Clean Living

20 04 2009

Costa Rica is ahead of the U.S. in basically every aspect of environmentalism. In the 1990’s the country decided to actually do something to protect its environment, which is also the basis of its tourism. In the past 24 years Costa Rica went from getting 50 percent of its energy from hydroelectricity and 50 percent from oil, to getting 95 percent of its energy from renewables.

Five years ago, oil was found in Costa Rica and the government decided not to drill so as to preserve the local ecosystem — a novel idea.

Rain Forest In Costa Rica

Rain Forest In Costa Rica

“In 1997 Costa Rica imposed a tax on carbon emissions — 3.5 percent of the market value of fossil fuels — which goes into a national forest fund to pay indigenous communities for protecting the forests around them.”

Costa Rica

Costa Rica

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Climate Bill Introduced By The House

2 04 2009

A new bill from the House Democrats, called the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, would create the first federal requirements to boost energy efficiency and ensure that a quarter of the nation’s electricity comes from renewable sources.

The bill, introduced on March 31, would cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, and by 83 percent by 2050.

Henry Waxman

Henry Waxman

House Energy and Commerce Chairman, Henry A. Waxman (Calif.) and Rep. Edward J. Markey (Mass.), chairman of the subcommittee on energy and the environment, created the first draft of the bill.

Edward Markey

Edward Markey

“I think this bill is a game-changer that takes the best of industry’s and environmentalists’ ideas,” Markey said.





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?





There’s No Turning Back

9 02 2009

CLIMATE CHANGE IS IRREVERSIBLE! According to a report released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, effects caused by the current amount of CO2 in the atmosphere will be present for the next 1,000 years. Even if CO2 emissions were completely halted, immediately, the greenhouse warming effects would still be apparent until the year 3000.

Susan Solomon of the University of Colorado presented this report on Jan. 27, 2008. She said the heat caused by excessive CO2 is absorbed by the oceans, but over the next 1,000 years that captured heat will be released into the air, prolonging the warming process.

Carbon dioxide, carbon cycle, emissions

Carbon Cycle

So this case study could be used as fodder for oil and car companies; urging consumers to go ahead and pollute because “what’s done is done.” But Solomon does not see it that way.

“I guess if it’s irreversible, to me it seems all the more reason you might want to do something about it,” she says. “Because committing to something that you can’t back out of seems to me like a step that you’d want to take even more carefully than something you thought you could reverse.”

While we cannot change these “irreversible” effects for the better, we do have the power to accelerate and worsen them.

In her report, Solomon projected dust-bowl-like conditions if the amount of CO2 reached 450-600 parts per million. Today the CO2 concentration is about 385 parts per million. A recent global climate treaty cited 450 parts per million to appear in the year 2100.

Also, other greenhouse gases do not linger in the atmosphere as long as CO2 does, so it is possible to reverse the effects caused by excessive methane, nitrous oxide and human-made gases.

Greenhouse Gases

Greenhouse Gases