Monthly Archives: February 2015

earth

A Positive Potpourri

So much news about global warming and climate change is negative. The planet’s hotter, the weather weirder, and the future dimmer. Whereas over half of Americans believe in global warming, less than half care. But there is some hope for the future out there.

Little is coming out of congress but the state of California is leading the way to a sustainable future. The land of “fruits and nuts,” the land where the leader is referred to as “Governor Moonbeam,” will be breaking ground for a new high speed rail to run from San Jose to Los Angeles. The nation’s largest infrastructure project will cost billions but take scads of cars off the highways and planes from the sky. It will produce jobs that can’t be sent overseas, and most importantly reduce the carbon footprint for the people of California.

And speaking of a carbon footprint, Governor Jerry Brown has set an ambitious goal of 50 % of the energy to come from clean sustainable sources such as wind, solar and geothermal by 2030. Nowhere else in the country is there such an ambitious standard.

The Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences show that the cost of onshore wind and solar PV are cheaper than coal for generating electricity, when the cost of climate forcing is factored into the use of fossil fuels, either gas or coal. The cost of solar panels alone has dropped by 50% between 2008 and 2009. Although Solar PV generated electricity only accounts of a scant 0.7 % of installed capacity, it recently has become the the most rapidly installed new generation in the country.

The oil and gas boom due to technological advances like shale fracking have accounted for a 10% reduction in oil imports (equivalent). That’s good but automotive efficiency due to gas mileage standards coupled with increase utilization of mass transit has resulted in nearly twice the savings, some 18% reduction. Reductions due to efficiency are far too often overlooked when considering reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.

An important aspect of sustainable energy is the fact that it creates jobs, more than any of the fossil fuel industries. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there are about 80,000 jobs in the coal mining industry, but over a 142,00 jobs in solar industries.

Several HVDC transmissions are moving through regulatory approval, including the Plains and Clean Line which will pass through Pope county. When approved and constructed, they will allow the utilization of much otherwise stranded electric generating capacity from abundant midwestern wind.

Also here in Arkansas, a 12 megawatt (MW) solar photovoltaic installation will be built on a one hundred acre site in an industrial park in East Camden. Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation (AECC) will sell power to their members across Arkansas. AECC has also agreed to purchase an additional 150 MW for a total of 201 MW of wind power from producers in Oklahoma. An 80 MW wind turbine farm has been proposed for a site near Springdale. It will use a novel shrouded turbine design which is claimed to completely eliminate bird and bat mortality.

photo credit: onlysimchas.com

Global Warming: Questions and Answers

Don’t the record snowstorms hitting the Northeast mean there is no such thing as global warming?

No, not at all. No one single event event, cold or hot, wet or dry, can be blamed on global warming or used to deny global warming. Global warming is due to increased amounts of heat trapping gasses in the atmosphere. A Higher average global temperature is just one outcome. Snowstorms are dependent on atmospheric moisture and warmer air holds more moisture. As long as the temperature at the base of the cloud is below freezing, it will snow. The higher the (below freezing)temperature, the greater the snowfall.

More rainfall will be better for crops then, right?

Not necessarily. Not only is a warmer atmosphere wetter, it is also more dynamic. Severe storms will be more common, including flooding. Even without floods, too much rain can be a problem. Too much rain in the spring can delay planting. Too much rain in the fall can cause problems with harvesting. Both effects will lower crop yields.

cropflood

cropflood

Well then at least we don’t need to worry droughts, right?

Not necessarily. Global warming is the cause, climate change is the effect. Climate scientists make predictions for the future climate based on computer algorithms called Global Climate Models (GCMs). There are several of them and they all generally agree. Not only will the atmosphere get warmer but other changes will occur. Rainfall will be greater overall, but the distribution patterns will change. Precipitation in coastal areas will increase but in mid-continental areas it may increase only slightly or actually decrease.

drought

drought

Wait, you can’t have it both ways can you?

Actually yes. Consider the following scenario. Here in Arkansas the climate is predicted to shift from one amenable to mixed hardwoods such as an oak/hickory biome to a more savanna like climate. Rainfall may increase but it will come in fewer, more intense storms. The factor that is most important to plant growth is soil moisture during the growing season. Higher temperatures mean faster evapotranpiration. The Ozarks very well may become a badly eroded prairie-like biome. We are predicted to have more rain but a drier climate.

Even drinking water may become harder to get – or at least more expensive. Fewer but more intense rainfall events means more runoff. This means less recharge of natural aquifers so less well water. Reservoirs will need to be greatly expanded to capture larger rainfall events.

Well, at least it won’t cost so much to heat homes and offices in the winter, right?

OK, I’ll give you this one but over all utility bills may be higher due to the greatly increased demand for air conditioning in warmer months. Summer electric loads are currently higher in the summer than winter, and this differential will expand. Not only will hotter summers cost more, heat waves will become more frequent. Heat waves are already the most lethal extreme weather event.

The climate has changed in the past and we survived. Why is this any different? Climate has changed before but never as rapidly as it is/will be changing in the near future. We will no doubt survive but a lot of plant and animal life won’t. Our future will be hotter, both drier and wetter, more lethal, and less diverse unless we act and act fast.

Temperatiure vs time

Who’s in Charge of Our Enviroment?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a scientific agency established in 1988 by the United Nations. It is comprised of climate scientists from around the world who focus on the risk of global warming and subsequent climate change. With every report, called assessments, the position of the scientific community is louder and stronger – The planet is warming, we are causing it, and we will suffer if we don’t address the root cause, the release of greenhouse gases.

From the most recent (fifth) assessment: “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years, and human influence on the climate system is clear. It is extremely likely (95-100% probability) that human influence was the dominant cause of global warming between 1951-2010.”

The IPCC says little about how we should address the problem, only that we have a problem. The solution is to be left to the governments of the world. So for the United States, who is in charge and what do they think?

inhofe

inhofe

Jim Inhofe, republican from Oklahoma, is chairman of the senate committee on Environment and Public works. Mr Inhofe is essentially the poster boy for global warming denial. He has even written a book on the subject: The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. He has referred to the IPCC as a “soviet style trial” and the US EPA as a “gestapo bureaucracy.”

Murkowski

Murkowski

Lisa Murkowski, republican from Alaska, is Chairwoman of the senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. In the past she has acknowledged that climate change is real and “we need to fight it…it doesn’t make sense to argue about how much global warming is caused by man — whether it’s 5 percent or 50 percent.“ That said, her actions speak louder than her words. She introduced a resolution to bar the EPA from regulating carbon emissions. She has called for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve to drilling for oil and gas. And she now claims that climate change “is too important an issue to rush and get wrong,” – shorthand for lets do nothing.

Smith

Smith

On the house side we have Lamar Smith, republican Chairman of the Science, Space and Technology committee. He claims that most of the predictions of the IPCC have been wrong and the reports clearly are biased. He stated that “we’ve now had close to 18 years of no global warming even though carbon dioxide emissions have increased 25 percent over the last 18 years. Nobody can explain that.” The only problem here is that he is dead wrong. Last year, 2014, was the hottest year and 13 of the last 15 years were the hottest on record.

bishop

bishop

The house committee on Natural Resources is chaired by Rob Bishop, republican from Utah. He received a lifetime score of only 4% from the League of Conservation Voters, meaning he consistently votes against conservation measures. He opined, “Despite the fact that scientific data underlying the studies of global warming appear to have been manipulated to produce an intended outcome, EPA officials disregarded the contaminated science, calling it little more than a ‘blip on the history of this process.’” There is no evidence whatsoever to the claim that data has been manipulated or that science is contaminated.

Guinea Worm

Jimmy Carter and the Guinea Worm

The Guinea Worm, Dracunculus medinensis, is a nematode which has infected humanity for millennia. It is a subject of interest because of the large size, up to three feet long, and the fact that infection with the worm is extremely painful as the worm makes its way within the body. Secondary infections can be lethal.

Knowledge of the infection dates back to antiquity. Some authors suggest that the closing verses of three stanzas of a poem in the Sanskrit book Rig-Veda, allude to the Guinea worm. The worm was well known to ancient Egyptians and has been found in mummies dating back to 2000 BCE.

The life history of the Guinea worm begins when contaminated water is consumed. The Guinea worm spends part of its life cycle as a larva in an intermediate host, a tiny copepod. When consumed by humans, the copepod dies and releases larvae. They bore through the stomach wall into the peritoneum where they mature. The smaller males mate with the females. Adult females then migrate to the skin, ultimately boring through the skin. When an the infected person then bathes the inflamed tissue in a body of water the female releases larvae, only to be consumed by copepods, renewing the cycle.

Traditional treatment is to extract the worm by slowly winding it onto a stick after it has broken through the skin, a process that can take hours to months long. This may be the source of the biblical allegory of Moses and the serpent. So the story goes, at one point while wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites were again being sinful so God sent serpents to the camp and the people started dying. God told Moses “ Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”

This is also likely to be the origin of an ancient symbol – the Rod of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing. It is the major symbol for professional healthcare associations in the United States, the staff and snake being a proxy for a worm on a stick. It’s a single image instructional manual so to speak.

The disease due to infection is called Dracunculiasis. It has affected millions into the twentieth century, mainly in parts of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. In 1986 the Carter Center, founded by President Jimmy Carter, estimated that there were 3.5 million people infected. With a small amount of funding and a big educational outreach, that number has dropped to 186, and is likely to be completely eliminated within a year or two. This will be the second disease eliminated from mankind, after Smallpox.

And the solution is so simple. The intermediate host, the copepod, is not a microscopic organism, but rather a little crustacean about the size of a small grain of salt. All that is necessary is to filter drinking water through a gauze-like membrane, even a bandana will do! Because there is no alternate host, once the organism is eliminated from the human population, the worm will be extinct.guinea
The Carter Center set in motion a program to train locals to teach this simple hygiene measure which will soon eliminate a grotesque disease which has afflicted humans for thousands of years. Thank you Jimmy Carter.