Monthly Archives: September 2019

Europe Gets It

Donald Trump, early in his presidency stated his intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, a voluntary agreement to which every nation around the world is a signatory. The scientific consensus around the world is that the planet is warming and humans are the cause. The response of the rest of the world is to work towards reducing the damage by limiting the use of fossil fuels as a major step.

President Trump’s position however is: “as of today the United States will cease all implementation of the non-binding Paris Accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country. This includes ending the implementation of the nationally determined contribution…”

Wind and solar, as replacements for coal are already the less expensive alternative for generating electricity. Leaders around the world know this and are implementing the use of renewable energy as a cost-saving measure in addition to reducing global-warming carbon emissions. Much of Europe is ahead of the curve. Below are the highlights of a few European countries energy mix.

Of course, some countries have natural advantages: Switzerland is mountainous, Denmark windy, and Spain sunny. Ninety-seven percent of Switzerland’s electrical energy is produced from hydropower. In terms of potential expansion, hydropower is difficult because in the developed world, most of the good sites are already developed.

Denmark is currently a wind energy leader, both in installed capacity and technology companies focused on wind technology. Over 60 percent of total electric generation is renewable, most of that coming from wind. Denmark utilizes much off-shore wind where turbines are larger and the winds stronger and more consistent, all of which lowers the cost.

As noted Spain benefits from the sun, but also some hydro. Their total fraction for renewable energy is 40%. Over half of that is solar photovoltaic arrays with some solar thermal plants. Surprisingly, about 4% is from geothermal which is tens times as much on a percentage basis than the United States.

Germany is interesting, they are not especially blessed with wind or solar but are working hard to utilize these sources none the less. Germany relies on coal and nuclear, both of which they plan to phase out in the not too distant future. Their renewable energy is now about 30%. Wind generation is spread across the Republic but especially in the north and off-shore in the Baltic and North Seas. Solar PV installations dominate in Southern Germany but there is much rooftop solar as far north as Cologne. For reference that is farther north than Winnipeg, Canada.
Compare the USA at 18% total renewables, 7% hydro, 6% wind, and 1% solar, with solar the fastest growing. With our vast potential for both wind and solar, we could be leading the world. More wind turbines and solar panels are needed but also needed is the infrastructure create a robust electrical grid. Particularly needed is transmission capacity to move an abundance of wind energy from the Midwest.

Dr. Bob Allen is Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at Arkansas Tech University.

Bananas and Earthworms -Oh Boy

Invasive species come in all varieties, warm-blooded and cold-blooded animals, all kinds of plants, even fungi. Some are notable but cause little problems – armadillos, some are notable and troublesome – feral hogs, and some you never see but are dangerous – infectious bacteria and viruses in some biting insects.

Whenever a species is introduced to a non-native environment there can be negative consequences, earthworms for example. The last ice age covered North America as far south as southern Illinois. Any native earthworms would have been wiped out. After the glaciers receded, the upper midwest evolved for thousands of years without earthworms. Much later, that locale was populated with earthworms by incidental introduction from colonial ships from Europe. Rock and dirt used as ballast and dumped onshore was the likely method of introduction.

Generally speaking, worms are good as they churn and aerate the soil. But there is a dark side. Portions of hardwood forests in Minnesota and boreal forests in Canada have been negatively impacted by invasive earthworms. Fallen leaves accumulate on the forest floor and create a rich organic layer called duff. This duff layer is the natural growing environment for native woodland wildflowers. It also provides habitat for ground-dwelling animals and helps prevent soil erosion – basically natural mulch. When earthworms are present however they eat this leaf litter. In areas heavily infested by earthworms, soil erosion and leaching of nutrients may reduce the productivity of forest and even degrade fish habitat. Many tree seedlings, ferns, and wildflowers don’t survive this altered environment.

In the “unseeable” category of invasives are numerous fungi, smuts, rusts, mildew, mold, etc. Many of these are serious agricultural pests causing untold damage to food crops. The tropics where much fruit is grown for export are particularly susceptible. A new threat has recently come to the western hemisphere. Tropical plantations are subject to problems such as fungi because of the warm, moist climate and especially because plantations are generally monoculture. When only a single species of plant is grown in large concentration, the condition is likely to favor pests.

Guatemala alone exports over 3 billion pounds of bananas to the United States annually. All together we import over 8 billion pounds of bananas a year and this crop is at risk due to a fungus from southeast Asia. Although there are over a thousand varieties of bananas, 95 percent of all commercial bananas are essentially a clone of one – the Cavendish banana. It replaced a previous clone, Gros Michael or Big Mike. It succumbed to a fungus called fusarium wilt. A similar fate seems to await the Cavendish. In some parts of southeast Asia, a new variety of this wilt is reducing production there by forty percent per year. The wilt, a soil organism, just turned up in Colombia and could appear across central America.

Invasive species generally have an advantage as natural controls are absent. Monoculture acts to increase the distribution of the invader. Devastation of the banana crop in “northern triangle” of Central America will only serve to accelerate immigration to the United States as families seek some sort of income.

Dr. Bob Allen is Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at Arkansas Tech University.