Thursday, April 26, 2012

Clean Energy is Conservation

Every conservation organization should make supporting clean energy Job One and many are.  Naveen Jain on Green Tech Media says it like this:

"While I do believe these acts (conservation successes) are commendable, I also hope that they don’t lead people to sit back with great pride and self-adoration, thinking they’ve done their part. I firmly believe that conservation alone will do little to save our planet."

Major impacts on the planet like climate change happen on a planetary scale -- that means no matter how many marine reserves or pristine wildernesses are set aside safe from all the typical human impacts, we cannot keep climate change out anymore than we can control the weather.

Ocean acidification and ocean warming will happen in those marine reserves.  Less rain may get to that forest preserve, or certain species will crush biodiversity when climate change suddenly gives them an ecological edge.  There are countless scenarios and one common denominator: climate change will effect them. 

That's why every conservation organization in the world should make supporting clean energy job one and many are.  That's also why innovation in clean technology is what Jain says will save us.

photo credit:

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

List Gives Us Good and Bad Reality

Did you know that natural gas is not so great?  That's number 3 on io9's Ten Things We've Learned About the Earth Since Last Earth Day.  Great list, some good, some bad.

Offshore wind farms are good for biodiversity, that's Number 4.  Plus, scientists have determined that pesticides are a major factor in bee colony collapse and they've pinpointed what causes white nose syndrome, which is killing bats.  That's progress for those important pollinators.

Number 6 -- oceans are in more trouble that we think -- is my favorite.  Not the meaning of it!  But that what I've been repeating for years and what marine scientists have been repeating for even more years is finally on such a list.  Awareness is one of the first steps.

Also, did you know that not eating meat even for one day reduces your carbon footprint?  That's number 9.

It's not all optimistic, it's not all good news, but that's life.  The reality is we can change things for the better. Here are 50 ways you can save the oceans from the awesome folks at Blue Frontier

Here's the list on io9, originally from Smithsonian's Surprising Science, and here it is reprinted:

1. Undiscovered species are still out there: Countless discoveries over the past year have reminded us that, despite centuries of research, the planet still has plenty of surprise species in store. Among the many finds include seven new forest mice species in the Philippines, a "psychedelic" gecko in Vietnam and a new type of dolphin in Australia. A new analysis released last August, billed as the most accurate ever, estimated that a total of 8.7 million different species of life exist on earth.

2. Global warming is already driving up food prices: While many fear that climate change will someday reduce crop yields and cause food prices to rise, a study published last May in Science indicates that this troubling trend has already started. The models used suggest that reduced global yields of wheat and corn are related to global warming. Although the effects are relatively small so far, they may cause severe problems in the future, as climate patterns continue to change and food demand increases.

3. Natural gas is not so great: Although advocates of natural gas argue that it contributes less to climate change than other fossil fuels such as coal, a study published last spring revealed that leakage of methane from newer types of shale gas wells and associated pipelines may be a bigger problem than first assumed. As much as 7.9 percent of the methane mined from these increasingly common wells may be escaping into the atmosphere through loose pipeline fittings and during hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a "fracking"). In the short term, the greenhouse effect of methane is 25 times that of carbon dioxide.

4. Offshore wind farms are good for biodiversity: Last August, wind advocates welcomed the news that offshore turbines apparently have no negative effect on aquatic ecosystems, and might actually provide new habitats for creatures that live in shallow water. Although a few bird species might avoid the wind farms because of the risks of spinning turbines, the net effect of the large scale-wind farm studied by the team of Dutch scientists was positive.

5. A fungus causes white-nose syndrome in bats: First discovered in a New York State cave in 2006, the disease has quickly spread to more than 115 bat colonies across North America and has caused mortality rates as high as 90 percent in affected populations. Finally, last October, researchers pinpointed the cause: the fungus Geomyces destructans. The disease forces bats to awaken too frequently from hibernation, leading to starvation, and has already caused several bat species to become endagered. Scientists are tracking movement of the disease and working on developing a cure.

6. The oceans are in bigger trouble than we thought: The annual State of the Ocean report, published in July by an international team of experts, concluded that things are far worse in ocean ecosystems than previously feared. A range of stresses-including rising sea temperatures, overfishing, acidification and pollution-have combined to threaten extinction for many aquatic species, including those that create coral reefs. "We have underestimated the overall risks," the report noted. "The whole of marine degradation is greater than the sum of its parts."

7. Large wildlife are surviving the conflict in Afghanistan: Research published in June by the World Conservation Society revealed a tidbit of positive news about the conflict in Afghanistan. A range of large mammals (including black bears, gray wolves, wild goats and rare snow leopards) have been able to survive decades of violence in Afghanistan, despite the attendant deforestation, habitat degradation and the absence of rule of law. The researchers reaffirmed the need for conservation programs that also provide livelihoods for local people to ensure this trend continues.

8. Pesticides play a major role in bee colony collapses: A study published last spring in Science proved what many have feared — low levels of a common pesticide may confuse honeybees, making it much more difficult for them to find their way home after trips away from the hive. The authors of the study say the results raise questions about the use of the chemical, neonicotinoid, while others note the possible role of other factors, such as increased susceptibility to disease and a reduction in wildflowers because of land development.

9. Eating meat warms the planet: A guide released last July by the Environmental Working Group put firm numbers on what many have argued for some time-namely, that eating meat can contribute as much to climate change as driving a car. According to the report, which took into account every step needed to produce meat (including the pesticides, fertilizers and water used to grow feed, the emissions resulting from processing the meat, the transportation and cooking of it and other factors), if every U.S. citizen gave up meat and cheese one day per week, the effect on greenhouse gas emissions would equal taking about 7.6 million cars off the road.

10. Millions likely to be trapped by climate change: A report by the British government, released last October, warned that millions of people around the world will likely end up trapped in places vulnerable to the effects of environmental change over the next century. Although previous studies simply estimated which areas might be flooded by rising sea levels and assumed that all residents would move, the report drew upon more than 70 research papers and recognized that in many cases (such as New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina), the most disadvantaged groups are unable to leave. Experts advocate increased planning to financially support migration, both within and between countries.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

More than our Share

This morning I read a review of what sounds like a great book about animals that have survived ancient mass extinctions, like horse shoe crabs.

The author, Richard Fortey, a paleontologist but not necessarily an environmentalist, easily comes to the same conclusions, according to the New York Times Book Review of Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms.

He laments the way humans continue to take more than our share on our way to destroying life-giving biodiversity in the oceans and on the land. 

“The extinction event that is happening right now is the first one in history that is the responsibility of a single species.  There’s no meteorite this time, no exceptional volcanic eruptions, no ‘Snowball Earth,’ just us, prospering at the expense of other species."

Friday, April 20, 2012

Bittersweet Honey

At a farmer's market the other day, really just tables lined up alongside a tired city park, I talked with the guy who makes his own honey in western Massachusetts. 

He drives his faded white van with rusted highlights full of honey and specialty jams his wife and daughter make from deep in the woods to the city.  He finds his customers hours away from his hives and his home.  

We talked about how little snow there was this winter.  He expects a drought.  He was not complaining though no one could blame him if he was.  He said it like it was a fact as much as clouds in the sky.   His hands looked thick and leathery.  

I nodded and noted that a couple weeks ago on a canoe trip with my buddies on the Delaware River, the water level was more like summer levels.  More than a few spots we scraped the bottom of the canoe or barely skimmed by.

This time of the year, the snow and ice should be melting and washing out of the mountains filling the river.  We should have been coasting easily over the tumbled river rocks on a thick layer of water.  It's easy to imagine how less water coming out of the hills also means less food washed into the water for the fish and other life, and so on.

All of it does not bode well for his bees, either.  Less water means less flower nectar, which is what bees use to make honey.

But his bees are facing even tougher challenges. They're disappearing.  He held his arm out straight to show the decreased height and size of his bee colonies.  He rattled off the numbers and the shocking decline hung in the air between us like smog.

Scientists are not really sure what is causing colony collapse -- yes, it has a name -- but it's happening in many places.  The honey man feels it is caused by cellphone towers disrupting the bees' navigation.  Bees use the Earth's electromagnetism to navigate, and he believes cellphone towers disrupt that.  The bees cannot forage properly and they get lost.  Less food gets back to the hive and more starve.

Colony collapse might also be caused by pesticides or a combination of stresses.  It's certainly unfortunate, even alarming, as bees not only make sweet honey but they also pollinate all kinds of plants including vegetables and fruit we eat.

Beetles, however, love the warm winter, we went on talking.  They are flourishing, madly boring through trees when normally the cold keeps them at bay, gives the trees a break.

The honey man knew the name of the beetle.  Mountain pine beetle, he called it out nonchalantly.  

We somehow got onto the topic of space junk, too.  The thousands of pieces of spacecraft and debris that humans have put into orbit around the planet.  We talked about how NASA keeps tabs on this stuff because it can do real damage.  Basically, they've got a big computer tracking litter that people left up there.  We chuckled, but it was not exactly a jovial laugh.  

What a mess we make, that's what the honey man said.  He shook his head a little and his big mane of hair hardly moved.

A nearby trash can on the street caught my eye.  It was overflowing with plastic cups that once held, only once, fancy coffee drinks.

The cups and other trash spilled onto the sidewalk and around the base of a nearby scraggly sycamore.  A stray straw and a sandwich wrapper lay on top of a black rat poison box placed in the dirt near the tree.  City birdwatchers are anxious these days because several famous urban hawks have been found dead with rat poison in their bellies.

Humans, we're dirty, I said.

We're a spoiled bunch, he added.

On the way to the farmer's market, I read  a story about how solar panels are having a tough time competing with low natural gas prices.

Nowhere in the article did they mention the true costs of fossil fuels like natural gas, such as health costs from pollution and the cost of damaged nature.  If these costs were reflected in the price we pay at the pump or meter, we'd already be buzzing with the sun.  Meanwhile, Americans are incensed when the price of gas increases even a little. 

I wish we could have it another way.  It would be great not to feel weary, and gloomily conclude that we're never going to change.

This is where I am.  This is where we all are, here on the big blue marble.  And we treat our home like crap.

Earth, she's the only one, love her.  It's pretty idealist thinking, pretty naive maybe, but feels like the right thing -- to expect more out of us all as a civilization, to try to raise our standard of living, while helping the world be the clean and healthy place it should be.

I bought some honey, mainly to support the honey man.  Plus, I enjoy holding it up to the sunlight and marveling at how it came to be.

He held up his paw and wished me a good day.

I was going to say happy Earth Day back but it sounded odd in my head; everyday is Earth day, especially for him.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Will We Change?

I like the way Jayaseelan Naidoo, a former anti apartheid activist, gives us a simple question about how we care for the Earth in a recent Huffintgon post. 

He's writing about a visit to Baja California, near the Sea of Cortez, a truly inspiring place with heartbreaking beauty.

"Paulina and Judith were with their sons; beautiful boys, carefree and confident running along the beautiful coast with us. Curious, they would bring back shells, a strange prawn like creature from the sea. We were going to the spot where sharks were mating. They clamored over the huge boulders at ease. This was their land; their legacy. I thought about the selfishness of my generation. Will we change our lifestyle even if we know that we are robbing these innocent children of their legacy?"  He wrote.

As Baja Life Foundation states "there are too many people who consume too much, who have limited knowledge of the fragile marine biosphere and who do not recognize the value of the Earth's natural resources."

Friday, April 13, 2012

Worth More in the Water than Out

They may not be as sexy as a stout tuna or as charismatic as a swordfish, but small fish like sardines and anchovies are worth more in the water than out, according to thirteen scientists.  That's why the scientists say give them a break; catch fewer of them. 

"A thriving marine ecosystem relies on plenty of forage fish. These small schooling fish are a crucial link in ocean food webs because...they are primary food sources for many valuable fish such as tuna and cod.

They are worth more in the water than out.  The task force estimated that, globally, these species are twice as valuable in the water as in a net—contributing US$11.3 billion by serving as food for other commercially important fish. This is more than double the US$5.6 billion they generate as direct catch," according to Real Wire.

The message is simple:  If you take them out faster than they can replace themselves, one day they will be gone.  When that happens, everyone (people, seals, puffins, other fish we love to eat) suffers.  So give them a break.

The good news is that people are remembering the little guy in some places, like menhaden via Pew and herring in New Jersey and New England.  We just need more of this.

What can you do?  Get involved, get on some mailing lists, make your voice heard, look for opportunities to encourage sustainable fishing and save forage fish.  Also, avoid fish meal in your pet's food and sound out against fish meal being fed to farm animals.

Read about the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force and their full report.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Level the Playing Field

Clean energy is alive and well, but it needs to be ramped up if it is to replace fossil fuels.  Renewable energy needs to quadruple to overtake fossil fuels, according to the University of Oregon.

A level playing field is also long overdue.  If the true costs of fossil fuels were paid at the meter and pump, we'd already be enjoying clean energy and clean air.

The report also states that clean energy does have the ability to reshape global energy markets, but "current energy costing structures often do not take into account the high costs of negative externalities such as GHG emissions, air and water pollution, and ecosystem destruction." 

This distorts the energy marketplace and creates a disparity between clean and conventional energy sources.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Rhetoric and Money's Negative Impact on Us All

The polarization of clean energy comes from politics fueled by money.  What's missing are sensible policies that benefit all Americans by providing clean air and less reliance on dirty, archaic, extract and burn energy.

It seems to be whomever spends the most wins, with little regard to what is good for everyone.  Of course I'm not surprised; this is how it works. 

But just because this is the way it works does not mean we have to accept it.  Or that it cannot be changed.

Right now, dirty energy is outspending clean energy.

"The American Wind Energy Association, whose members include Iberdrola SA (IBE) of Bilbao, Spain, gave $56,200 to members of both parties since last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based group that analyzes campaign and lobbying expenditures.

Koch’s political action committee gave more than $872,000 to candidates in 2011 and so far in 2012, almost all to Republicans, according to the center. Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) (XOM), the largest U.S. oil company, gave more than $992,000 through its political action committee, mostly to Republican candidates, in that period.

Alternative-energy companies -- such as SunPower Corp. (SPWR) (SPWR) in San Jose, California, and BrightSource Energy Inc. (BRSE) (BRSE), in Oakland, California -- also spend less on lobbying, about $28 million in 2011 compared with $148 million by oil and gas companies, according to data compiled by the center and Bloomberg New Energy Finance," according to Business Week.

The challenge is real.  We're at a point now where we can't even have a conversation.

“We want to avoid the catch words -- clean energy, green energy -- that set people off in the wrong way. The political rhetoric is starting to dictate and override any pragmatic solutions,”  said Tim Greeff of Accel in Business Week.

It really should not be one or the other, the country needs a smart energy mix and yes, a move toward a clean energy future. 

“The over-politicization in the energy debate puts renewable energy on one side and traditional sources like natural gas and nuclear on the other,” Greeff said. “To choose between the two is just silly.”

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Cali Inspires with Ambitious Goals

California again leads the way again with clean energy goals that understand the urgency and come with a welcome dose of ambition.

"The roadmap (new BASE 2020 Roadmap Report for California) finds that local clean energy, including 4,000 megawatts of solar PV, and a focus on zero net energy buildings could slash greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector by more than 60% by 2020," according to Forbes.

That's fantastic.  Usually plans or studies have a much longer time frame and much smaller emission reduction, like 'we recommend 30% reduction by 2050'.

It is consistently vexing in the face of climate change urgency.  This is not a future problem, this is a right now challenge. 

I'm sure critics might call it unrealistic but I say it's about time.  The planet needs more of this kind of aspiration and ambition.  BASE 2020 rocks.

The plan hits all cylinders including solar, energy efficiency,wind, geothermal, and feed-in tariffs.  Feed-in tariffs -- guaranteed, fair market prices for any excess electricity that citizens sell back to the grid -- have been key to helping Germany achieve high renewable rates.  People also criticized Germany for being overly ambitious.

Refreshing optimism comes from people involved like Cisco DeVries.  “We got our start fighting things. Saying no. Now, we’re fighting for what we think is the yes. That is a remarkable transformation,” he said in Forbes.

Download and read the summary and the full report by Pacific Environment here.

Image courtesy:

Friday, April 6, 2012

Bare Feet and Dead Zones

I grew up with a nice lawn under my bare feet in the Jersey suburbs.  It was the field for so many fun and games; literally bright, sunny memories drenched in the joy of youth. 

I did not know that probably much of the fertilizer that my dad and all the neighboring dads spread on the lovely green expanses ended up in a nearby creek, and eventually the nearby ocean.  So what?  Fertilizer's a good thing.  After all, it helps things grow.  You know the saying, too much of a good thing...

It's the nitrogen in the fertilizer.  It does a number on the marine environment after it washes off lawns and fields everywhere.  Except for algae, which love nitrogen.  They get a taste of that excess nitrogen and gobble it up and it's reproduction time -- called an algae bloom. 

Trouble is the fecund explosion of algae sucks oxygen out of the water and blocks sunlight, both of which harms and even kills sea life including oysters and crabs.

So back to the bucolic lawn.  I know this is the time of year in the US to take off those hard and confining Winter shoes and run free on the verdant carpet.  But for the sake of healthy streams, rivers, and oceans, think again about pouring on the fertilizer.

Think Again About Fertilizer 

On the TV, the guy with the accent from Scott says Feed Your Lawn.  Of course they want you to buy their fertilizer and dump it on your lawn.  When I see those ads, I see dead zones devoid of oxygen creeping around the oceans. 

In all fairness, Scott sells a fertilizer, Scott's Natural Lawn Food, that is one of the better ones in terms of nitrogen content, but there's still nitrogen in it. 

How about one step farther -- healthy lawns with no nitrogen?

Did you know that incorporating clovers into your lawn is a great way to block out weeds and supply your lawn with nitrogen safely and naturally? That's according to the New Hampshire Coastal Protection Partnership. 

Here are some other ways to reduce your nitrogen footprint and maintain healthy lawns:

• Mow high – Taller grass has deeper, healthier roots. 3” or higher is recommended

• Leave grass clippings behind – Grass clippings are a free source of nutrients for your lawn

• Aerate your soil – Aeration allows water, air, and nutrients to penetrate more easily

• Plant low maintenance grass – Seed with mixtures that contain high proportions of fescue

Learn more with the Seacoast Nitrogen Campaign Home Action Kit.

Or visit a green living site like Earth Easy and find a sustainable alternative.

If you feel like nitrogen is the only answer, buy fertilizers with no more than 2% phosphorous and at least 50% slow release nitrogen.

Photo credit:

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Price on the Priceless

"In the case of the oceans, a conservative estimate of the cost of climate change is that by the year 2100 it will amount to nearly $2 trillion annually in 2010 dollars," according to the Economist.

If it turns heads of people outside the choir, great.  If it illustrates what's at stake, fantastic.  If it helps governments make good policy and deniers think again about the big picture, awesome.

Though my gut says it's sad.  Can't we just look at the oceans and know they are absolutely priceless?  

Who's got two thumbs and is a hopeless romantic?  This guy.  Actually, I prefer hopeful romantic, but it ain't no cake walk.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Retailers Step Up to Help Depleted Fish


Taking fish out of the ocean faster than they can reproduce -- overfishing -- is alive and well, harming ecosystems and depleting important food sources the world over. 

The most at-risk areas include the northeastern coast of Canada, the Pacific coast of Mexico, the Peruvian coast, the south Pacific (offshore of New Zealand in particular), the southern and southeastern coast of Africa, and the Antarctic region, according to recent research by Canadian scientists.

But let's dwell on the positive.  Good news comes from retailers as the demand side steps up.

Toothfish Catch a Break 

Three American retailers -- Safeway, Wegman's, and Harris Teeter -- have pledged not to sell fish sourced from the Ross Sea off Antarctica.  That's where the Patagonian Toothfish, what marketers call Chilean Sea Bass, swims.  The toothfish is already overfished and to be avoided if eating green is your desire.  It's the fish that attracts poachers from all over. 

A few years ago, the New Zealand Navy followed a ship across the Pacific almost all the way to Uruguay.  The hull of the ship was filled with millions of dollars of toothfish poached from the Ross Sea.  Poachers only succeed where there is demand, so taking some demand out of the equation via these retailers should give the fish a well-needed break.

No More Seeing Red

Probably less surprising, Whole Foods is going a step farther.  The grocery chain will not sell anymore seafood that is labeled as Red on sustainable seafood listings.  Red means avoid because it is not caught in a sustainable manner or catching it greatly harms other sea life.  Eating green is avoiding Red labeled species, unless you like being part of the problem.

So, despite all the doom and gloom, some good people are doing good things to help ensure healthy seas.  Meanwhile, they make themselves much more attractive as responsible, healthy, and sustainable places to shop.  I'll take it!