people on here they will be dead by the time the effects really become apparent”

This is what I replied:

“The effects are likely to become apparent way earlier than you suggest. Worse than that, if we do nothing, we will discover in our lifetimes (even the older ones’) that we have gone beyond the point of no return, when we will not be able to reverse the situation.

The dice will have been cast long before our grandchildren will need to the ones to “be lucky”. Who needs to be lucky? It’s us.”

The comments following my replies are worth reading too if seeing breath-taking stupidity and arrogance expressed floats your boat…

The dangers from global warming do not simply come just from effects directly attributable to the rise in average planetary temperature. Often overlooked, or not publicised, are the consequences of the effects on the ecosphere – all the animals, birds, trees, plants, insects, fungi, bacteria, plankton etc. that forms the vast interlocking web of life. These systems are far more sensitive to changes in planetary temperatures than climatologists’ thermometers and satellites and large effects are already obvious such as the acidification (reduction in alkalinity for the ultra-picky) of the oceans, the reduction in plankton numbers - in the past 60 years, algal biomass has decreased by about 40%  - click for Nature article - and now here is evidence, from satellite photographs, of the huge impacts on pine forests in the US of the epidemic of pinebeetle infestation

rocky mountains pines

Left: September 22, 2003. Right: September 25, 2010. Mountain Pine Beetles killed about 60 percent of the medium-to-large lodgepole pines on the western slopes of the park between the years depicted here. In the 2003 image, dense vegetation (dark green) is seen near the centre. In the 2010 image, the dark green has been replaced by shades of brown over large areas, indicating tree loss. Warmer winters are allowing more pine beetles to survive. In addition, summer drought stresses the trees and renders them more vulnerable to pine beetle attack   Read more here click this link or this one about a researcher investigating the die off. It’s not just a simple matter of more winter warmth = more pine beetles = more die off of trees, the full story is a bit more complex than that, but this is exactly the sort of large scale effects that will start happening to the natural world way before the climate changes are obvious in temperature trend lines to casual observers such as those who get their world view from the newspapers,  and opinionated television motor-mouths.