Friday, March 29, 2013

Green Data Makes Gains but More Needed

As covered in this blog in November, it's a matter of time before more people start asking How Green is Your Data?  Apple can answer with a resounding affirmative as the company now runs its data centers on 100% renewable energy, according to Data Center Knowledge.  

Google and Yahoo?  They're working on it, which is good news.  Google alone was estimated to have nearly a million servers in 2011.  Although these servers are not all in one place, their data centers across the world are massive clusters of servers that can use the same amount of juice as a small American city.

If that power is dirty, these progressive companies that give us some great things are also giving us a great deal of pollution.

Thanks to Greenpeace, this issue has been brought to light.  The top four findings from Greenpeace's report, How Clean is Your Cloud, published in April 2012 show there is more work to be done (and being done) across big name technology companies:  

"1. Three of the largest IT companies building their business around the cloud – Amazon, Apple and
Microsoft – are all rapidly expanding without adequate regard to source of electricity, and rely heavily on dirty energy to power their clouds.

2.Yahoo and Google both continue to lead the sector in prioritizing access to renewable energy in their cloud
expansion, and both have become more active in supporting policies to drive greater renewable energy investment.

3. Facebook, one of the largest online destinations with over 800 million users around the world, has now
committed to power its platform with renewable energy. Facebook took the first major step in that direction with the construction of its latest data center in Sweden, which can be fully powered by renewable energy.

4. A growing concentration of data center investments in key locations is having a significant impact on energy demand and how the electricity grid is managed; if such concentrated expansion is allowed to continue, this will make it increasingly difficult to shift these investments and the surrounding community away
from dirty sources of electricity."

Take Action by telling these companies to clean up their data.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Into the Heart of the Ocean

After making a record breaking dive into the Marinas Trench, James Cameron gave his specially-designed submersible to the Woods Hole Oceanography Institute.

Aside from admiring Cameron's passion for exploration and innovation, the bit of news got me thinking about the trench near the islands of Japan in the Pacific Ocean.  Talk about fascination.  

At over six miles down, it's deeper than Mt Everest is high.  All that ocean water overhead means eight tons of pressure is exerted per square inch -- the equivalent of one person trying to hold 50 jumbo jets, according to the University of Delaware.   The trench is so remote that people have visited it only four times.   

This canyon in the bottom of the ocean is dark and mostly cold, but there is life.  Microbes and other creatures.  Cameron's team "spotted a rocky outcropping covered with bizarre clumps of microorganisms known as microbial mats — life in the middle of nowhere," according to the New York Times.

Naturally, some humans thought the trench would be a good place to dump nuclear waste, according to Wikipedia.  Really?  Yes, really. 

image: seatlletimes


Friday, March 22, 2013

Enjoy the Wintry Ocean and Bay

Enjoy a brief stroll along the bay and ocean beach with its gorgeous colors and fine solitude.

And a little taste of power in action.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

I Will If You Will

Celebrate spring by turning off the lights this Saturday March 23rd at 830 pm (2030) local time for one hour.   It's called Earth Hour and it's happening all over the world. 

The collective dark hopefully shines a light on the environmental challenges facing the planet, and maybe reminds people that we're all in this together.  Or it's just a good excuse to have a BYOC (Bring Your Own Candle) party.

Also, check out the fun I Will If You Will incentives to help the planet also courtesy of Earth Hour.  Donate a few minutes and few clicks (no money) and do some good.

For example, I  accepted these challenges

"We will push for better legislation to protect Russia's seas IF 100,000 people sign the petition" and "I will ride to work in my wife's dress IF you ride your bike to work for a week."  I don't know who the person is riding in a dress but I like the spirit.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Rockaways Forever

Recently, I found myself in Far Rockaway, New York City, looking for a ferry that could take me west to downtown Brooklyn and Manhattan.  

The boat was gone for the afternoon and the terminal, if you can call it that, was closed.  The white plastic torn roof of the “terminal” hard against Jamaica Bay, and the locked chain link fence with not a human in sight made the whole operation look permanently shut down.  That’s the feel about most things in this coastal urban neighborhood more than two months after hurricane Sandy came smashing through.

The ferry serves as a short term replacement for the A train that was swamped by Sandy.  The task at hand everywhere is recovery: recovery of the neighborhood and recovery of the people.  The day itself was mid-winter bleak with gusts blowing off the frigid ocean that made me wince. 

The streets were filled with contractor vans and pick up trucks but mostly empty of any other traffic.  In one intersection, an army of Con Edison workers filed out of one three story building that looked condemned.

Belongings ruined by the deluge of water and sand crowded the curbs and sidewalks.  A dirty bookcase, a broken desk, a duffel bag filled with water-soaked old bank statements, cinder block sized World Encyclopedias lashed together with burlap, and countless, random pieces of wood.  Everything appeared as if it had been washed with a slurry of silt. 

I walked to the ocean side.  To get to the beach I had to scale twenty foot piles of rocks, sand, and glass shards. The boardwalk was gone, washed away by the storm.  Like a skeletal rib cage of a colossal beast, only the half buried concrete supports remained. 

The ocean was dull green and the sky had an opaque feel to it, as if thoughts had nowhere to go but back into your own head.

I found the spot where I had sat in the warm sun the past summer watching surfers rip the short break on short boards.  Sandy was just another name then, somewhere between Sally and Susan.  

There were no surfers out but then again it was a very cold day and surfing is probably last on most lists in this still-reeling neighborhood. 

Recent currents brought ashore hand-sized clam shells – quahogs.  They lay scattered all over the beach with the occasional horse shoe crab carapace.  A decent number of cormorants floated just beyond the shore break.  They dove under the turbid green water and flicked the water off their feathers when they emerged.  I wondered if they were finding enough food.  They were probably fine.  Most natural areas were unharmed by the storm. 

I left the beach heading toward a shuttle bus, another stop gap to replace the damaged subway.  A nearby large brick building sounded busy as a hive with multiple hammers banging away all at once.

A church’s bells played a despondent tune.  I never liked church bells.  They always sound dreary.  It was almost like a vulgar cliche -- the sad soundtrack of the storm tossed Rockaways.  I wondered how many people would leave for good and how many would stay and what staying would mean for them.

Past an almost totaled chain link fence, at the far end of an empty lot, an American flag beat staccato in the stiff wind.  In a nearby condo apartment complex, almost every window unit AC slumped at an angle.  Few looked lived in.  The church bells kept going.  I wished they would stop.  

Handwritten signs told some of the story.  One read "Inspected” and another read “doorbell broken, please knock”.  On one beaten avenue next to a closed and dark deli and a shuttered tavern stood a piece of plywood spray painted with “$200 for cars, any condition."

On a bent balcony, handwritten on a sagging white bed sheet:  “No Retreat, No Surrender, Rockaways Forever.”

An empty plastic trash can rolled in the street pushed around by the wind.  It probably came from one of the many row homes along the street.  A guy walking nearby picked it off the street and placed it with others in a neat row on one of the driveways.  He moved down the street and went into another one of the homes.  Somebody’s neighbor. 


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Sharks in CITE of Extinction

Shark species perilously close to extinction may once again be the victims of an ineffective and possibly corrupt governing body, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species or CITES.  An important vote by CITES being held this week is not looking good for sharks.

Carl Safina tells us why in a recent Huffington post:

"Because Japanese and Chinese delegates are applying intense pressure (read: $) on certain poor countries in Africa and elsewhere to reverse their votes. Japan always does this, bribing countries with aid packages or even individual delegates with cash. And so, a week that has started with a monumental decision for sharks may conclude with another black eye for shark conservation and for CITES. (Earlier in the week, CITES delegates rejected a proposal spearheaded by Kenya to defer any legal sales of ivory and rhino horn for four years. The corruption, greed, cynicism, and sheer stupidity at CITES is causing it to crumble as a conservation mechanism; this is one symptom of a world that can no longer cope with the stresses we're creating.)."

CITES may as well be re-named Center for the Investment in the Extinction of Species or something like that.  It's a low down dirty shame that Asian demand for shark fin soup, a status symbol, is removing every last one of these important and beautiful apex predators from the world's oceans.

A couple things you can do... tell CITES extinction is not an option, ask CITES directly to fix their broken organization, donate to organizations that are fighting extinction of sharks and elephants, and spread the word.

Monday, March 11, 2013

It's the Pace that's Killing Us

While the planet has warmed in the past, it has never warmed this fast.  It's the pace that's killing us.  

Recent research suggest the last time it was this warm was 4,000 years ago.  The lead up to that record high temperature 4,000 years ago is what's important.  The lead up back then was thousands of years.   The pace was very slow.

The current lead-up is happening over 100 years -- we're in it now.  That's a hundred years versus over a  thousand; a sprint compared to a marathon.

This pace indicates that the current warming is not natural but man-made.  By pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels on a large scale, which we didn't start doing until about 100 years ago, we created a warming trend on steroids.

"The main culprit is carbon dioxide, and its levels have jumped in the last 100 years. In the 11,000 years prior, it only changed 'very slowly,'" said climatologist Shaun Marcott in CNN.

So the current warming is happening much faster, what's the big deal?  Isn't faster better?

No, speed kills, in this case.  One thing for sure about adaption, it takes time.  100 years is not enough time for humans or millions of other species to adapt, and thus survive.  That's why global warming  is a huge, crazy scary problem.

“We and other living things can adapt to slower changes. It’s the unprecedented speed with which we’re changing the climate that is so worrisome,” said Dr. Michael Mann in the New York Times.

Fight climate change, support clean energy. 


Thursday, March 7, 2013

An Infinite Loop in Our Ears

The justification for air and water pollution in China has a familiar ring to it.  One river's water there is so foul that a local man declined a $32K dare to swim in it. 

"Local environmentalists say that China has enough money and technological prowess to clean up its rivers. The missing ingredient for an environmental campaign? Official motivation. Local governments depend on polluting factories to buoy local economies; local bureaucrats know their promotions are contingent on keeping growth rates high," according to Time.

Deja-vu all over again?  Industry in China is using an old, flawed argument -- that a flourishing economy must damage the natural world.

Sustainable businesses are not only profitable but also often more efficient and attractive to consumers.  It's not a question of technology or innovation either; we have it.  It's political will and the influence of wealthy special interests.

The oil and gas industry is case and point.  The industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the US on lobbying and paid scientists to convince Americans that we cannot prosper without their pollution.

Even today, as we know better, owners of dirty US power plants and politicians threaten economic doom if government imposes the smallest regulations to clean up their pollution.

It's akin to being held hostage, a gun to our heads, propaganda playing an infinite loop in our ears.  That's no way to do business or run a country.    

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Climate Change Timeline Shows Ongoing Battle

How did stacks of peer reviewed science showing climate change to be man-made end up equaling entrenched doubt by many Americans?

It might have something to do with deep pocketed special interests and partisan rancor.  Frontline's The Politics of Climate Change is an interesting timeline that can can shed some light.

Warning: If you are inclined toward science-based policy and rational behavior, you may find the timeline annoying.

It is simply disheartening to realize the number of people who choose an overheated, feverish planet and still more pollution.   

Looking at the timeline, it's easy to wonder what's next.  Will Obama approve the Keystone XL pipeline or will we make significant steps toward a clean energy future?

Friday, March 1, 2013

Send Comments to Support Offshore Wind

Climate change is warming the oceans and making them more acidic, which has devastating impacts on ocean life.  Using alternatives to fossil fuels to create electricity can reduce this impact.

To use steady ocean breezes to generate electricity and offset thousands of pounds of carbon is a big step in the right direction.  It simply needs to be done with the least impact on marine life.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is now taking public comment on wind power off New York's Rockaways, an area devastated by the Sandy storm, itself a product of climate change.

Take Action.  Tell the Bureau, the New York Power Authority, and your representatives in office that you support responsible offshore wind power development.  It takes about four minutes. 

Send comments to the New York Power Authority and your representatives, thanks to the Sierra Club.

Send comments to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Check out the visualization tool, that shows you the view from land of the proposed turbines. 

Check out the cool map of where the turbines would be placed.

A Word About Detractors

There are detractors to wind power, yes.  Some people say the turbines kill birds -- the bird problem has been mostly solved by changing blade rotation and intelligent placement (not in bird migratory paths).

Some people say they're ugly.  I think the turbines actually look much better than a forest denuded by climate change.  Some people say it takes rare earth metals to manufacture them. 

Check the issues but for me, the bigger picture of blanket destruction to the oceans by climate change far outweighs all of these.  No solution is perfect but doing nothing is not an option.