Carbon Offsetting…

25 02 2009

I came across this site that told me I wouldn’t have to feel guilty about my carbon footprint if I took part in “carbon offsetting” programs. The site is aptly named “ClimateCare”

The Reduce and Offset Approach
“For the greenhouse gases we cannot avoid emitting, you can buy carbon offsets.”

If this sounds too good to be true, it is. ClimateCare is just another way to warrant the superfluous consumption of resources and energy.

In actuality, “carbon offsetting” is a myth. The damage we’ve caused to our atmosphere by emitting CO2 is irreversible so why would I pay to have my emissions “canceled out” with clean energy production? It makes no sense.

The Reality of Carbon Offsetting

The Reality of Carbon Offsetting

So what are these offsetting programs offered by ClimateCare?

Apparently, I can fund new stoves for the rural people of Cambodia or I can replace diesel-fueled water pumps in India with “treadle pumps,” which apparently use “human power to pump water from wells.”

New Stoves That "Offset Carbon..." Right

New Stoves That "Offset Carbon" Right...

Why not just use biodiesel to fuel the existing pumps instead of creating an entirely new irrigation system?

Not surprisingly, I realized this program was owned by JP Morgan.





Obama: The Future is Green and Bright

25 02 2009

Last night, in an address to Congress, Obama once again stressed the importance of shifting toward a better environmental policy, based on the future development of, “wind power, solar power, advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars.”

Unfortunately this means that only about 5.5 percent of the stimulus package funds energy and environmental advancements.

Obama's Stilulus Package

Obama's Stimulus Package

Obama made some good points however, especially when he said, “We invented solar technology, but we’ve fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it. New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea.”

Germany is in fact very far ahead of the U.S. in terms of environmental standards. “In 2007 greenhouse gas emissions were down 21.3% in comparison with 1990 levels.

Solar Technology at Berlin-Adlershof

Solar Technology at Berlin-Adlershof

But, the only action Obama has taken in addressing environmental matters so far, was to ask for a, “legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America.”

I think the carbon cap is a good idea, but I’m wondering how Congress will “drive” this “production”, and production of what exactly?





The Magic Bean

23 02 2009
Jatropha Curcas

Jatropha Curcas

The jatropha plant is a bushy hedge that grows seed pods that contain a great amount of oil. The seeds are harvested to make biodiesel, as well as many other products including, cosmetics, paper and soap.

Jatropha and its Seeds

Jatropha and its Seeds

Unlike other plants harvested for biofuels, jatropha flourishes in arid climates and soils. “This means growing jatropha never has to compete with growing food. Also, on a per acre basis, jatropha can yield up to 10 times the amount of oil as other sources of biodiesel. It is also a perennial, lasting up to 50 years without replanting.”

Jatropha has been planted in several countries such as, India, Costa Rica and the U.S. One Florida-based company, My Dream Fuel, was recently featured in Time Magazine for its production of the plant.

My Dream Fuel Founder

"My Dream Fuel" Founder

Perhaphs the only downside is that little is known about domesticating jatropha.





The War on Oil’s Cousin, Corn

18 02 2009

For the most part, corn and oil can be composed into very similar substances, except that corn can be made into edible syrup and oil cannot. Corn and oil can be refined to make both fuel and polymers for plastics.

Cash Crops

Cash Crops

Since the 1970’s corn has been turned into ethanol, a grain alcohol, to be mixed with refined petroleum (and other chemicals) to make today’s gasoline. You’ve probably noticed gas pumps that read “contains X percent ethanol.”

Gasoline Contains Ethanol

Gasoline Usually Contains Ethanol

Now, the incredible, edible corn is also used to make plastics.

However, is this a wonder crop, or is it causing more harm than good? The obvious benefit of corn plastic is that is it biodegradable. Within three months the polylactic acid plastic (PLA or bioplastic or biopolymer) will decompose if disposed in an open landfill. “Moreover, should you choose to burn it, you don’t have to worry about creating toxic fumes.” So if we all switched to making plastic from corn instead of from oil, we would have the chance to reduce CO2 emissions and our dependence on both foreign and domestic oil.

But, the combination of creating corn plastics and ethanol requires a whole lot of corn — which, theoretically would drive up the price of corn as a crop. Also, this much corn requires much more land than if it were simply harvested for food. But also, this much production would sustain and perhaps encourage the economy of many Midwestern states like Iowa.

According to one environmental journalist, Robert Bryce, the production of ethanol, not bioplastics, causes, “higher global food prices, increased air pollution from burning ethanol-spiked fuels, spreading dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico from a surge of fertilizer use, and strong evidence that growing a gallon of corn ethanol produces just as many greenhouse gases as burning a gallon of gas.”





Oh Canada

16 02 2009

Obama is coming to Canada this Thursday to discuss how to combat global warming, greenhouse gas emissions and the oil sands of Alberta.

Oil sands are areas of land with deposits of Bitumen, a crude oil in the form of sand. The result is a fossil fuel that is very hard to refine, but produces a lot of energy.

Some Canadian lobbyists feel Obama’s visit is their chance to debate new pollution caps for refining the oil sands. The sands produce oil that has three times the carbon impact per barrel in the production process as regular oil.





Plastic Bags From Corn

16 02 2009

Plastic grocery bags that are 100 percent biodegradable exist, so why aren’t they used in stores? Some American stores like City Market use these bags, but why aren’t more?

Biodegradable Plastics

Biodegradable Plastics

The brand of plastic bags called BioBags uses a bio-polymer instead of polyethylene to make plastic. Essentially, this means the bags are made from corn.

BioBag

BioBag

These two articles, one from India and one from Guam show that the U.S. is far behind in utilizing biodegradable technology. One debate, which recently took place in Virgina, was over bills that proposed the banning of thin plastic bags in favor of thicker bags with durable handles to encourage re-use. The bills were denied by both the state House and Senate. While I don’t think this is the way to go with plastic bags, at least the U.S. is starting to recognize the problem.





Where Have All The Plastics Gone?

11 02 2009

With the recent economic downturn, recyclable materials (plastics, cardboard and scrap metal) are not being purchased by waste manufacturers. The price and demand for these products has severely dropped, so many waste organizations are left with growing piles of paper, plastic and metals.

Mixed Paper Stored in Massachusetts Facility

Mixed Paper Stored in Massachusetts Facility

By December 2008, the term “the trash has crashed” was printed in The New York Times, detailing the dropped price of recyclables. For instance, by the end of 2008 the price of mixed paper on the West coast was about $20-$25 per ton, even though the same amount sold for about $105 only a month before. Also, the price of tin dropped 98% over the course of 2008.

Recycling Scrap Metal in China

Recycling Scrap Metal in China

It used to be that China would buy plastics and scrap metal the U.S. did not accept for recycling (usually plastic containers numbered three, four, five and six) to make goods like toys, car parts and kitchen ware. But since the entire world is feeling the economic pinch, little is being manufactured, because no one is buying.

So where have all the plastics, metals and paper gone? I hope they are in storage somewhere in the U.S., however, storage does get expensive. A recycling operator in Candia, N.H. explained his dilemma, “We’re just trying to stockpile everything. When we get to the point where we don’t have storage anymore here or in our trailers, we have to get rid of it.” However, he said the “getting rid of it” does not mean burying the recyclables in a landfill, because it’s actually cheaper, as of now, to “hoard” the materials.

Mixed Paper Held in Massachusetts

Mixed Paper Held in Massachusetts

Whole Foods has implemented a new plastics drive to help the U.S. properly dispose of it’s reusable, number five plastics.

Whole Foods

Whole Foods

Nearly 80 stores in the Midwest, Northeast and Northern California are piloting “Gimme 5,” a recycling program powered by Preserve, a manufacturer of 100% recycled home products. Participating stores collect number five plastics from shoppers and ship them to Preserve’s manufacturing plant, where the materials are used to make household products such as toothbrushes and kitchenware.

Where do you think recyclables should go?