Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Careless Journalism Does Not Help

This fresh headline leaves one to believe that clean energy is unpopular: Consumer Support for Clean Energy Has Declined Significantly Since 2009, According to New Survey from Pike Research

It's troublesome because on further reading, that headline is very misleading. 

In Pike's so-called research, consumers were not asked about clean energy in general, they were asked about individual clean energy topics.  Some were very favorable, some not.  To average them and call that an overall opinion is confusing.  

Just becasue I don't like penne pasta does not mean I don't like pasta.  Certainly I really like linguini and the little bow tie things. 

So specifics do matter.  For example, Pike's so-called research showed that 77% of people asked had a favorable view of solar.  That's a header right there. 

Meanwhile, only 42% of people asked had a favorable view of "clean coal" (listing "clean coal" as a clean energy topic to begin with is suspect!).  Also, only 14% of people had a favorable view of cap and trade (probably because cap and trade is too hard to understand).

Semantics?  Obsessive?  Maybe.  But this kind of journalism breeds confusion and encourages uninformed decisions.

Here's a scenario:  Many people have time to read only headlines.  With this headline they've already got the impression that clean energy is less popular.  A casual reader based on this story might even conclude that the naysayers and opposition who like to say loudly that "clean energy is not going to work, that it is not viable" are on to something.

Media's responsibility for truth should not take a back seat to provocative prose.  What suffers is people's understanding and opinions.  It's not easy, but we have to be careful what we read.

One more point -- the so-called researchers at Pike lost more credibility when they categorized "clean coal" as a clean energy.  Most people do not know what "clean coal" is and there is not an obvious consensus.  That's because "clean coal" is a PR/marketing term created by the coal industry.  It is less dirty than regular coal but it is still dirty.

Wait a minute -- Pike Research is the common denominator.  Time to red flag all their so-called "research"!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Oceans Can Feed the World

A new tact (relatively speaking) for saving the oceans from Oceana at the World Oceans Summit -- feed people.

Frankly, these global events seem to generate a lot of talk but little action.  Amazing how many people like to hear themselves talk.

Maybe framing the oceans in terms of a solution to feed the world will spur some action.  It is no small idea, but with over a billion people going to bed hungry every day, it could resonate. 

Ted Danson explains the thinking here in the Huff Post:

"The reality is that there will be 9 billion of us by 2050. The planetary pressures of this 34-percent population increase over 2009 levels will be magnified by an expected, general rise in the standard of living. Experts estimate that people's demand for food will grow 70 percent over current levels. How are we going to feed everyone?

The oceans can play a big part of the solution. Wild seafood has huge advantages over terrestrial livestock. It is cheaper to produce per pound. It requires no land. It is much more CO2-efficient. It uses only trivial amounts of fresh water (in processing).

On a global basis, a fully productive ocean could provide the entire animal protein diet for a billion people, or 13 to 15 percent of the animal protein produced on the entire planet. However, too often, plans for how feed in the world in the future overlook the ocean's potential vital role in feeding humanity for many years to come."

Naturally, if the oceans are to feed the world, it would have be done sustainably.  The health of the oceans depends on it, and as the oceans go, we go.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Man-Made Fish on Your Plate?

A resounding no to genetically engineered fish from a chef in a CNN editorial makes some really good points.

Perhaps the best point is: it doesn't sound appetizing.  But there's more and it starts with aquaculture.

Aquaculture -- fish farming -- itself is complicated because there are tricky pros and cons.

On the one hand, it can take pressure off wild fish while creating a whole economy as well as food and nutrition for millions.

On the other hand, some farmed species may do more harm than good.  Farmed Atlantic salmon comes to mind as this carnivore eats wild fish feed.  We could find ourselves depleting the wild stocks of the feed fish to feed the farmed salmon.  Avoiding this is clearly the way to ensure that aquaculture is not an ocean issue but a solution.

Enter genetically engineered fish, which holds the potential for great profit while some say, courts catastrophe.

The first genetically engineered animal up for approval in the US by the Food and Drug Administration is a salmon designed to grow twice as fast as normal salmon.  A genetically altered fish with a voracious appetite, one that will eat twice as much wild feed fish as a regular salmon, sounds like the problem doubled rather than solved.  It actually sounds a little like an invasive species.

There's also too much we do not know (see also hubris and greed).

When the altered fish escapes – escapes already occur constantly -- into wild waters, what happens to the natural balance?  Will wild salmon and other species be overwhelmed by the bigger, stronger, and hungrier fish?  The answer is we do not know what will happen.

So how come the FDA has approved the genetically altered fish?  For one, I doubt sustainability was a criteria (the criteria on which they based their decision is confidential).  For two or three, can you really trust these knuckleheads to consider anything but whether or not eating it will kill you?  No.  And sometimes they don't even get that right.

Note: Some farmed species are good, like tilapia, which eats algae, although some environmentalists question the farming practices in some countries. 

See Oceana's excellent infographic on man-made fish.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Breezing Over Renewable Hurdles

Renewable energy awards for 2011 lead the way over engineering, finance, and permit hurdles. Progress people!

The hands-on smoothing out of the permit process in Colorado is actually inspiring, and the floating wind turbine far off the coast of Portugal -- an American design -- is simply cool technology, the kind that gets you excited for innovation and the potential of the fresh minds that made it happen.  

See the story in Renewable Energy World.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Giving Ourselves a Chance in the Arctic

400,000 people, 573 scientists, and 60 members of Congress have come out against drilling in the Arctic, according to YubaNet.  Main objections are that there's no viable way to clean up a spill in the Arctic, and there's no science on what will happen to the marine environment.  It's heavily symbolic, too.  

The potential damage to the environment and human health aside, drilling in the Arctic is old thinking.  It isn't a new technology or a new way to do anything -- like something stuck deep in the cortex of our early brains, we're still extracting and burning.

For no drill to puncture the Arctic would be a beautiful turning point;  a beginning of hope for us yet.  A step forward that could be a message to ourselves that we can change and improve.  That we gave ourselves a chance.

Imagine that?  We instead embraced innovation, clean air, and fuel that is naturally replenished, and yet, we still carried on with our lives and our worries and our dreams.  I can almost hear the collective sigh.  We're close.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Germany Leads in Clean Energy

Germany is exporting clean energy to France, according to Clean Technica.

This is remarkable because only recently Germany was going to suffer in its swift and stout move to clean energy if you believed the buzz.  There were concerns of brown outs and supply problems.  Pundits speculated that the country would totally lose face and likely end up importing nuclear energy from France.  Wrong again!

Germany's model of government support and feed-in tariffs works.  A feed-in tariff guarantees any energy producer, including an individual citizen, a good price for their energy over the long term.

Germany has some of the highest solar capacity in the world with the solar exposure of Oregon.  The Germans also have the third largest wind capacity behind the US and China.

Renewable energy in Germany "works".  I put that word in quotes because the naysayers like to say otherwise.  Germany is proving them wrong.  My hope is the US can get on task and do the same. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Listen to Lloyd

Don't take my word for it (though I'll keep pestering) -- the ocean has value that transcends ecosystem services and economics and all that stuff.  It's good for the soul!

In a story about a barely touched part of the Florida keys:

"Decades later, the ocean waters, translucent and shallow, remain a playground for lobster, fish, sharks and coral. Mahogany, buttonwood, gumbo-limbo and mangrove trees abound.

"'You can get the hell out there and restore the soul,' said Lloyd Miller, 91, who lives not too far away in Homestead and helped lead the fight to preserve the pristine archipelago," according to the New York Times.

That's 91 years of ocean love talking.  Thanks Lloyd.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Fingers Crossed for the Dinosaur Fish

Atlantic sturgeon have been labeled endangered.  This feels like good news but I cross my fingers.

I have canoed all over the Mid Atlantic and Northeast and seen the small signs placed by the state's natural resources or environmental departments. 

Usually the signs appear on bridges or boat launches.  I glimpse them from a car on a back road crossing a small stream or on foot, paddle in hand, at the banks of a swift river. 

I enjoy the ones with a simple image of a sturgeon, this ancient mariner, this creature that looks so very prehistoric with its long snout, and bony plates in a ridge along its back, like a Stegosaurus.  

While the body of water entices me to explore it, the sturgeon signs add to the  excitement -- there's sturgeon around here!  Could I be lucky enough to see the rare creature in the wild shallows from high on a bridge, or drifting through a deep cutout? 

The signs are placed there to remind -- who needs a reminder! -- people not to pollute (dump oil, solvents, etc.) because sturgeon live in the watershed. 

The idea was to protect the fish and yet, they must not have worked because now the fish is listed as endangered.  Maybe it was just a last ditch effort.

Sturgeon had been fine for 200 million years and then we came along. 

In the last century, sturgeon suffered a devastating population decline.  Highly valued for caviar eggs, sturgeons have been decimated by overfishing, water pollution, and the construction of dams that block their spawning routes, according to the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University.

But it's not over yet.  They are still out there, and their new status can change things in their favor. 

“I am more optimistic than ever before that future generations will be able to see these ancient fish thriving once again off the shores of the East Coast,” said Ellen K. Pikitch, executive director of the institute in the Washington Post.

"It (Endangered Species Act listing) takes it up a big notch because now it's not only fishing activities, it can affect navigation, dredging," she said on NPR.

Let's hope so.  I don't want to lose another of nature's gifts.  I want to continue to be enchanted at the possibility of seeing the great fish, even if I actually never see one.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Hundred Million Give or Take a Million

In a story about the possibility of marine fish having evolved from freshwater fin fish, the unthinkable is pondered about the end of modern oceans. 

The numbers are as usual: ridiculous.  Just like how people treat the oceans: ridiculously bad. 

"It puts today's problems with overfishing and species loss into context.  The ocean can certainly bounce back but humans may not live to see that day. 

"If we wipe out and eat all the fish in the ocean and modify the environment in the ocean so that it's inhospitable, what these analyses show is it may be
100 million years to recover from that. And that's a fast recovery." 

--  John Wiens, professor of ecology and evolution at Stony Brook University in New York, quoted in Science on MSNBC.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Rapt Ocean Life

Leafy Sea Dragon

Pew recently released a report that is the stuff of fairy tales. 

The report details amazing diversity and sea life -- hot spots -- off southwest Australia where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean.

Just thinking about these vast, rarely seen places, with names like Rottnest Shelf and Kangaroo Island, full of wild and crazy marine creatures, fires up the imagination.

How about an undersea canyon as deep as the Grand Canyon that is the feeding ground for the largest animal on the planet -- the blue whale?

Need more?  How about a chain of small islands that are home to 1200 species including the leafy sea dragon?

It's all certainly something to protect.  The Australian Marine Conservation Society can show you how.

Here is the report and Pew's release about it.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Of course it breaks the heart; I want that shark to be swimming.  To shrug its tail once and slowly dive into the mystery out of sight.

Instead we get this.  The filthy water, the throng of people, the gorgeous, other-world creature slack in the black ropes.  Its amazing skin in the foreign sun.

Heavy with the weight of its death, it hangs suspended between two worlds; and I see the whole of our sad disconnection with nature. 

Image from MSNBC.  A whale shark, the largest fish, apparently found floating dead off Karachi, Pakistan.  Whale sharks were deemed a "threatened" species in 2008.

Friday, February 3, 2012

9 Tips to Communicating the Climate Challenge

When nearly half of all Americans do not believe in climate change, communicators like me have dropped the ball.  There is work to be done. 

Here are nine tips to communicating climate science to anyone anywhere;  the "fight" knows no boundaries.  Hopefully, this will help us on the road to a clean energy economy, and to healthier people enjoying healthier oceans.

1. Share the Love.

People respond positively to a true story of why you love the oceans or the mountains or humming birds.  When the death and destruction end of the world talk so prevalent in the climate change dialogue comes, people shut down.  But people tune into a personal passion.  The nice thing is there is no right or wrong with this;  it's yours.  What you say will sink in, and likely sink deep.

2. Give Hope. Talk Benefits.

Talk about what can be done, more than describing the doom and gloom. From Skeptical Scientist:

"People are less likely to accept scientific evidence if it's presented in a pessimistic (i.e. we're headed towards catastrophic climate change) as opposed to an optimistic (i.e. we can achieve the necessary emissions cuts, and we've already taken some steps in the right direction) fashion...people are more likely to accept that evidence and threat if they know there's something they can do about it.

"Climate change...poses an opportunity with major potential benefits (i.e. cleaner air, domestic security, energy independence, job creation, etc.).  If we present the issue as a challenge we need to rise to as opposed to a catastrophic path we're on, people are more likely to accept the scientific evidence." 

3. Listen.

No one really likes to be preached at or lectured at.  If you spend more time listening that will be greatly appreciated.  And it helps you figure out what's really driving this or that person's view.

4. Tell Good Stories.

The narrative wins the day.  If you can tell a story to illustrate a point, it will have much more staying power than dry descriptions and stats.  That's not always easy but worth a try.

5. Choose your Words.

Personally, I think the opposition has successfully demonized or smudged the term "climate change" to a point where it actually hurts the conversation.  Plus, it may be too big; out of reach of most people's mindset.  I like the term "pollution" since everyone knows what that is, and I doubt anyone will say they prefer pollution.  If someone says they like pollution, walk away.

6. Lose the Attitude.

Whatever are you talking about?  You know, the tendency to think you're smarter than this person, that they're pawns in the corporate machine, that they're so stupid to fall for any of the opposition's slight of hand, that you're just better than them period because you're saving the world and they're not.

I know it's your issue, I know you are up to date on all of it, maybe you even have an advanced degree or two, but put all that away.  It is the the fastest way to lose your audience. 

7. Assess your Audience.

There is no one answer -- sometimes you have to see what works.  Ask questions (and not "What are you an idiot?").  It takes patience and persistence.  See My Face Off with a Climate Denier

8. Listen to Kenny. 

As Kenny Rogers said: "Know when to walk away, know when to run."  I've had many climate discussions with people, often on the street.  At the end of the day, some people are beyond reach for a variety of reasons, usually irrational and personal.  Next!

9. Make Your Key Points (also courtesy of Skeptical Science)

    * climate change is real
    * humans are causing it
    * there's a scientific consensus on these issues
    * the consequences will be harmful
    * we can limit the impacts

Good luck!  Stuffing the atmosphere with carbon pollution is a hugely important issue, perhaps the issue for everyone on the planet.  The more people that understand it, the more important and real change can be made.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Clean Energy Momentum

The clean energy race is going full bore.  Two sweet points to keep your feet moving:

2011 was the first year in which global investment in renewable energy was greater than investment in fossil fuel power plants.

When you put the investments of all countries together, renewable energy in 2011 grew by 5% over the last year to $260 billion, a five-fold increase since 2004," according to Clean Technica.

This is great news for the oceans and anyone who likes the oceans.  Burning fossil fuels and stuffing the atmosphere with carbon pollution makes ocean water more acidic and hotter, both of which are bad news for marine life including the fish we eat and the reefs we awe at.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Nice Breezes

Power from the wind is putting up promising numbers in several US states while Scotland is going for all the marbles.

In the states, no, it is not hot air from the Republican primaries, but clean energy from turbines spinning in Iowa and South Dakota.  Both states generated 20% of their electricity from wind in 2011 and dozens of lawmakers from both parties signaled support for extending a key tax credit set to expire at the end of next year, according to the American Wind Energy Association via Platt's News

Meanwhile, Scotland is taking no prisoners. They have set a goal of 100 percent renewables by 2020.

The biggest wind farm in the world is under construction there.  "The £4.5 billion project envisages up to 300 turbines in water 200ft deep more than 13 miles off Caithness, generating enough power for more than a million homes by 2020," according to Scotsman.com.

Good news blowing in the wind.