Sunday, December 23, 2012

Is it time to put the brakes on runaway coal development? - The Globe and Mail

Is it time to put the brakes on runaway coal development? - The Globe and Mail

Click Here
The coal industry is booming in British Columbia, with a dozen new mines proposed around the province and the port of Metro Vancouver making expansive plans to become the biggest coal-exporting facility in North America.
But the flurry of activity is raising environmental concerns at both ends of the supply chain, and British Columbians may soon want to put the brakes on what is starting to look like a runaway coal train.
Environmental groups are opposed to the port plans, not just because of increased rail traffic and coal dust locally, but because of the impact the product will have on climate change when it is burned in Asia.
Kevin Washbrook, director of Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, warned that at our current rate of fossil-fuel use, the world could be six degrees warmer by the end of the century.
“If that happens, it will be no comfort to our children that Metro Vancouver’s port once did a thriving business exporting coal,” he said.
At the same time, there are serious worries emerging at the other end of B.C.’s coal transportation line, where the mineral is extracted from the ground.
Last week, two environmental groups challenged a proposal by Centermount Coal Ltd., to mine 40 million tons over 20 years in the Elk Valley, just north of the small town of Elkford.
Ryland Nelson of Wildsight said the project would have a cumulative environmental impact that just isn’t acceptable.
“It would be added to five existing coal mines, four mine-expansion proposals and three exploration projects in the Elk Valley. This is simply too much stress for this watershed,” he said.
“A new open-pit coal mine next to the Elk River is a crazy idea,” agreed Sarah Cox, a Sierra Club spokesperson. “The Elk River already has alarmingly high levels of selenium from existing coal mines.”
Selenium is a metal-like element that British Columbians will soon be hearing a lot more about. It naturally dissolves from coal into water and has been migrating at low levels into streams in B.C. for thousands of years.
But environmental scientists have identified it as a serious, emerging threat now, because mining activity has greatly increased the flow of selenium into water.
In the Elk River, selenium may have already reached a threshold point, beyond which the survivability of entire fish populations comes into doubt.
Teck, one of the biggest mine operators in the valley, has been keeping track of selenium levels downstream of its mines for years. And the company is concerned enough about current levels, that it is building an $80-million water-treatment plant at its Line Creek mine, which is being expanded.
“We realize selenium is a problem and we have taken ownership of it,” Teck’s project manager, Matthew Day, told the Mining & Exploration journal earlier this year.
The plant will cost $5-million a year just to operate – but the mine expansion simply couldn’t go ahead without it, because the Elk River can’t take any more selenium.
Researchers have been measuring selenium levels in the water in insects, fish and birds along the Elk River for more than 15 years. And they have found a troubling trend, which shows the pollutant increases along with mining activity. Selenium levels are 100 to 200 times higher downstream from coal mines.
In some studies, eggs taken from apparently healthy cutthroat trout collapsed when exposed to freshwater. Some hatched, but produced deformed fish.
The Elk River is one of the top sports-fishing streams in North America because it has large populations of apparently healthy West Slope cutthroat trout.
But Dennis Lemly, a U.S. Forest Service researcher, warned when he released a definitive study in 2002, that selenium poisoning can cause a catastrophic population collapse because it harms the eggs, not the adult fish. In effect, the bottom drops out of a population, and then when the adult fish die off, there is suddenly nothing left.
“Selenium poisoning in fish can be invisible for a time,” he stated. “Because there is no apparent fish kill, species can disappear before you can do anything about it.”
That’s the trouble with coal. At one end of the supply chain, it causes invisible water pollution. At the other end, it vanishes in smoke, adding to our climate-change woes.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Tiny $57 PC is like the Raspberry Pi, but faster and fully open | PCWorld

Tiny $57 PC is like the Raspberry Pi, but faster and fully open | PCWorld:

'It would be difficult to overstate the popularity of the tiny Raspberry Pi computer that launched earlier this year, but it's just one example of a rapidly growing class of small, inexpensive, Linux-powered devices, as I've already noted on several occasions before.
The Cubieboard and the UG802 are two of the more recent examples to appear, even as the Raspberry Pi itself has been continually improved, but since then another came to light: the A13-OLinuXino.
“A13-OLinuXino is a low-cost single-board Linux computer in a very compact nano-ITX form,” explains Olimex, the product's Bulgarian maker.
Priced at 45 euros, or about $57, the A13-OLinuXino uses a faster processor than the Raspberry Pi does, and it's also completely open, its maker says. You can order it onlinefrom the Olimex site.
Android 4.0 and Debian
Included in the A13-OLinuXino is an Allwinner A13 Cortex A8 processor running at 1GHz (the Raspberry Pi runs at 700MHz) along with a 3D Mali400 GPU and 512 MB of RAM.
Four USB hosts are built-in--with one dedicated to WiFi--as is an SD card connector, VGA video output, audio output, five keys for Android navigation, and a UEXT connector for modules such as Zigbee or Bluetooth. Also available is an optional low-cost 7-inch LCD with touchscreen.
Regarding software, Android 4.0 is what comes included on the A13-OLinuXino, but it's also possible to run Debian and other Linux distributions, Olimex says.
All CAD files available
Perhaps best of all, both the industrial-grade hardware and the software in the A13-OLinuXino are fully open, Olimex explains.
Why does that matter? Well, not only are open source products fully customizable without constraint by any vendor, but you can even use them as the basis for products of your own to tailor and sell. All source code and CAD files are available for reuse in any personal or commercial project.
The A13-OLinuXino will work in industrial environments between -25C and 85C, Olimex says.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Phillip A. Ortiz, Ph.D.: Facing Up to a Finite Planet

Phillip A. Ortiz, Ph.D.: Facing Up to a Finite Planet:

He's sketched out that thinking in his two new books. The first, The Other Road to Serfdom and the Path to Sustainable Democracy, is Zencey's frontal assault on the "infinite planet" foundations of current economic thinking and practice. Because economic growth has led us to the limits of what the planet can handle, he says, we now see an increasing need for international resource regimes to regulate our collective ecological footprint. Taking on Hayek's argument that control of otherwise "free" markets is "the road to serfdom," Zencey argues that there is no such thing as a free market; every market system is structured by rules and regulations. Moreover, because economic growth within our market system leads us to need regulations limiting such things as fish harvests, the harvesting of wood through unsustainable deforestation and the pumping of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, it produces the same result Hayek tried to avoid. "Free markets run on infinite planet principles are just the other road to the same result," Zencey says. The alternative is a market-based system run on finite planet principles, as espoused by ecological economics, an emergent school of economic thought that is grounded in the laws of physics and nature.
In the book Zencey explains this new school of thought and applies it to current political and economic concerns: the financial collapse, terrorism, population growth, hunger, the energy and oil industry's social control and the deeply rooted dissatisfactions felt by conservative "values" voters who have been encouraged to see smaller government and freer markets as the universal antidote to social ills that have in fact been wrought by cheap energy and an infinite-growth mentality. Finance and economics can be steep -- and boring -- topics, but Zencey covers them in a digestible form. As evidence of the power of these ideas and the elegance of his reasoning, Zencey's book carries powerful testimonials from Richard Heinberg, James Kunstler and Bill McKibben, indisputable leaders in ecological and environmental thought.
Zencey's other new book, Greening Vermont: The Search for a Sustainable State, co-authored with Elizabeth Courtney, tells the story of the Vermont environmental movement as it responded to economic and social changes brought into the state with the arrival of the interstate highway and the perpetual-growth hydrocarbon economy.
That book asks and answers the question, "Why didn't Vermont come to look like everywhere else?" It presents the work of the Vermont environmental movement as unfinished, given that no economy reliant on fossil fuels is truly sustainable, but as offering policies and strategies worthy of emulation. It points to the future work of the environmental movement in tackling problems that haven't previously been considered environmental, problems that will come as the withdrawal symptoms of a society addicted to oil (e.g., increasing food insecurity, social dislocation and ecological refugees). These are going to be complex and profound problems that will require a clear vision of the path to a sustainable civilization -- a path you can begin seeing in these two books.
You should read them, think about them, talk about them and most of all act on the ideas in them.

Follow Phillip A. Ortiz, Ph.D. on Twitter:

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Avoiding the Nightmarish "Four Degree World" of 2060: We must Act Now | Informed Comment

Avoiding the Nightmarish "Four Degree World" of 2060: We must Act Now | Informed Comment

Avoiding the Nightmarish “Four Degree World” of 2060: We must Act Now (Giesen)

Posted on 12/06/2012 by Juan
Tom Giesen writes in a guest column for Informed Comment:
Global warming’s disasters once seemed far off and science-fictional. It is now becoming clear to the scientific community that, to the contrary, very bad things could happen beginning relatively soon. For Baby Boomers, from the the Cuban Missile Crisis or the assassination of John F. Kennedy in the early 1960s till now does not seem like such a long period of time. But in a similar span of years, taking us to about 2060, the world could well experience an increase in global average temperatures of some 4 degrees Centigrade[1]. If we consider the likely effects of this steep warming trend carefully, it becomes clear that the resulting “four degrees” world (as scientists call it) is far less hospitable for humans than our own, a world so inhospitable that we must avoid creating it at any cost.
This rapid change in the earth’s climate is being caused by massive dumping of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, mainly by industrialized societies. Cutting back on carbon dioxide emissions has to date been an abject failure. Political leaders have, in general, taken the position that cut-backs must happen, but “not during my term of office”. About half of emissions are produced by about 1% of the population. 70,000,000 people are the problem. Because you are reading this, the odds are that you are part of that 1 percent.
If every country in the world actually met its pledges to limit or cut back on emissions, it is not impossible that in 2060 the temperature increase will be only 3 degrees C. But we’d likely get to the “four degree world” by 2100. If the world’s nations do not meet their pledges, warming by 4 degrees C. may occur even earlier, by 2060. Those are not end-points in warming; they are snapshots. Warming is a continuous process, not an event.
A four degree-extra (C.) world does not sound so bad on the surface, especially to Americans used to Fahrenheit. But for them, it actually could be a 7 degree-extra (F.) world in 2060, and it won’t be nice. Remember that the extra heat is not distributed equally everywhere.
Consider these scenarios, thought highly likely by scientists:
A temperature increase of 4 degrees C. will cause a 40% reduction in corn and rice crops, and loss of other agricultural produce, as well. The world doesn’t have fewer mouths to feed over time, and a decline in these key staples will likely produce widespread starvation..
People will be forced from their homes, like so many Syrian refugees, on a grand scale — from coastal areas because of rising seas; from areas no longer habitable due to high temperatures or drought; and from changing industrial and commercial practices.
Other effects include ice melting, weather extremes, ocean acidification, loss of coral reefs, changes in stream flows, large losses in biodiversity, water shortages, forest dieback and fires, and so on – the list is very long.
A temperature increase of 4 degrees C is now thought likely to cause the disintegration of an organized global community. A four degree world will likely be so altered that human society cannot adapt to it.
Temperatures are lower over the oceans (70% of global area), which absorb heat and carbon dioxide. Over land they are higher. So a 4 degrees C.-extra world would actually imply the following:
Up to 6 degrees C (10.8 degrees F.) average increase over land;
Up to 8 degrees C (14.4 degrees F.) increase over China;
Up to 10 degrees C (18 degrees F.) increase over central Europe;
Up to 12 degrees C (21.6 degrees F.) increase over New York City (and people think they have to flee to the Hamptons in August now!)
Scientists have been warning about global warming since the middle of the last century; James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Space Center addressed Congress on the topic in 1988. A policy goal established in the 1990s, based on scientific evidence at the time, was to hold warming at 2 degrees C above the preindustrial (~ 1850) average. In 2002, a policy of “preventing dangerous anthropogenic [i.e. human-caused] interference with the climate system” was adopted by the United Natioins, and 2 degrees C of warming was the maximum allowable.
Mitigation of warming via reduced emissions has been a global goal, but very little of practical value has been accomplished. Emission levels continue to rise, and hence the concentration of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere is rising as well. CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere recently reached 391 parts per million (ppm); the preindustrial level was 278; the increase is 40.6%. The global average temperature has now increased by almost 1 degree C above the preindustrial average.
Recent scientific papers have shown that the impacts of a 2 degrees C. rise are much greater than were indicated earlier. Impacts for a 1 degrees C. rise are now expected to be as great as those previously assumed for a 2 degrees C. rise. Worse, there is a scientific consensus today that holding warming to 2 degrees C is no longer possible given the emissions to date and the failure to cut back.[2] Hence, avoiding dangerous human-caused interference with the climate system is no longer possible. Now the question is, to what level will global average temperatures increase by (say) 2060, and at what time, temperature and total emissions will the global temperature average peak?[3]
While total historic emissions were disproportionately caused in recent history by the United States, China’s current annual emissions are the highest of any nation and are growing faster than any other large polluter.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Toyota Looks to Magnesium-Ion Batteries for Longer Electric Vehicle Range | Inhabitat - Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building

Toyota Looks to Magnesium-Ion Batteries for Longer Electric Vehicle Range | Inhabitat - Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building

Toyota, Toyota Prius, Toyota iQ, Toyota RAV4 EV, Toyota electric vehicle, magnesium-ion battery, lithium-ion battery, electric car, green car, green transportation, automotive
Last month researchers at the Toyota Research Institute of North America (TRINA) in Michigan published a paper in the journal Chemical Communications that describes Toyota’s experiments with a magnesium-ion battery. Magnesium-ion batteries use the same electrolytes as lithium-ion batteries, but their anode is made of tin. The new magnesium-ion batteries are also more energy dense because they have a positive charge of two, unlike one for lithium-ion batteries. In addition, lithium-ion batteries are expensive, but since magnesium is abundant, the new batteries would be cheaper to produce.
The lead author of the paper, Nikhilendra Singh was very positive about the initial results. “The potential is definitely there,” Singh says. “There are some improvements we need to make to its performance, which we’ve addressed in the paper as well. But overall, we’re very excited.”
It’s not known when the new batteries would show up in an electric car, but Takashi Kuzuya, the general manager at TRINA feels that they would show up in consumer electronics first. According to Venkat Srinivasan, researcher and manager at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory’s Batteries for Advanced Transportation Technologies program, the commercialization of magnesium batteries is more than 10 years away. “Once you have a breakthrough, meaning you have an anode, a cathode, and electrolyte, it takes maybe five years to reach the commercialization stage, and we don’t have all that with magnesium, so it’s going to take a while,” he says.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Blackouts Illuminate the Bright Side of Rooftop Solar | Climate Central

Blackouts Illuminate the Bright Side of Rooftop Solar | Climate Central:

'via Blog this
PV power panels went dark during Superstorm Sandy, because they were tied into the grid, and did not have battery backup.
If you run a plug in electric car, it could serve as your battery pack, as long as the car is at home, like at night!