In ‘The Poor Need Cheap Fossil Fuels’, a recent op-ed in The New York Times, Bjorn Lomborg argues that environmental concerns must come second to alleviating poverty, especially in the developing world. There are certainly problems with Lomborg’s argument, chief among them his choice to underplay the importance of climate change. His views are controversial, and have been challenged by members of the scientific community. For example, he endorses fracking, ignoring the controversy surrounding its implementation in the USA (as noted in a recent UNspOILed blog post).
However, the main thrust of his argument is valid; those living in poverty do not always have the luxury of making the most environmentally sound choices. This encompasses a wide range of actions, from buying energy efficient light bulbs to driving hybrid cars to burning fossil fuels to stay warm. The eco-friendly options are often more expensive or require a pricey initial investment. For those on a limited budget, they might therefore be impossible.
As individuals, we can and should make environmentally friendly decisions to the best of our ability. However, there must also be a push to develop technology that is both cost-effective and eco-friendly. These technologies must become the norm, instead of the choice of a privileged few.
How can we combine care for the environment with care for the most marginalized in our society? Are the two truly incompatible? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Here are some cost-effective and eco-friendly options that we can all adopt:
- Cycling when possible: reduces pollution and gas consumption (Baltimoreans, check out BikeMore)
- Conserving water: protects water supplies and also reduces your water bill
- Shopping at thrift stores for clothing and household goods
Cartoon depiction of fracking sourced from www.treehugger.com
In case you’ve been under a rock or, more appropriately, an ancient layer of gas-rich shale, fracking is kind of a big deal. The full term to describe the process of injecting a highly pressurized mixture of water and sand is hydraulic fracturing, but is commonly referred to as fracking.
Before going any deeper, it is important to understand why anyone should care about fracking. There are several pros and cons to the complicated natural gas extraction process to understand before one could even take a stance on the issue.
The pros, as one might imagine, are primarily economic. Fracking means increasing the production of natural gas in the United States which means the potential for Americans to eventually pay less for energy. It also means the U.S. becoming ever-so-slightly less dependent on other countries like Kuwait, Iraq, and Nigeria. It is important to note, however, that it is highly unlikely that fracking will extract enough natural gas for the United States to become energy independent. Click here to listen to a short clip from NPR about fracking.
Conversely, there are several dangers of fracking, many of which are beautifully illustrated on the website dangersoffracking.com. The dangers include high risks of creating contaminated and explosive drinking water and the potential to essentially “man make” earthquakes by literally tampering with plates roughly 13,000 feet below the ground. Not to mention, each fracking job requires 1-8 million gallons of water to complete an extraction.
There are lots of politicians, thought leaders, and scholars on both sides of the fracking argument and regardless of which side we human beings find ourselves on, it is paramount to consider the implications of tampering with anything this low, pun intended. It is commendable to seek to diversify our energy supplies, just not at expense of decreasing the quality of life for human beings.
The natural gas trapped thousands of feet below the earth took thousands of years to amass, so maybe removing it is just wrong? Check out this clip from the Cosby show Heathcliff defaces dessert; it’s a lot like fracking, except the only thing harmed is chocolate cake.
What are your thoughts? If fracking was taking place in your backyard would you drink from the tap?
Ivanpah Solar Power Facility (Photo credit: craigdietrich)
Way out in California’s Mojave Desert sit three 400-foot tall concrete towers surrounded by over 170,000 garage door sized mirrors, all of which are positioned to focus light onto three black colored vats full of water that sit atop the towers.
You would be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled upon the set of the most recent James Bond movie, but actually this complex is the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System. The solar thermal farm, the largest of its kind in the world, is designed to focus the sun’s light to heat the massive vats of water to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, which in turn powers a steam turbine to create electricity.
The $2.2 billion project was recently completed by BrightSource Energy, with investments from Google and NRG, and took three years to complete. The company claims that Ivanpah will power some 140,000 homes and reduce CO2 emissions by more than 400,000 tons per year. Sounds great, but the project does have a downside.
The project, which disturbed over 5.5 square miles of desert, has significantly changed the ecosystem in the surrounding desert area by displacing several species including bighorn sheep, flat-tailed horned lizards, and an endangered desert tortoise. While Brightsource Energy spent nearly $40 million relocating the tortoises, many environmentalists think that the damage has already been done and that the tortoises will die due to the move. The National Parks Conservation Association released a report critical of the Ivanpah project, and David Lamfrom of the NPCA said in an interview that the project was “absolutely a mistake,” with regards to the desert ecosystem.
The Ivanpah project brings to light just one of the problems with “green energy.” All major developments, such as Ivanpah, will have unexpected consequences; they do not exist in a vacuum. What we have to do is determine whether the positive outcomes (reducing CO2 emissions and climate change), outweigh the negative consequences (disruption of fragile ecosystems and possible loss of endangered species.) With more than 75% of Californians saying they support the use of desert lands for renewable energy production, and many large solar energy projects already approved and underway, we as a public need to make sure we are aware of all possible consequences before we decided where we stand.
Mike Tidwell, Executive Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network presenting at MICA
The Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) has mobilized this month in opposition to Dominion Energy’s proposed natural gas liquefaction facility in Cove Point. They are hosting meetings throughout the state to educate citizens on the project and its risks, inspire them to oppose the plant and provide opportunities to act via postcards and letters to Governor O’Malley.
This $3.8 billion would liquefy more than 750 million cubic feet of natural gas per day to be shipped to India and Japan. Not only would this put Maryland’s fragile east coast ecosystem at risk, but it would inspire fracking across the state.
But what about the jobs it could create? The energy independence? Isn’t natural gas clean energy?
- According to Dominion, the Cove Point facility would create only 130 permanent jobs
- The natural gas produced here would be shipped overseas, no cheap fuel for the U.S.
- Yes, at the point of use, natural gas is 50% cleaner than coal (whoo hoo!)
- Taken over the lifecycle of emissions: drilling/fracking, transportation, compression along the pipeline, liquefaction, and finally use; the greenhouse gas emissions of fracked and exported natural gas are AS BAD AS or potentially WORSE than coal.
- For more specifics on the project, CCAN has produced an information sheet called the Pollution Path
Use Your Voice, a student group, is recognized as a local Climate Champion for its opposition to a waste to energy incinerator
At each tour stop the Chesapeake Climate Action Network is highlighting local leaders in the fight to slow Climate Change. This past Tuesday in Baltimore City, along with Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, Free Your Voice, a student group from Ben Franklin was recognized as a Climate Champion. These motivated young people mobilized their community to oppose the country’s largest waste-to-energy incinerator from being built a mile away from their school.
If you’d like to come out to one of CCAN’s tour stops, check out their calendar. Have they already passed your town? There are plenty of ideas for action and ways to connect to make a difference at www.chesapeakeclimate.org!
Environmental advocates do a lot of things right; their level of enthusiasm, devotion and innovation are incredible. But one thing they often struggle with is communicating their message to those who do not agree with them. Those who work to stop the effects of climate change are often disregarded as leftist radicals who lack a solid grounding. Much of that comes from the way in which many of them try to communicate their message.
Following is a video of George Marshall of the Climate Outreach & Information Network, based in the UK. He is working to change the way in which those of us who endeavor to save to environment communicate our message to the public. Check out this short video where he explains how to talk to a climate change denier.
The Waterfront Partnership has proclaimed the goal of making the Baltimore Harbor Swimmable and Fishable by 2020. Specifically, they intend – along with support from local nonprofits, business leaders, city officials and harbor advocates – to turn the currently polluted and trash strewn Harbor into a place where marine life thrives, the water is clean enough to swim, and the public health threat is removed.
The Value of Knowing Where You Are
The Waterfront Partnership released the most comprehensive report ever on the harbor’s water quality – the grade was a C-, admittedly with a large curve, indicating water quality was only acceptable 40% of the time. After testing nitrogen, phosphorus levels, chlorophyll, dissolved oxygen and water clarity from 28 locations from the Inner Harbor to South Baltimore’s Middle Branch Area (basically all water west of the Harbor Tunnel), if the harbor had a report card, it would look like this:
So What’s it Going to Take to Make the Harbor Swimmable in Less Than 10 years?
The Health Harbor Plan provides a roadmap for cleaning up the harbor and streams leading to the harbor. Among the efforts include:
- Banning Polystyrene – carryout food containers – which all too often end of floating in the city’s waterways.*
- Charging $.10 per plastic bag from retailers, convenience stores, and supermarkets, which also inundate our waterways.*
- Improving storm water, which contributes to the Harbor’s uninhabitable state:
- Increasing storm water management, including distributing trashcans to under-served areas and do a better job of sweeping streets
- Replacing impervious surfaces,mainly artificial structures including pavement (roads, sidewalks, driveways and parking lots) that are covered by impenetrable materials such as asphalt, concrete, brick, and stone, with parks, trees and green roofs
- Creating rain gardens and rain barrels to offset runoff
- Upgrading the city’s sewer system, where illegal discharges of raw sewage continue to plague the harbor – and the Chesapeake Bay at large
Knowing that a clean harbor and streams will provide an opportunity for residents and families to enjoy clean water in their neighborhoods and throughout the state – what can you do to support the efforts to make Baltimore’s Inner Harbor swimmable by 2020?
*The Baltimore City Council postponed action on a bill that would have banned the use of foam cups and containers for carryout food and drinks as well as a tax on retail plastic bags.
Mean surface temperature change for 1999–2008 relative to the average temperatures from 1940 to 1980 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
On September 27th the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the first part of their report, called AR5, on “the current state of scientific knowledge relevant to climate change.” More than 840 scientists convened in Stockholm to complete the report, and came to the conclusion that not only is climate change definitely happening, but that they are 95% sure that humans are the ones who should be held responsible. Additional sections of the report, to be released in 2014, will investigate the impacts of climate change, as well as possible steps we can collectively take to limit any damage.
In calling climate change “the greatest challenge of our time,” co-chairman of the IPCC Thomas Stocker, and others, pushed for international negotiations towards a new climate change treaty, as efforts have lagged in recent years. The report also served to address the fall-off in temperature rises over the past 15 years by stating that they not only lacked sufficient data to understand the pause in increase, but that short-term models are often poor predictors of trends.
Additionally, the report set a limit of one million metric tons of carbon, that could be released before the most dangerous effects of climate change would be felt. Currently, a half-trillion tons have been burned since the Industrial Revolution, and at the rate we are burning, we would reach this limit by 2040.
Other key findings include:
On Wednesday, the journal of Environmental Science and Technology published a study that found high levels of radioactivity, salts and metals in the water and sediments downstream from a fracking wastewater plant on Blacklick Creek in western Pennsylvania. Sediment in the creek contained Radium in concentrations 200 times above normal, which are above radioactive waste disposal threshold regulations and pose potential environmental risks. As reported in Bloomberg:
“The absolute levels that we found are much higher than what you allow in the U.S. for any place to dump radioactive material,” Avner Vengosh, a professor at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University and co-author of the study, said in an interview. “The radium will be bio-accumulating. You eventually could get it in the fish.”
How does this happen? Well, the fracking process involves injecting a mixture of water, sand and proprietary chemicals deep into rock at high pressure, which causes the rock to fracture and allowing methane gas to seep upward for extraction. Between 10 and 40 percent of the fluid injected during the process resurfaces, carrying contaminants like Radium with it.
Now for the kicker. Most states require the wastewater to be pumped back down into underground deposit wells sandwiched between impermeable layers of rock (which has it’s on set of problems: Colorado Floods). Pennsylvania, lacking these underground cavities, is the sole state to allow fracking wastewater to be processed by normal wastewater treatment plants and released into rivers.
Wastewater treatment for organic waste, yes. Wastewater treatment for radioactive waste, I’m gonna say no. Only 90 percent of Radium is removed from wastewater this way, meaning that dangerous levels of radium are building in the creek, which eventually flows into the Allegheny River.
As a radioactive isotope, exposure to Radium has been linked to increases in certain types of cancer. And here is where I start to feel like I am on a merry-go-round. All research points to evidence of the dangers of radioactive materials to public health and the environment. These are serious concerns, and yet our energy and political policies allow this sort of practice to continue, despite numerous seeps, leaks, and spills. The stories are predicable, but the community impact and implications for peoples’ lives are no less tragic.
When will we stop this merry-go-round?Yes, proper controls need to be put in place to help ensure the safety of communities, but that is simply a baby step to solving the greater problem. Research study after research study point to the dangers of fracking to our health and that of the environment and yet, the public discourse by industry and political officials remains the same. Over and over and over, this story plays out. Yet with each no pollution fight, it’s as though we’ve never had all the previous ones.
So I ask you, how much evidence will it take to drive people to stand up for what’s right and demand health and justice?
organic Heirloom tomatoes at Slow Food Nation’s garden. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Many home gardeners like to grow their own vegetables from seeds because they believe they are getting a healthier, safer product. For the most part, they are right. There is a lot of discussion, however, about what constitutes the best seeds. Questions abound around words such as “organic,” “heirloom,” “hybrid” and GM (genetically modified.)
Organic seeds mean that no artificial fungicides, pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers were used in the cultivation of the plant that produced the seeds. Organic farms use methods such as crop rotation, compost and green manure to grow healthy crops. Standards for organic farming are set by the USDA which certifies which plant producers can be certified “organic.” Getting certified as an organic plant producer can be a lengthy and expensive process, and some farmers who practice organic farming don’t bother to get the certification even though they adhere to organic growing practices.
Seed packets usually say if seeds are chemically treated and seed packager want to advertise their seeds as “organic” when they can. The FDA requires seeds treated with poisonous chemicals to be dyed. They are usually bright pink.
Heirloom plants, especially heirloom tomatoes have become very popular. Heirloom plants are older varieties. Heirlooms happen naturally in nature. They are not crossbred to produce certain desirable traits, although many think that heirlooms tasted better before the flavor, color and variety was bred out of them. There is a lot of debate about how old a variety has to be to be called heirloom, but most authorities agree that heirlooms, by definition, must be open-pollinated by insects, bees, birds, wind, and other natural ways. The good thing about an open-pollinated plant is that it will continue to reproduce new generations of those plants exactly the same as the previous generation. Some fruit trees are propagated by grafting, but the seeds of the fruit are still open-pollinated.
Heirloom seeds are also non-hybrid. If you want to save seeds from your garden, it’s important to get the heirloom varieties, and the plants’ offspring will then stay true to type.
Hybrids are the product of guided natural reproduction. Plant producers breed out the negative traits and select for the positive traits…for instance larger fruits or vegetables, earlier blooming, or natural resistance to disease. It’s a painstaking process whereby a grower carries out pollination under controlled conditions — such as hand-pollination under row cover — and then harvests seed from the females. Some of the best varieties are hybrids and they can also be organic.
Hybrid seeds are always labeled “hybrid” and/or “F1″ (first-generation offspring) or “F2″ (second-generation offspring). The problem with hybrid seeds is that when a gardener tries to save the seeds from that variety it typically reverts back to its wild parent and will never really know what will grow.
GMOs are the result of high-tech methods used to create organisms that would never emerge in nature. Genetically modified seeds (GM) have been genetically altered/engineered in a lab somewhere and have had specific changes introduced into their DNA by applying genetic engineering techniques. Gardeners are not able to save GMO seeds after harvest and must buy seed every year from large seed corporations, such as Monsanto.
There is a great deal of controversy about whether GMOs are safe and ecologically desirable. Advocacy groups such as Greenpeace, The Non-GMO Project and Organic Consumers Association say that risks of GM food have not been adequately identified and managed, and have questioned the objectivity of regulatory authorities. Opponents say that food derived from GMOs may be unsafe and propose it be banned, or at least labeled. They have expressed concerns about the objectivity of regulators and rigor of the regulatory process, about contamination of the non-GM food supply, about effects of GMOs on the environment and nature, and about the consolidation of control of the food supply in companies that make and sell GMOs.
As of 2013, roughly 85% of corn, 91% of soybeans, and 88% of cotton produced in the United States are genetically modified. It has been estimated that upwards of 75% of processed foods on supermarket shelves – from soda to soup, crackers to condiments – contain genetically engineered ingredients according to the Center for Food Safety.
Fortunately, very few fresh fruits and vegetables for sale in the U.S. are genetically engineered. And you are not likely to find GMO seeds for home gardening.
A diet rich in soy and whey protein, found in products such as soy milk and low-fat yogurt, has been shown to reduce breast cancer incidence in rats. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Many know that Greek yogurt is a superfood, higher in calcium than other dairy products, which helps build strong bones and prevents osteoporosis, and containing a number of other nutrients including high levels of protein and potassium. In addition, research indicates eating foods high in calcium and protein promotes weight loss. Specifically, whey is valued for being highly nutritional for athletes, babies and the elderly.
So what’s not to love?
According to Whey Too Much: Greek Yogurt’s Dark Side, the Greek yogurt industry is producing millions of pounds of waste each year that industry insiders are scrambling to figure out what to do with.
For every four ounces of milk, companies only produce one ounce of Greek yogurt – the rest is acid whey, a thin, runny waste product that can’t be dumped. Roughly as acidic as orange juice, acid whey composition robs oxygen from rivers and streams, potentially destroying aquatic life over large areas. The industry recycles it by:
- Supplementing Cow Feed
- Enhancing Farm Fertilizer
- Converting Biogas into Electricity
But what the industry needs is a way to re-purpose
acid whey while also making a profit. Current endeavors include:
Given the success of Greek yogurt production – tripling between 2007 and 2013, re-purposing acid whey, while making a profit, is a one of considerable wheyt.