Friday, April 30, 2010

New Offshore Wind-Farm

After 9 years of regulatory review the first offshore wind farm in the U.S. was approved by the Department of the Interior on April 28th to be built off the coast of Massachusetts. The approval is expected to jump-start the offshore wind business in the US an alternative energy source that has become quite popular in Europe. Upon making the announcement Ken Salazar the Secretary of the Interior announced that “This will be the first of many projects up and down the Atlantic Coast,” also saying that with the approval of such projects strict regulations would be enforced to prevent possible adverse effects of the wind farms installation including changing the wind turbines direction and color. The review of the project which lasted nearly 9 years faced significant opposition from former Massachusetts senator Edward Kennedy who died last August who was largely opposed to the project because he believed that it would be a gift for whichever energy firm received the approval, he also believed that it would be bad for tourism and boating in the area. There are also concerns with the wind farms effects on airplane radar and the project still needs approval from the FAA The wind farm is to be located 5.2 miles from the nearest shore and 13.8 miles from Nantucket. The wind farm will provide power for 75% of cape cod, Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard and produce power equal to that of a medium sized coal power plant and will bring jobs to the area. Construction is set to begin within a year

Oil Spill in the Gulf

An oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is endangering wildlife and habitats along the gulf, and sources say that the oil has begun to reach coastal waters of Louisiana, home to nearly half of the country's wetlands. The first article points out that the way we have been cleaning up oil spills has remained largely the same since the 1960s. These methods include simply burning the oil off the surface of the water, a direct source of pollution.

The second article listed below makes an interesting point regarding the primarily Republican campaign to "drill baby, drill," in the article circle waters surrounding Alaska.

Congressman Jim Moran had this to say about the potential for disaster:

"If the drilling industry is incapable of capping a blowout in temperate waters in a region with more than 80 years of offshore experience in the close proximity of equipment, manpower and technical expertise, I have grave doubts about the industry's response capabilities in the frigid Arctic waters off Alaska's coast,"

What do you see as being a potential solution? Personally, I think that disasters like this happen infrequently, and that offshore drilling in Alaska is a feasible and profitable option for the United States. However, I also see the importance of preserving some of the last unscathed habitats we have in the United States. Can more be done regarding prevention for these oil spills?

Acid Mine Drainage

by Jodi Wallace

As we all know, mining can create a variety of serious environmental degradation issues. The one I want to discuss is called acid mine drainage (AMD). The science behind AMD is actually pretty in-depth and there are still a lot of ongoing studies regarding its cause and treatment, but basically, AMD occurs when sulfur-bearing minerals are exposed to water and air, allowing for the formation of sulfuric acid. Heavy metals leached from the rocks can combine with the acid and dissolve, creating highly toxic runoff. While small amounts of this runoff can occur naturally, mining (both strip and subsurface) exposes more minerals to more air and water and therefore produces sulfuric acid runoff at a much higher rate when compared to the natural rate of discharge. The process of AMD can result from both new mines as well as mines that have been abandoned for over 100 years. The environmental impact of AMD is enormous when this runoff drains into nearby rivers and streams (EPA). According to the EPA, there are about 500,000 abandoned mines in the U.S. and about 40% of the U.S. western watersheds are polluted with metals from these mines. Altogether, the cost of cleaning up these abandoned mines is estimated to cost about $30 billion dollars, and some call it today’s greatest environmental issue. Waters polluted from AMD can harm the aquatic life in the rivers, our drinking water, outdoor recreation, and can also lead to corroding wastewater pipes and other infrastructure (Limerick, et. al).

There are two major issues with AMD clean up. The first is a lack of enforcement in current mining operations, and the second (oddly enough) is the Clean Water Act.

Let’s start with enforcement. The only true, cost-effective way to solve AMD is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. The best regulation in place to prevent this sort of environmental degradation – and save taxpayers millions and billions of dollars in water treatment – is SMCRA (the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act of 1977). SMCRA basically assigns stringent standards to mining operators and makes them accountable for the environmental degradation they inflict, including water pollution. However, SMCRA isn’t always enforced; anyone can drive up I-70 and see the effects mining has had in the Rocky Mountains. SMCRA is most obviously ignored in the Appalachian region, where Mountain Top Removal (MTR) is particularly destructive and harmful to the environment, as well as to the local communities. MTR companies are incredibly behind in their reclamation efforts - most haven’t even tried to reclaim the land they’ve destroyed - and they owe millions (possibly billions) of dollars, but have no incentive to pay so long as the OSM continues to fail to enforce the regulations.

AMD is most difficult to treat in abandoned mines, not only because a number of historic mines in the western states are not mapped, but also because there are no parties to hold responsible for the cleanup. The Clean Water Act (CWA), while beneficial for nearly every other water pollutant, actually makes AMD clean up more difficult. An organization that tries to treat a mine for AMD effectively becomes permanently responsible for the mine under the CWA. This means that anyone – nonprofit, government agency, local community, corporation, etc. - that tries to treat a mine also becomes responsible for any damage or pollution the mine has created or will create in the future. The organization, by taking liability, must ensure that the water quality meets the standards required by the CWA, which, in the case of AMD, can be extremely costly and may require continued treatment for decades. Simply put, the people who want to clean up the damage either have to clean it up completely or not at all; there’s no variability in the CWA that allows for a partial clean-up effort.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Offshore Energy.

In the past week, two major stories have come to the forefront regarding offshore energy.

The first was the explosion of an oil rig off the coast near New Orleans. The blast presumably killed 11 workers and is currently leaking over 200,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico each day1. By the time the leak is fixed, the total amount of oil spilt into the Gulf is expected to exceed the 11 million gallons of the Exxon Valdez in 1989.

The second was the approval of 130 windmills to be built five miles off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts2. This wind farm would produce enough clean energy to power up to 200,000 homes2.

Opponents of the wind project say that it will kill some birds and the turbines may be visible from beach front properties tarnishing their view. However, offshore oil drilling has already resulted in the loss of human life, as well as incalculable harm to birds and marine life. Additionally, the quickly spreading oil is threatening to completely destroy the Gulf Coast fishing industry. At this point, climate change seems almost irrelevant in the comparison of the two.

Still, the Obama administration has stood behind both forms of energy, approving increased offshore drilling in addition to the Cape Cod wind project. It's time that the government quits trying to cater to everyone and chooses the correct side. Proposed wind and oil projects are both privately funded so there is no upfront cost to the American people. However, wind promises zero emissions while only harming a few birds and potentially coming into view of some rich people. Meanwhile, oil drilling means certain release of greenhouse gases while potentially killing more workers and a historic record of environmental catastrophe from spills. You don't need a detailed cost-benefit analysis to see that the choice is clear. WIND BABY WIND!.



In Vitro Meat

Within recent years, the technology has been developed to grow meat in vitro. This means that regular muscle and fat cells can be forced, through a complicated process, to proliferate and divide creating meat (1). Two distinct methods are available for creating this in vitro meat. The first creates loose muscle cells ideal for minced meat, while the second would create a form of meat that would look similar to a conventional variety. Some researchers believe that this in vitro meat is ready for consumer production, and even believe that they can alter the properties of the meat to one day be more healthy than the conventional variety (2). Researchers believe that they have the technology to reduce the saturated fat content, as well as adding Omega 3 fatty acids. The process would also potentially expose the meat to less bacterial sources, as it wouldn’t need to be grown on an animal. In vitro meat is currently expensive, but is projected to be the same price as conventional meat and only twice the price of conventional chicken.
My question is simple. Do the vast benefits of this new technology outweigh other negative factors? What do you think?
Some benefits:
o Possibly more healthy
o Cheaper as the technology expands
o No animal welfare concerns
Some costs:
o Hormonal Risks (similar growth hormones are used with in vitro meats as are used with conventional practices)
o Meat may not be as appealing visually
o Costly research must be done
o Huge amounts of jobs would have to be reallocated to accept this new market

1) Siegelbaum, D.J. (2008-04-23). "In Search of a Test-Tube Hamburger"
2) Macintyre, Ben (2007-01-20). "Test-tube meat science's next leap"

Carrot Mob!

This semester we have learned a lot about policy approaches and challenges in regard to the environment. It seems awfully slow moving, eh? Is anyone else frustrated that our national government doesn't seem to be doing much about climate change?
Here is an idea about a way to create change without trying to go through the government, and it is very easy to do! The idea is called Carrot Mob, and it first started in San Francisco. The idea is that businesses have a lot of power and influence and we can use consumerism to change business practices.
In this experiment, this guy (couldn't find his name) asked 20 different nearby liquor stores how much percentage of profits they would put towards their store's sustainability if he could bring a large number of buyers to that store for one day. Some stores bid 10%, some 20%, and the highest and winning bidder agreed to donate 22% of one day's profit. They advertised for this one day for everyone to buy their alcohol and goods at this store. The outcome was double what was expected and the store made over 9,000 bucks in a few hours. The percentage towards sustainability was enough to completely redo the lighting system in the store.
The idea here is that consumers have a lot of power. This is a way that every individual can make a difference by making a small adjustment to your lifestyle- simply pay attention to where you buy your products. Carrot Mob has spread all around the country and now throughout the world. It's the opposite of a boycott, and it can really have a huge effect. Please check out the youtube video because its hilarious (he makes it rain with money in the lq store) and you will get a better idea of what this is about. (if this link doesn't work youtube carrotmob makes it rain)

Wind Energy

I really enjoyed the discussion because he brought up issues of small businesses making an impact and also of environmental protection versus new energy sites.
The discussion sparked my interest in researching wind energy because of the disadvantages of natural gas and coal. The article I read about wind energy is by the U.S department of Energy. Wind has many advantages such as it is one of the .." lowest-priced renewable energy technologies available today", at a price of 4 to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour. It also takes up little space and energy companies pay the land owners for the use of land.
The article states that by 2030 , payments for wind turbines would produce more than $600 million dollars for landowners. In addition it would generate local tax revenues.
One disadvantage is that it is not necessarily going to be windy when the community needs energy. Since wind energy cannot be stored it is only a efficent source in windy areas. The biggest disadvantage is where there is space for wind power plants there is little demand for energy such as rural areas and farm land.

More future-technology

Continuing on with the trend of my previous post, I came across another promising eco-friendly technology that may very well find its way into the energy-production framework of the near future.

This is a rendering of Poseidon 37, "a floating power plant with the durability of an oil rig and the efficiency to generate up to 50 gigawatt [hours] of hydro and wind power a year"(gizmondo). Although both hydro and wind power are by no means new technologies, the idea of producing energy from multiple renewable sources with one structure is intriguing to me. At 30,000tons and 230 meters wide, Poseidon 37 will roam the seas freely going wherever the winds and currents take it, all the while producing energy with both wind and hydroelectric turbines.

The main challenges we face today with implementing larger-scale renewable energy infrastructure pertains to the huge cost of manufacturing wind turbines, hydroelectric plants, and so on. While power plants such as the Poseidon 37 are by no means inexpensive, the fact that one structure is common to two different types of energy-harnessing turbines points to the conclusion that it will at least be cheaper than installing separate wind farms and hydroelectric plants.

Although a novel idea, I can foresee Poseidon 37 posing many potential problems. A huge underwater hydroelectric turbine roaming the seas can not me good for marine life, and run-ins with land could also be a problem. Regardless of this, the idea of implementing multiple renewable energy production methods into one 'power plant' can prove to be a very valuable innovation.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Nuclear Power The Alternative

When doing a study on nuclear power in the United States, I found something interesting on how it benefits the overall growth of an economy. This might be something that this country needs because of the current deficit .

Nuclear Power brings overall benefits to the economy.. Although there is the general argument that nuclear power brings major subsidies and cost to an economy, there is an argument that nuclear power benefits and helps an economy thrive in more then one way. In a study done by the Nuclear Energy Institute, in cooperation with PPL Corporation, there were findings that there are economic benefits of the PPL Susquehanna nuclear power plant. The plant, which is located in Pennsylvania, is a two-reactor plant that generates low-cost electricity and makes purchases of goods and services has stimulated the local economy since 1970. Besides its economic output, the plant provides jobs, labor income, and tax revenue to the area, in 2005 Susquehanna increases Pennsylvania’s economic output by 51.7 million (Nuclear Energy Institute and PPL Corporation 2008, p.1). If I am Barrack Obama, I look at these numbers and realize that nuclear power is something that could help benefit all different aspects of the economy. This country is in a deficit; with unemployment reaching high levels, an investment in a nuclear power plants can help stimulate more jobs therefore raising the overall economic input and output.


Economic benefits of ppl susquehanna nuclear power plant. (2006).

Nuclear Energy Institute and PPL Corporation.

Colorado Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act

A recent article on focuses on new legislation in Colorado regarding clean energy. This past week governor Bill Ritter signed into law the Colorado Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act. The law requires Xcel Energy to cut nitrogen oxide emissions by "up to 80% from several Front Range coal plants by the end of 2017." The language used in the article did not seem concrete so I went to Governor Ritter's site but found that the article quoted the "up to 80%" verbatim.

Xcel will reach this goal by working with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in order to create a plan to retrofit 900 megawatts of coal-fired capacity. The deadline for submitting a proposal is August 15th. The law will help Colorado keep regional haze legislation within the state rather then delegating it to the EPA. As a part of the federal Clean Air Act, Colorado must submit a plan addressing regional haze by 2011 or the EPA will be given authority to write it.

One interesting thing I noticed was that Xcel's chairman and CEO Dick Kelly actually supported this bill (House Bill 1365) and was present at the signing ceremony. This act is a step forward for Xcel, but also allows them to maintain autonomy over their emissions regulations.

Link to the article

Link to Governor Ritter's press release on HB 1365

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bill Gates and Hurricane Prevention

I came across this article about Bill Gates new patent on an invention to decrease hurricane intensity. It might be old news to some but I thought it was really interesting. In 2008 Bill Gates filed for several structure patents which are designed to weaken or even dissipate hurricanes directed toward the United States' Gulf coast. As these deadly hurricanes form as a result of warm ocean surface water (among other things), Gates' new project design would churn the cold, deep ocean water in hopes for it to mix with the warm surface water.

"According to NASA, low sea surface temperatures can spell death for a hurricane, as happened in 1998 when the cold water Hurricane Bonnie left in its wake caused Hurricane Danielle, which was following close behind, to dissipate. Thus, there is reason to suspect that a significant amount of cold water could cause a hurricane to dissipate.
There are two ideas behind Gates' patent idea. First, the lower depths of the ocean may be used as a huge heat/energy sink. In this method warm ocean surface water is pushed in a downward direction to exit into the cold ocean depths, operating in a continuous cycle. Second, while the primary conduit pushes water down, in an alternative version a secondary conduit may be used to bring cold water to the surface to aid in cooling the warm surface water regions by mixing of subsurface water with surface water."
While the magnitude of the effort might be considerable, perhaps even to the point that it may never become feasible, the physics involved are plausible, and looking at the heat graph above showing how Danielle never materialized it does not seem as if there is a large temperature difference required. Perhaps it is unrealistic to think that anything man made could dissipate a hurricane, but perhaps lessening hurricanes is far more possible. Given the harm caused by hurricanes, there will no doubt be some who continue to follow this and other paths in an effort to control their deadly and damaging affects. your thoughts?

Although the Gulf of Mexico has to not only fear of hurricanes, but it also has to anticipate an unexpected arrival of oil that has traveled from a leaky oil pipe 50 miles southeast of Venice Louisiana. Not only has this oil wells' pipe explode, but its dumping 42,ooo gallons a day into the gulf. It has been said it will take another 3 days until it hits the us gulf coastline, but similar to Hurricane Katrina it can't be predicted to where it will hit first. Considering the amount of ecologically fragile coastline in Louisiana (40% of nations wetlands), coast guard officials are anticipating a "controlled burn" of the petroleum on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. These burnings have been administered before, and have resulted in a burning of 50-95% of oil collected in a fire boom... so coast guards don't forget your weenies! Although it can cause a major pollution to the air in the area, however it could outweigh the side effects of having the oil come into contact to the coast and cause long term problems for the area. The well has constructed an emergency device known as a blowout preventer, which stops oil flow in an emergency, however its only a short term solution for capping the well. So far, the cleanup has amounted to $6 million a day, and the company has been pressured to find other solutions to clean up their mess. However, there have been a plan to use a type of tent or dome to collect the oil, but it will take another 3-4 weeks to become operational (lets just hope the oil company doesn't runout of money before then). Also, because of the leak, the company will immediately begin a project to seal the well, and begin to drill at another spot to collect the remaining oil. Ultimately, companies and citizens will have to factor in that animals would be more likely to survive a giant bloom of smoke more than any oil slick; however it will be only a matter of time until gov't organizations are really pressed to make the right decision.

environmental impacts of ADHD

I wrote a case study on ADHD and thought some of what I learned would apply to this blog, it's pretty interesting stuff....It's evident that there has been a dramatic increase in the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD. Environmental hazards, specifically

mercury and lead as neurotoxins, are mainly responsible due to the high correlation between

mercury and lead levels and ADHD:

- Children with ADHD have a mean blood mercury levels 6.6 nmol/L higher than children without ADHD

- Children with anything above 29 nmol/L had 9.69 times higher risks of having ADHD (Cheuk & Wong, 2006).

- Lead has a similar case; studies have found those with ADHD have higher levels of lead in their blood

(Nigg, 2008).

-Today, it is estimated that 25% of children in the U.S. are at risk for lead poisoning

(Morley, 2006).

- It is estimated that 3.8

million children have toxic levels of lead exposure from water-specific sources (Crocetti &

Mushak, 1999).

environmental policy does address this, but so far all efforts and establishments have been insufficient in taking care of this....

Monday, April 26, 2010

Brazil: Hired Guns:
 Fighting for a share of the land


The embedded video by Siri Schubert discusses a clash between three parties in
the state of Paraná, in southern Brazil. The first and central group of this video
is the MST (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem-Terra translated to Brazil’s
Landless Workers Movement). The second, Syngenta, a transnational
corporation that was testing genetically modified soybeans in the state. And
finally, a private security company contracted to protect the Syngenta testing
grounds, N.F. Segurança.

The MST commonly protested Syngenta for the testing of potentially toxic seeds
and fertilizers. They claim that the toxins in their products can contaminate
food and water supplies as well as reducing the biodiversity of the area. In early
2007, the court ordered the protesters to stop, which they did albeit

In 2006, Syngenta was found guilty of violating a law prohibiting any genetic
testing within 10 km of governmentally protected areas and ordered to pay
$500,000. In late 2007 however, tensions rose in the area when the company
dragged out paying the fine. On October 21st 2007 at around 7:00 am a large
group of MST protesters gathered around the complex, at the gates near the
security check point. After realizing they were out numbered, the security
guards fled, but returned with numbers. Although the exact order of events is
unclear and disputed by N.F. and MST, the last image captured of the event, on
a cell phone, clearly displayed a security guard with a handgun. In the after
math of the event the gates were riddled with bullet holes, 2 lay dead and many
more injured.

Blame for the events that transpired is placed on many different parties. The
police investigating the incident blame N.F. Segurança. The security firm
however points to the MST who were carrying “revolvers, rifles and a lot of
guns” (although MST claim to have been unarmed). The firm also blames the
contract with Syngenta claiming they had a security plan for such events, which
included deploying more men to a location in case of an invasion. Syngenta,
although unavailable for an interview, stated that they had a provision in the
contract to “nether use force nor to carry weapons in the guarding and
protection of the research station”.

As of yet, no one in any of the groups has been sentenced, however charges
stand against many N.F. Segurança agents. Syngenta gave its 127 acres used for
testing GM plants to the state, which promised to use it as an organic farm and
an agricultural school. MST has since moved on to protest other environmentally
harmful farms.

External Links:
N.F. Segurança website:
MST website:
Syngenta Brazil:
Frontline’s Website:

The future of construction - or something like it

By Max Paetz
Regardless of how immaterial future 'greener' societies may be, a need for shelter and public infrastructure are two things that will always be needed. This poses a problem in our resource-limited world when the vast majority of buildings are made in part out of wood, and huge amounts of energy are expended in the production of steel and other building materials. Furthermore, large quantities of waste is produced in traditional construction methods (i.e. disposal of poor-quality lumber, disposal of excess lumber, etc).

Miniwiz, a company that specializes in sustainable energy development, has recently developed the 'polli-brick' which is a building material made solely out of recycled mature PET plastic bottles. Although the thought of structures - especially large ones - made entirely out of plastic bottles may seem somewhat precarious, 'polli-brick' structures have been tested to withstand extreme weather conditions. The bricks themselves, besides the obvious fact that they are recycled plastic bottles, hold many energy-saving qualities. The bricks have far superior thermal and sound insulating properties than traditional building materials, they are semi-transparent, meaning more light in structures, and they are self-interlocking, meaning no need for nails, screws, mortar, glue, and so on. Another interesting quality that these bricks posess lie in within the fact that the bricks are hollow - this means that lights can be implemented into the walls and ceilings of structures (and powered as well with stored solar energy within the bricks), gardens can be grown in home walls and floors, storage space is increased immensely, and so on.

Here is a miniwiz representative explaining the polli-bricks at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show.

Regardless of the benefits of such green technology, public response may be mixed due to polli-brick structures aesthetic value (or lack thereof), resistance to change, etc. The first polli-brick building was recently completed for the 2010 Taipei flora expo which commences on december 6th, 2010. The polli-brick building at the expo, if nothing else, will hopefully raise awareness of sustainable architecture and inspire new ideas of similar nature.

edit: Upon further inspection, I realized that the image of the polli-brick building I posted was actually steel, so I deleted it.


Boulder's 100 year flood

A problem in Boulder, which my geology 2 professor pointed out two semesters ago is the geographical location of the City of Boulder and it's propensity for flooding I read a great article on the topic, a little long but worth it if you are interested

here is a little taste of one authors description of what the flood will look like if it happened today...

"a wall of water rages down Boulder Canyon, hurtling trees, cars and boulders the size of Volkswagens. Hitting the mouth of the canyon, the racing wall is carrying 30,000 cubic feet of water per second (cfs). Buildings are destroyed, bridges collapse and people are washed away, while those on high ground can do nothing but watch."

The last flood happened in the year 1894. It killed 144 people and cost 35.5 million dollars in damages. This happened at the bottom of local Thompson Canyon. However the real issue would be if the flood came out of the Boulder Canyon mouth instead. There is far more development, the Boulder Public Library, city buildings, Boulder High School, CU housing etc... an it is estimated that coming out of Boulder canyon, the destructive force would be around three times as powerful as the one that came out of Thompson, given the exact same variables.
The typical flow of the water coming out of the canyon is 10 cfs in December, in peak seasons it could run as high as 700 cfs. If the 100 year flood repeated, we would see a flow around 12,000 cfs. The scariest thing is that the 100 year flood is not even the biggest issue, it was just way to look at a perhaps near future problem. There is also a 500 year flood that is estimated to be far more destructive and there are over 5,000 private Boulderite properties within this zone.

So what should be done here? Better infrastructure, move housing and construction lines? Build a dam somewhere or create levee walls?

Children throwing off my carbon footprint.

Now more than ever, the laws in China restricting the number of children in a family , are making sense. In an online article on by Lisa Hymas, she discusses the significance it can play on one's carbon footprint to not have children. There are more and more of people on the world everyday as the population is assumed to approache 9 billion by mid-century. If having fewer children is the best way to have an impact on climate change, people that care about the earth so much that climate change is their determining factor in not procreating, it is possible that the instinctive "tree-hugging" population might genetically remove themselves from the gene pool. It has been calculated in Scientific American, that over the life of a child, the CO2 emitted by them can add up to 9441 metric tons to the atmosphere. With exponential population growth inevitable, especially in developing countries, is this alternative surprising or difficult to accept? What would another baby boom in the developing countries do to the future projections of global temperature change. Even by using energy efficient car or appliances you will not make near as much of an impact as by not procreating.

Lights out

As the many cities across the world took part in an hour where lights were shut off globally, it made me wonder why go to the effort for such an insignificant event? I mean, really, this one hour a year out of almost 9,000 is supposed to do what exactly? I would be more impressed if maybe it happened more often, or for a longer amount of time. During the summer solstice, for example, many people could go all day without lights. Even at night, that ONE day year, the northern hemisphere could go one night with candle light. Is it just me? Anybody else think this is a half-assed effort?

Coal usage in UK and US

It is common knowledge that coal usage is increasing as globalization reaches developing nations. In the US, the EPA has helped to veto a bill calling for more mountain top removal. The removal adds to air and water pollution as well as ruining the beauty of the land. In the UK the economy is, too, dependent on the production and usage of coal for such items as iron and steel. The problem is found when the majority of coal is taken from the surface, the amount of energy required to access it makes the equation of "energy-return-on-investment (EROI)" decline. As coal continues to become harder to mine, sustainable alternatives are much needed and desired.

A New Report on Genetically Engineered Crops

By: Chase Siegel
A new report conducted by the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council has answered some questions about Genetically Engineered (GE) crops, but has mostly brought up more questions, and established the importance of long-term, extensive research into GE crops, but also the livestock and humans who eat the GE products. Also, this was the first major study to include both farmers who use GE products and conventional or organic farmers who do not use GE products, but are certainly affected by them. The study's main conclusion is that "GE technology needs proper management to remain effective."
Since introduced in 1996, GE seeds have become extremely popular in the US, now constituting more than 80% of soybeans, corn, and cotton. This is because in general, although the seeds are expensive, they produce more profit for the farmer. While the technology is still new and evolves every year, most GE seeds are manipulated to be resistant to herbicides (especially glyphosate), to produce a bacterium (Bacillus thuringiensis, aka Bt) that kills most insects that target crops, to produce a higher yield, to withstand changes in climate (specifically low precipitation), and to make almost every piece of produce as good looking, tasting, and consistent as possible. Future manipulations discussed in the article include plants that decrease the likelihood of off-farm water pollution, and the possibilities are almost endless.
This all sounds perfect, right? Well nothing is, and GE crops are no exception. The first problem found in the study is that weeds are becoming resistant to glyphosate because farmers who plant GE crops that are resistant to specific herbicides, like glyphosate, are now overusing the chemical, which happens to be incredibly inexpensive. Now, there are at least nine weeds that have become completely resistant to the common herbicide. The report suggests that farmers be encouraged, if not forced, to use a variety of herbicides and pesticides so that plants and insects do not develop resistances to a specific one. Another observation made by the report is that farmers who do not use GE crops in areas where there are many farms that do use GE crops end up getting much worse insect and weed problems. What is even worse is that weeds and insects are not the only things migrating onto the non-GE farms, now GE plants are "polluting" non-GE farms due to cross-pollination or seed mingling. This is very alarming to me because GE foods are so new that there is no long-term research done on the effects to humans over time. While I do not believe that there will be a danger, if there turns out to be one it may be too late, with GE crops destroying conventional farms in the same way that a weed or insect would. For now, farmers who grow organic or GE-free food can sell it for higher prices, but if the farms all become contaminated, the non-GE crops will die out because of natural selection.
Worst of all, GE seeds are patented. They are manipulated so that farmers cannot collect seeds from the crops to plant for the next season, but instead must buy the "new line of seeds" every year. Also, due to the patent, any GE plants that end up on farms due to cross-pollination or seed migration technically belong to the seed company, and not the farmer who owns the land, and never wanted the plants in the first place. This leads to legal battles, and usually the farmer must end up signing a contract to buy GE seeds. To control this problem, the report suggests that the government step in and both stop the consolidation of the seed industry, which is going on now, and also make GE seeds available to everyone who wants them.
This study is a milestone in the research of GE crops because it included the conventional farmers in the study. Throughout the article, further studies are suggested, especially dealing with livestock that eat GE crops and long-term effects on human health, acquired resistance to herbicides and pesticides, and the socioeconomic effects of GE crops.


The Future of Energy: Nuclear

I found an interesting article about the current debate over Nuclear energy. As Nuclear energy is becoming more popular in developing nations (India, China), how should the USA respond? Currently there are over 100 nuclear reactors in the US and they provide roughly 17% of energy on the grid. France has around 60 reactors but they provide more than 70% of the countries energy. Nuclear energy has the potential to provide clean energy in abundance, and combat climate change with zero emissions. The opposition to Nuclear advocates stress on financial risk, and safety as main arguments. Do you think it would be possible to create a policy that effectively reduces financial risk in order to attract American investors to the Nuclear industry? Or a policy that would make the nuclear industry safer? For example, maybe developing a single global reactor fuel supplier to strictly control and regulate the global market. It seems like the turn to prominent nuclear energy use will come as safer technologies emerge, such as meltdown-proof reactors. Citizens will not support nuclear energy until it is safer. Accidents such as Chernobyl, which occurred exactly 24 years ago today, are not worth the health and financial risks. As these risks are mitigated through research, nuclear energy will likely gain public influence. So what should the US do? Compete with the India's and China's of the world in the nuclear industry, or focus on other sources of energy with less initial costs/risks for the future?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Genetic Engineering: A Better Future?
I found this article recently, and thought it was worth a look for the class. The topic is green genetic manipulation, which presents a position of both far reaching possibility and controversy. For instance the growing viruses into batteries, or viruses to manufacture hydrocarbons have profoundly far reaching capabilities. But we are talking about genetic manipulation, which has had a previously controversial standing, such as with corn in Canada.

As a counter point, here's an interesting video on genetic manipulation of food:

"Could Cleaner Air Actually Intensify Global Warming?"

This article from National Public Radio focuses on an unseen adversary of climate change. The article relies heavily on comments from Eli Kintisch, a science writer for the New York Times. The culprit? Aerosol. They, " block sunlight, they make clouds more reflective" (1). This same effect is observed in volcano eruptions, as the dust they produce blocks out sunlight (2). The cleaning of aerosol is a noble pursuit as they can cause chemical reactions, "The most significant of these reactions are those that lead to the destruction of stratospheric ozone" (3). But the magnitude of the effects from aerosol are unclear. The removal of aerosol, especially without the removal of heating greenhouse gasses may have drastic consequences.

Primary Source

Contributing Sources

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations

One of the most environmentally degrading and psychologically disturbing industries in the United States, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO’s), is consistently ignored by the media, causes extensive environmental degradation, and is wasting millions of government money in subsidies. Factory farming is the process of confining animals in unnatural conditions so as to maximize the amount of meat these industries can produce at the lowest cost. The amount of waste produced by so many animals in such a limited space often causes nearby lakes or rivers to become contaminated from runoff. These feeding operations are also very water intensive themselves, nearly 8% of human water use goes toward animal production. This does not include the amount of water that is needed to produce the crops for animal feed. The incredible amount of manure that so many animals create also emits greenhouse gases, such as methane, which contribute to global warming. The land needed to grow crops to feed these animals also has a huge impact on the environment mainly in the form of soil degradation. Farmers now use genetically modified organisms which can grow on soil that does not need to be replenished by growing different crops every couple of years. This ensures that the nutrients the crops are taking from the soil are not getting replenished and this often leads to soil desertification. These crops, primarily corn and soy beans, are heavily subsidized by the government and wastes millions of dollars annually to support an industry that is inefficient to begin with. The way in which these animals are mass produced is inconsistent with how the environment was structured to create meat and how humans were meant to consume meat. There needs to be an immediate change in the structure of governmental subsidies to encourage growth in industries that have positive impacts on its citizens.

Reference: Singer, Peter, and Jim Mason. The Ethics of What We Eat. Rodale, 2006. Print.

B-cycle bike-share program makes Denver a roll model

On Earth Day, Denver became the first city in the nation to develop a large scale bike-sharing program. The hope is that people will use these bikes as a link between public transportation and their final destinations within the city, leaving cars at home. Thirty eight kiosks are set up at high traffic sites and public transportation stops, where people signed up for the program pay based on how long they use the bikes for. Parry Burnap, executive director of the program says that, "stats show that 49 percent of Americans' trips are about 3 miles". Especially true in an urban environment, the bike-share program would offer an easy, environmentally friendly, and healthy alternative to driving.

While this program sounds like a great idea, there are some issues that need to be addressed. 1) Is Denver biker friendly? Boulder is a great place to move around on bike, but downtown Denver might not have the infrastructure for bike paths and bike lanes. 2) Is the program affordable for infrequent users? The current 24-hour membership is $5, while a yearly membership is $65. 3) If it is too expensive, how do membership fees decrease? Donations, subsidies, taxes?

Much question remains whether the program will succeed, but if it does, there is great potential for expansion within Denver, and Denver could serve as a model for new large scale bike-sharing programs around the country.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Nuclear Power

On February 16th 2010 President Obama promised up to $8.33 billion in loan guarantees for the construction of new nuclear reactors in Georgia. This nuclear reactor will be the first to be built since the 1970’s. Since many people do not know much about the pros and cons of nuclear power I’ll give a brief overview. Nuclear power accounts for about 20% of the energy needs in the US. One of the main attractions to nuclear power is the low emission of greenhouse gases. In addition to the low emissions nuclear power plants also can generate a lot of energy in a single location. A single power plant can have an energy generation capacity of 3,825 mw. Another advantage to nuclear power is that once the plant is built it has a low operating cost. As there are many advantages to nuclear power there are also many disadvantages. The first and most notable disadvantage is the waste that nuclear power plants generate. The waste is radioactive and will take thousands of years before it will be safe for humans. Also an accident at the plant can be catastrophic, as we saw in Chernobyl. Another disadvantage is that it is a limited energy source so it will not be able to solve all of our energy needs. The last disadvantage ill bring up is the cost of building a nuclear power plant is extremely high. It can cost between $3-5 billion dollars to build. So now that you have heard some of the pros and cons do you think we should be pursuing nuclear power in the US to fulfill out energy needs? Do you think nuclear power is economically feasible? Can nuclear energy help reduce emissions?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day-40 years later

In light of Earth Day, I decided to make my post about the changes that have been made since the first Earth Day in 1970. I read an article from Associated Press,, that focused on this topic. Today, most of the issues we face with the environment are more blindsided than before. Back in 1970, the issues with the environment were actually visible to the people. This article talked about the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland. This river used to catch on fire because of the chemicals that were present; but now the water has been cleaned and stripped of all these chemicals so now children can actually swim in it. Another big visible problem was the Los Angeles air quality. People used to not even be able to see the mountains during the summer from all of the particulate matter in the air. Now, the mountains are mostly visible all year.
The visible problems have started to dissolve but it is only leading to more blindsided issues. These issues include the climate problem. People don't visibly seeing the increase of carbon content in the air, but since the first Earth Day in 1970, carbon levels have increased by 19%. Also, climate temperate has been increasing at a subtle rate that isn't visible to the general public but throws up red flags to scientists.
So, overall, there is still a large amount of work that needs to be done before there will be an affect on climate itself. But since the start of Earth Day 40 years ago, the environmental movement has grown to make large improvement visible to the every day person living in the United States.

Snowmobiles in Yellowstone

The snowmobile policy in Yellowstone National Park has been a topic of discussion since the 1950's. America’s national parks are meant to be relatively untouched and hold a great deal of aesthetic qualities for people to enjoy. Snowmobiles, although a favorite winter pastime to many, carry with them a number of external costs. Noise pollution, high levels of emissions, disrupted ecosystems, and damage to the surrounding areas are among some of these costs to be considered. The policy that currently exists focuses more on the moneymaking side rather than the preservation and perhaps the restoration of the park in some areas.In 1963, the first visitors entered the park on snowmobiles. Due to the popularity of the sport the park officials were forced to implement some kind of a policy. In March of 1968, park administrators convened and formulated the first winter use policy for snowmobiles. This new policy consisted of three parts:
• Formally permitting and encouraging visitation to the park’s interior by oversnow roads
• Grooming the oversnow roads to make them more comfortable for travel
• Authorizing the park concessionaire to open a lodging facility for overnight use at Old Faithful.
Snowmobiles are far more polluting than cars and produce higher noise levels that disturb animals as well as the "natural quiet" of the park. I think something needs to be done about the volume of snowmobiles allowed into the park, currently around 320 per day in the winter. I would like to see snowmobiles banned from the park. What do you think?

Electronic Waste: The Growing Problem With Planned Obsolescence

In today’s society, new technology becomes obsolete almost the second that it is purchased. There is always something new and shinier than the things that we already own. Add this to a capitalistic society, and we are almost certainly destined for an excess of “old” technology that needs a place to go. E-waste is the term commonly used to refer to this sort of refuse. While there are a myriad of recycling programs to help deal with these things that are no longer wanted, most often they tend to end up in landfills and incinerators or, more recently they have been exported to developing countries. It has been estimated that as many as 20 percent of unwanted computers end up in landfills. This can add up to over 4 million tons of e-waste a year and leach hazardous chemicals into the environment that can have irreparable damage. Many gadgets that are not thrown into landfills are incinerated, which is a large problem as this can release heavy metals into the atmosphere. Another way that this trash is dealt with is to export it to developing countries. This is currently not illegal in the United States and it is estimated that anywhere between 50 and 80 percent of the waste that is supposed to be recycled is actually shipped out this way. Many countries are currently trying to end this practice by implementing bans on the import of e-waste. There has to be a better way that this problem can be dealt with. Planned obsolescence may aid the economy, but it is harming the environment.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

US and Russia Agree to Plutonium-Disposal Accord


In April 2010, President Obama and Preseident Dmitriy Medvedev came together to discuss a 10 year old agreement at the Nuclear Security. Summit. At the end of President Clinton’s term these two nations agreed to start disarming nuclear weapons. The goal is to ultimately eliminate the nuclear threat. Each country has promised to reduce their arsenals by ridding them of 34 tons of plutonium each. This is the equivalent of 17,000 bombs. They will begin in 2018 because faciclities must be constructed to get the job done properly. The reason that the agreement has not been honored till now is there were discrepancies over funding. It was agreed upon that Russia will spend $3 billion and the US $400 million. The biggest environmental concern is where will the plutonium be disposed? Both leaders have agreed that the plutonium will be used in commercial nuclear plants for consumer use. This is the most environmentally, and militarily, safest way to rid us of many deadly weapons. The nuclear plants will be able to convert this plutonium into energy and fuel for both consumer driven nations. It creates a lot of cleaner energy as opposed to oil and coal energy. This is a clear example of how you can use one problem to potentially start to fix two.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Lights Out for Inefficient Incandescent Bulbs

New efficiency standards for light bulbs result in the phasing out of inefficient incandescent light bulbs. The average incandescent uses about 75-100 watts whereas the average compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) uses 15-25 watts. Clearly CFLs are more efficient, and since they last six times longer than incandescent bulbs they don’t need to be replaced nearly as often and are therefore more cost efficient. However, some believe that this efficiency standard undermines the free market and limits people’s constitutional freedoms and choices. Basically, it is illegal to sell inefficient incandescent light bulbs and so people who prefer to waste energy are not allowed to buy their preferred light bulb, and this is seen as a violation of personal liberties. But I would argue that if they really prefer the light quality of an incandescent over a CFL, they can still actually buy incandescent bulbs that are more efficient (use less energy). Or they can buy LEDs or efficient halogen bulbs. Opponents may also argue that incandescent bulb producers might be hit hard by this policy and that jobs would be at risk, but the big light bulb companies like General Electric and Phillips produce incandescent light bulbs, CFLs, LEDs, etc. Additional arguments involve the mercury content in CFLs, but this amount is so little it is harmless; coal-electricity production actually emits more mercury into the environment than CFLs. The more CFLs there are installed across the country, the less electricity is needed to light our homes and businesses. Improving end-source efficiency could solve our energy crisis by dramatically decreasing our energy consumption, and it can all start with screwing in an efficient light bulb.

Belo Monte Dam Project

A recent article in the New York Times discusses an Amazon dam project and its threat to the indigenous people of the area. The project, or Belo Monte dam, is a struggle between the rights of the indigenous people and economic/environmental factors at play. Belo Monte is the intended future for Brazil’s hydroelectric power, which accounts for over 80 percent of their energy. Brazil’s energy supply depends on the Belo Monte dam, especially because without it, the country will continue using costly and dirty fossil fuels. Another alternative is to hasten renewable energy development, such as sugar cane. The latest ruling on the case has enabled Brazil to continue plans for building. The president of the regional federal court declared, “there is no imminent danger for the indigenous community”. The construction of Belo Monte would include two large channels to take water from the dam to the power plant, which would flood over 160 square miles and dry out 60 miles of the Xingu River. Research shows this would affect about 20,000 indigenous people as well as eliminate their transportation and main source of food, fish. Leaders from 13 tribes recently decided to band together and create a new tribe to live on the Belo Monte site and prevent construction. Additionally, some nongovernmental groups have done studies showing this plant would be inefficient and might later call for more dams. What alternatives do you see for the situation? What could be done to both honor the rights of the indigenous people and Brazil’s move towards cleaner energy?

PUC & Xcel Energy Announce New Two-Tier Rate Structure

Effective June 1, 2010, Colorado will have a new two-tiered electricity rate structure where residential customers pay more for higher usage during peak summer months and less during other non-peak times. Under the new rate system customers will be charged a lower rate for the first 500 kWh per month consumed and a higher rate for any additional electricity consumption above and beyond that (the exact rates are still being debated, with much consideration as to what price will properly reflect the conservation ideals of the policy). This new policy caters to the belief that “the more you us, the more you pay” and seems more in tune with supply and demand economics on an hour-by-hour basis. Ideally, the new rate change will both promote and reward conservation. The primary target of the policy is to impact consumer use of air-conditioning units in the peak summer months due to their high electrical demand.

However, the rate-change is also multifaceted in the reasons behind its implementation. In addition to encouraging conservation among consumers, the rate-change addresses Xcel Energy’s needs for increased revenue to pay for its new coal-fired plant in Pueblo, Comanche III. In a way this new policy presents an interesting contradiction: promoting conservation and increasing rates to pay for a new plant, which represents increased consumption. Another shortcoming of the policy is that the new rate change applies only to residential customers and not commercial ones. While the policy has its inadequacies I do believe that it is a step in the right direction and will successfully provide residential consumers with direct feedback on consumption. A single policy cannot provide an all-encompassing solution, but can pave the way for continued reform in the future. Baby steps…

"State PUC Approves Xcel’s Two-Tier Rate Structure — Colorado Energy News." Colorado Energy News — The Business, Technology and Politics of Colorado’s Energy Industry. Web. 17 Apr. 2010. .

"Colorado Adopts Tiered Electricity Rates and Graduates from the Energy Policy Stone Age!" Clean Energy Action. Web. 17 Apr. 2010. .

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Part of the Game, or a Black-eye for the Sport?

Since I was 7 I have played organized hockey, and ever since I started playing I have always been aware of the fights that occur at various levels of hockey. While the penalty for fighting in youth hockey is great, suspension, it still happens. In juniors and the leagues under the NHL (except college) fighting is very much alive and is used as a way to protect players as well as pumping up teammates and settling a score.

In the NHL, fighting is used in the same way. Fighting in the NHL is either considered an awesome part of the game, or people hate it. Some people have said that the reason hockey will never become as popular as the big three sports in the US, (football, basketball and baseball) is because of the fighting. While I find some truth in this statement, I find that removing fighting would have greater implications as it would affect the integrity of the game.

I believe that if players are not able to fight the incidents of cheap shots will increase as there would be no risk of having to answer for your actions during the game. In college hockey, players are not allowed to fight, which causes a player who otherwise would be more reserved to act like an idiot. They know that if the ref doesn’t see what he does then there will be little the other team can do to get back at him.

Hockey is unlike any other mainstream sport in the world and I think that fighting should remain. If people cannot look past the fighting to see the level of skill the guys in the NHL have today, then they should probably not watch hockey. It is unique to the sport and I feel it should be looked at as part of the game, not a black-eye for the sport. What do you guys think about fighting in hockey? The following article outlines some arguments for fighting in hockey and offers counter arguments as well.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Didymo: An Unnatural Species

Didymosphenia geminata, or Didymo, is an invasive species in Colorado. Didymo is naturally found in various parts of the Northern Hemisphere, especially in the Pacific Northwest. This species is a small, single celled diatom that lives in streams and can be passed to other streams by living in felt soled wading boots for up to two weeks. Didymo is also known as rock snot since it can grow into large mats that coat rocks thickly, like snot. As fisherman travel from stream to stream, Didymo survives in their boots unless the boots are scraped clean or are bleached. This problem is much worse in Australia and New Zealand than in the US. However, Didymo has been found all around the US, even in Boulder Creek (picture above).

This is a terrible problem that can be easily solved. By posting signs throughout affected areas, or areas that could be easily targeted by the diatom, this problem could be slowed. Informing the general public of Didymo's existence and how they can stop the spread of it will go far to slow Didymo down. New Zealand has had to take drastic measures and make areas for vehicles traveling through streams to wash their tires and undercarriages off. By taking a few extra minutes to clean our boots, cars, and boats, we can slow the spread of Didymo.

Jellyfish Babies: Birth Defects of Nuclear Radiation

After WWII, the U.S. tested a bomb in the Marshall Islands that was 1,300 times more destructive than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The people from one of the islands, Rongelap, were directly in the fallout zone and suffer cancer and major birth defects including "jelly fish babies" (babies born without bones and transparent skin.)

Lijon Eknilang of the Marshall Islands explains her experience with the effect of nuclear radiation. "I cannot have children. I have had miscarriages on seven occasions. On one of those occasions, the child I miscarried was severely deformed - it had only one eye...Our culture and religion teaches us that reproductive abnormalities are a sign that women have been unfaithful. For this reason, many of my friends keep quiet about the strange births they have had. In privacy, they give birth, not to children as we like to think of them, but to things we could only describe as "octopuses," "apples," "turtles," and other things in our experience. We do not have Marshallese words for these kinds of babies, because they were never born before the radiation came. Women on Rongelap, Likiek, Ailuk, and other atolls in the Marshall Islands have given birth to these “monster babies.” Many of these women are from atolls that foreign officials have told us were not affected by radiation. We know otherwise, because the health problems are similar to ours. One women on Likiep gave birth to a child with two heads. Her cat also gave birth to a kitten with two heads. There is a young girl on Ailuk today with no knees, three toes on each foot and a missing arm. The most common birth defects on Rongelap and nearby islands have been “jellyfish” babies. These babies are born with no bones in their bodies and with transparent skin. We can see their brains and hearts beating. The babies usually live for a day or two before they stop breathing. Many women die from abnormal pregnancies, and those who survive give birth to what looks like purple grapes that we quickly bury.”

Between 1954 and 1958 one in three births on the Marshall Islands resulted in fetal death. Hepatitis B and liver cancer is approximately 30 times higher in the Marshall Islands than in the U.S. Cervical Cancer in women of the Marshall Islands is 60 times greater and rates of breast, lung, oral and gastrointestinal cancer are three to ten times greater than in the U.S. Life expectancy on the islands has sharply declined to 40 years. Some communities suffer so greatly as a result of these tests that they have decided to stop reproducing and go extinct.

Some believe that the testing was planned by the U.S. government to examine the effects of nuclear radiation on humans. However, the DOE has produced studies that "prove" these people are not suffering from radiation. This research conveniently fails to account for the environmental causes of disease, placing the blame on the Native peoples actions. This leaves the government unaccountable for their policies of environmental contamination.

Please read this testimony for a 1st hand report of the impact of nuclear testing:

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Beachfront Property threatened by Beach Erosion By Hugh Harvey

On Feb. 4th, 2010 the First Court of Appeals in Houston, Texas upheld the public's right to use the beach from the waterline to the line of vegetation. As seawater levels rise and hurricane intensity & number increase more beachfront homes are threatened along the Texas Gulf coast. As hurricane surge sweeps away at our beaches, the Gulf of Mexico is claiming many homes. In the state of Texas under the Texas Open Beaches Act, all beach from the waterline to the line of vegetation is open to the public. This is a great thing for beachcombers and surfers alike because they have the right to use any beach. But this could be detrimental for beachfront homeowners. In 2008 Hurricane Ike struck Galveston Island taking with it thousands of homes and pushing the line of vegetation back even further. Many of the houses along the island are now beyond the line of vegetation placing them on public beaches. Under law once this line of vegetation has moved back, any structure, house, or road that sits between the waterline and line of vegetation now belongs to the state and is ordered to be demolished. I am very sympathetic to the loss of property by anyone, and am deeply saddened by the devestation Ike has done to our beaches. But buying beachfront property is a high risk investment and many people are aware of this when purchasing homes along the coast. In Surfside Beach, down the coast from Galveston, they have already seen this problem at hand. In the past 10-15 years, about 20 or so houses have been sitting between the waterline and the vegetation line and is considered to be on public beach. But homeowners still used their houses and didn't seem to pose a problem to beachcombers. In fact the housing provided shade to sit under, and for surfers to use the balconies to check where the surf was breaking. It seemed no nuisance or hazard to the public. Under the Texas Open Beaches Act, the 13 houses that are left (the rest swept from hurricane Ike) along Surfside drive are now scheduled to be demolished along with many other houses along Galveston Island and the rest of the Texas Gulf coast. My question is, do you think that houses sitting on public beach between the waterline and line of vegetation should be demolished or allowed to stay for their owners continued use? I feel that as long as the house is in good condition and not hazardous to the public, I think people should be able to continue to own and use their house. Under the condition that, because it is on public beach, that people have the right to walk near or under the house, I have no problem with the housing being there. What do you think?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Farm Raised Tuna


With Atlantic Bluefin Tuna stocks headed towards collapse and conservation efforts having troubles getting started; farming the fish may be one of the last chances for recovery. Farming the fish is a difficult process and involves netting the enormous fish into very large pens. This technique has worked in the past by allowing fisherman to catch small fish and raising them to a more desirable size, but until now has failed to allow the fish to breed. Recently a group of German scientists have discovered that because the fish is used to traveling great distances and a cage, even a large one, fails to produce this kind of natural environment required for breeding.
Their solution is to spear the fish with a hormone known as gonadotroptin, which has resulted in successful breeding programs. This new discovery raises the question can farm-raised tuna satisfy the worlds demand for the fish? Perhaps more importantly can these farm-raised fish be released into the wild and help fix collapsed stocks? Scientist and Environmentalists have their doubts. The biggest problem is the high amount of antibiotics used to keep cages free of disease. Most of these antibiotics pass through the fish and are secreted into waters nearby the pens and are then consumed by offer species, often with negative health effects. The second issue is the large amount of food needed to raise farmed fish on a commercial level. The fish food is usually taken from the surrounding ecosystem, robbing it of resources intended for wild populations. Still even with these negatives affects farm-raised tuna, along with proper conservation, may be one of the last hopes for the species.

Sources 1:
Source 2:

Monday, April 12, 2010

Health Risks for Students

People are becoming more aware that health problems occur more frequently for those that live near power plants but are unaware that students that attend schools near power plants are at risk too. In 2005 Meredith Hitchens, an elementary school, was shut down due to dangerous levels of chemicals in the air. USA Today did a study across the country that estimated 435 school’s air quality had higher levels of toxins than Meredith Hitchens. These schools’ air had chemical concentrations up to a dozen times higher than what the government approves as safe. Wide ranges of health risks are occurring like different cancers, mental and emotional problems. The plants that are producing these chemicals provide jobs and the tax base that uphold the communities. Many residents have either accepted or ignored the health problems the factories create because they need the work. Often times companies only approximate what chemicals they release so the amount of toxins could be higher. In thousands of these cases it has shown that the air quality in the children’s neighborhoods are better than their schools. I think that stronger regulations need to be enforced on these power plants or the power plants need to be shut down. So many children’s health are at risk because they are attending school. There are no safety standards for children at school and that needs to be changed. Children can be more vulnerable to diseases and they should be protected.

Climate Change and Concern about Another Dust Storm

An article in the USA Today explores the possibility of another major dust storm in our lifetime, such as the one in the Dust Bowl period. It focuses across parts of Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, and Oklahoma where Gary McManus, a climatologist for the region, states that the area is already so dry "that just a small increase in average temperatures could quickly cause critical amounts of moisture in the soil to evaporate." Furthermore, the Ogallala Aquifer by which the area is supported is being diminished due to the increased demand from agriculture and surrounding cities. However, Larry Thorton, an editor of the Muleshoe Journal, believes "living on an arid plateau plagued by tumbleweeds and tornadoes has taught people they can overcome just about anything." For me, it's unclear how they'll overcome the problem of water deprivation in the future. Many local farmers, though, have taken steps to reduce their water use by changing their irrigation methods; some have even resorted to "dryland farming" relying on the land's precipitation, 17"yearly, since their wells have become dry. Also another goal of the region that affects moisture availability is the removal of salt cedar trees planted to prevent soil erosion, yet the trees have been found to absorb huge amounts of water which decrease ground water levels. The possibility of another dust storm period is unclear given low water availability and a warming climate. But many farmers are confident in denying this prediction due to their "better farming techniques" and knowledge of what to expect based on past events. I think it's critical for the area to consider not only the possible reoccurrence of a dust storm, but also and most importantly their water resource strain. The article further predicts the migration of the population if the land can no longer support life. In my opinion, this will put an even greater strain on other state's resources as well causing further future problems.

"On Plains, concern about another Dust Bowl"

"Non-native Invasive Freshwater Plants"

Friday, April 9, 2010

Dung River

Currently India ranks 120 on the green index and ranks very low in sanitation. The sacred Yamuna River is basically what the title suggests a fecal filled river. The amount of fecal bacteria in the river is 10,000 times higher than the amount recommended for bathing. Maybe the saddest thing is the river is this bad after the country implemented a half billion dollar, 15 year endeavor to build 17 sewage treatment plants.

India's main issue is sanitation it ranked 21 on sanitation on Yale and Columbia's Environmental Performance Index. The ranking put India below only Angola and Cambodia for countries with similar income. India is both overdeveloped and underdeveloped they are industrializing but still have a large amount of poor who cannot afford sanitation means by themselves. The poverty leaves people prone to illness from pollution causing 20 percent of illnesses, air pollution illnesses alone have cost India 20 billion dollars a year. Things don't appear positive either; the government is so disconnected there is little hope. In the case of the Yamuna River, although treatment plants have been made, the government never cleared the garbage from the drains allowing only 30 percent of the sewage to reach the plants.

India has come under scrutiny from the international community for environmental problems but what can be done in a country like India? As the article points out people still burn dung for fuel and the government is in disconnect. Should more developed hold countries like India to similar environmental standards or set more realistic goals?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

EPA takes action to limit effects of Mountaintop Removal Mining

By Stephanie Shepard

On April 1st, an EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) press release announced a new set of actions that will help strengthen and clarify the requirements for Appalachian mountaintop removal. The actions will set clear policies for mining in an effort to prevent more damage and irreversible effects to the Appalachian environment, particularly to watersheds. The practice of mountaintop removal mining (MTR) has been occurring since the 1960’s, in response to the nation’s increasing demand for coal. MTR is particularly abundant in the Appalachian region of the nation. MTR is a form of surface coal mining, and the process involves the removal of mountaintops to expose coal seams. This type of mining has many detrimental effects on our environment which include, but are not limited to, the increase of zinc, sodium, selenium, and sulfate levels in the water, which can negatively impact fish and other animals, the loss of Appalachian forests (more than 7% have been cut down as a result of MTR) and the often permanent damage to ecosystems and streams that are used for swimming, fishing and drinking. The EPA has split their course of action into three parts; the first is called Improved Guidance and Clarity. This step will clarify existing requirements in the Clean Water Act and ensure that future mining will not continue to cause significant problems to the environment, water outlets, or human health. The next step is called Strong Science, which will make two scientific reports by the Office of Research and Development publicly available. The third step is Increased Transparency, which is the creation of a permit tracking website so the public knows the status of mining permits. Even though the environmentally-harmful process of mountaintop mining is still happening, it is uplifting to see the EPA taking steps to help limit its negative effects.