Earthtalk
From E - The Environmental Magazine

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EarthTalk Synthetic Biology
Proponents of synthetic biology tout its potential for bringing about great advances in medicine, energy and cheaper foods. But health advocates worry that the risks to health and the environment may be too great. Here a researcher is using “synbio” to engineer new microbes as an alternative to yeast for turning complex sugars into biofuels. (Photo courtesy of Lawrence Berkeley Nationall Laboratory/Roy Kaltschmidt)

By E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: Should those of us who care about our health and the planet be concerned about the new trend in genetic engineering called synthetic biology? – Chrissie Wilkins, Bern, N.C.

“Synthetic biology” (or “synbio”) refers to the design and fabrication of novel biological parts, devices and systems that do not otherwise occur in nature.

Many see it as an extreme version of genetic engineering (GE). But unlike GE, whereby genetic information with certain desirable traits is inserted from one organism into another, synbio uses computers and chemicals to create entirely new organisms.

Proponents of synbio, which include familiar players such as Cargill, BP, Chevron and Du Pont, tout its potential benefits.

According to the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SYNBERC), a consortium of leading U.S. researchers in the field, some promising applications of synthetic biology include alternatives to rubber for tires, tumor-seeking microbes for treating cancer, and photosynthetic energy systems.

Other potential applications include using synbio to detect and remove environmental contaminants, monitor and respond to disease and develop new drugs and vaccines.

While these and other applications may not be widely available for years, synthetic biology is already in use for creating food additives that will start to show up in products on grocery shelves later this year. Switzerland-based Evolva is using synthetic biology techniques to produce alternatives to resveratrol, stevia, saffron and vanilla.

The company’s “synthetic vanillin” is slated to go into many foods as a cheaper and limitless version of real vanilla flavor. But many health advocates are outraged that such a product will be available to consumers without more research into potential dangers and without any warnings or labeling to let consumers know they are eating organisms designed and brought to life in a lab.

“This is the first major use of a synbio ingredient in food, and dozens of other flavors and food additives are in the pipeline, so synbio vanilla could set a dangerous precedent for synthetic genetically engineered ingredients to sneak into our food supply and be labeled as ‘natural,’” reports Friends of the Earth (FoE), a leading environmental group.

“Synthetic biology vanillin poses several human health, environmental and economic concerns for consumers, food companies and other stakeholders.”

For example, FoE worries that synbio vanilla (and eventually other synthetic biology additives) could exacerbate rainforest destruction while harming sustainable farmers and poor communities around the world. “Synbio vanilla … could displace the demand for the natural vanilla market,” reports FoE.

“Without the natural vanilla market adding economic value to the rainforest in these regions, these last standing rainforests will not be pro­tected from competing agricultural markets such as soy, palm oil and sugar.”

Critics of synbio also worry that releasing synthetic life into the environment, whether done intentionally or accidentally, could have adverse effects on our ecosystems.

Despite these risks, could the rewards of embracing synthetic biology be great? Could it help us deal with some of the tough issues of climate change, pollution and world hunger? Given that the genie is already out of the bottle, perhaps only time will tell.

Contacts: SYNBERC, www.synberc.org; FoE, www.foe.org; Evolva, www.evolva.com.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com.

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EarthTalk Dirty Fuels

By E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: What are “dirty fuels” and why are they so called? – Bill Green, Seattle, Wash.

The term “dirty fuels” refers to fuels derived from tar sands, oil shale or liquid coal. Just like their more conventional fossil fuel counterparts such as petroleum and coal, they can be turned into gasoline, diesel and other energy sources that can generate extreme amounts of particulate pollution, carbon emissions and ecosystem destruction during their lifecycles from production to consumption.

“Because tar sands [have] more sulfur, nitrogen, and metals in [them] than conventional oil, upgrading and refining [them] causes a lot more air and water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions,” reports the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a leading environmental non-profit.

“On a lifecycle basis – that is, extraction all the way through combustion – tar sands cause about 20 percent more global warming pollution than conventional oil,” adds NRDC.

“Oil shale and liquid coal are even worse, causing nearly 50 percent more global warming pollution and over double the lifecycle emissions of conventional oil.…”

In North America, the majority of such fuels come from Canada’s vast boreal forest, to where tens of millions of birds flock each spring to nest.

“Tar sands oil development creates open pit mines, habitat fragmentation, toxic waste holding ponds, air and water pollution, upgraders and refineries, and pipelines spreading far beyond the Boreal forest,” reports NRDC.

“This development is destroying habitat for waterfowl and songbirds that come from all over the Americas to nest in the Boreal.”

Beyond impacts at the extraction sites, dirty fuels cause pollution problems all down the line. For this reason, environmental leaders are opposed to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline which, if approved and built, would transport tar sands fuels through the Midwestern U.S. to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Refinery communities like Port Arthur, Texas...are already unable to comply with their air pollution regulations, so dirtier fuel is the last thing they need in their refineries,” adds NRDC.

And while dirty fuels may reduce our reliance on foreign oil, they won’t help reduce gas prices as they are so expensive to produce that gas prices would have to be higher than they already are in order for them to be profitable.

“They also can’t help with stabilizing gas prices in the case of a disruption to oil shipments because each new tar sands project requires huge infrastructure and capital investments, so it takes years for new tar sands projects to come on-line – it’s not as though there is loads of spare tar sands oil just waiting to be put through the pipelines,” says NRDC’s Elizabeth Shope.

“The fact is, we don't need these fuels,” she adds. “We can reduce oil consumption by increasing fuel efficiency standards, and greater use of hybrid cars, renewable energy and environmentally sustainable biofuels. What's called ‘smart growth’ – how we design our communities – is also a very important element in meeting our transportation needs.

“North America stands at an energy crossroads [and] we now face a choice: to set a course for a more sustainable energy future of clean, renewable fuels, or to develop ever-dirtier sources of transportation fuel derived from fossil fuels – at an even greater cost to our health and environment.”

Contact: NRDC, www.nrdc.org.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com).

Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com.

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Earth Talk Wind Power
In the U.S., energy generated by domestic wind farms has nearly tripled in just the past four years and represents about a third of all new power added to the U.S. grid over the past five years. (Photo by Martin Abegglen, courtesy of Flickr)

By E - The Environmental Magazine
Dear EarthTalk: What is the latest prognosis for wind energy to command a larger piece of the renewable energy pie? – Peter M., Akron, Ohio
Hydroelectric sources of power dwarf other forms of renewable energy, but wind power has been a dominant second for years, and continues to show “hockey stick” growth moving forward. According to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), global cumulative installed wind capacity – the total amount of wind power available – has grown fifty-fold in less than two decades, from just 6,100 megawatts (MW) in 1996 to 318,137 MW in 2013.
And the future looks brighter still. Analysts from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) predict that wind will account for the largest share – 30 percent – of new renewables added to the global power grid by 2030.
That new renewables are expected to account for as much as 70 percent of all new power sources over the next 20 years means that wind is poised to become a major player on the global energy scene.
Here in the U.S., energy generated by domestic wind farms has nearly tripled in just the past four years, despite a brief hiccup due to a lapse in the Production Tax Credit, a renewable energy production incentive that effectively subsidizes the creation of more wind farms.
But even despite this, wind represented about a third of all new power added to the U.S. grid over the past five years. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a leading environmental non-profit and wind power advocate, forecasts that the U.S. will derive some 20 percent of its total electricity production from wind by 2030.
“The U.S. industry has many reasons for favorable long-term prospects,” reports the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), a non-profit trade group representing the wind industry.
“In addition to the record activity at the end of 2013, wind energy helped keep the lights on and insulate against temporary price spikes during the recent ‘polar vortex’ cold weather snap, demonstrating the value of wind power in a balanced energy portfolio.”
AWEA also points out recent reports showing how incorporation of wind energy lowers costs for electric consumers. “And critical to some parts of the country facing continuing drought, wind energy uses no water in its production, as well as releasing no emissions,” adds the group.
The fact that wind energy in the U.S. avoids some 100 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually is also good news. AWEA adds that that number will grow as wind energy scales up to 20 percent of the grid and beyond “making the addition of more wind power one of the fastest, cheapest, and largest-scale ways for states to meet the Administration’s new goals for reducing carbon pollution from power plants.”
While wind continues to grow fast, solar may finally be catching up. According to BNEF, some 36.7 gigawatts (GW) of new solar photovoltaic capacity were added worldwide in 2013 compared with 35.5 GW worth of new wind power installations.
BNEF adds that global demand for wind turbines may actually shrink in 2014 (by five percent), representing the first such decline since 2004. But Justin Wu, head of wind analysis for BNEF, says it’s just a temporary blip:
“Falling technology costs, new markets and the growth of the offshore industry will ensure wind remains a leading renewable energy technology.”
Contacts: BNEF, about.bnef.com; NRDC, www.nrdc.org; AWEA, www.awea.org.
EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com.

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EarthTalk Nuclear Resurgence
The 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster did cause many nations to reconsider their nuclear commitments, but many countries are still looking to nuclear power as a way to increase energy production without adding to greenhouse gas emissions. (Photo courtesy of Kawamoto Takuo)

By E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: I thought Japan’s 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown would have sealed nuclear power’s fate, but I keep hearing otherwise. Can you enlighten? – Jacob Allen, New York, N.Y.

The 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster did cause many nations to reconsider their nuclear committments, though many European countries – Switzerland, Belgium, Austria, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden – had already begun phasing out nuclear power decades earlier.

After Fukushima, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland all moved to decommission their nuclear facilities altogether by 2022, 2025 and 2034 respectively.

Japan’s nuclear program, which provided 30 percent of the country’s electricity needs before the March 2011 disaster, is now essentially non-operational due to public safety concerns.

Furthermore, Japan announced in November 2013 that, due to the shuttering of Fukushima and other nuclear facilities, it was backpedaling its own prior commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent from 1990 levels.

Here in the U.S., Fukushima has not had any major effect on our nuclear industry. No nuclear plants have been closed, license extensions for existing facilities continue to proceed, and the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has even greenlighted construction of two new reactors at a nuclear power plant in Georgia.

But public concerns over the safety of nuclear power and what to do with spent fuel indicate that nukes will likely become a smaller and smaller slice of the U.S. energy pie moving forward.

Elsewhere, however, many countries are looking to nuclear power as a way to increase energy production without adding to greenhouse gas emissions. Casey Research reports that developing countries are increasingly relying on it to supplement coal and other fossil fuels.

The International Energy Agency predicts global electricity demand will grow 70 percent by 2035, with the majority of the increase coming from developing countries—China and India combined will account for half of the projected growth.

“Serious pollution problems mean that those developing countries cannot produce all that electricity by burning coal,” says Amir Adnani, CEO of Uranium Energy Corporation, a uranium mining company.

“The plans to develop nuclear power in China and other countries are very much driven by a set of realities that is very different and very acute. People are dying every year in China, literally choking to death, because of all the toxins that are being put into the environment by burning coal.”

China now has 17 nuclear plants in operation and another 29 underway. India has 20 plants running and seven more being built. And the Russian Federation operates 33 and has another 11 in the works.

So while it might be premature to call it a “nuclear renaissance,” much of the world doesn’t seem too worried about what happened at Fukushima. Indeed, nuclear power looks like it could be around for a long time.

 

According to MIT’s Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research, the real impact of Fukushima has been to remind us all to take safety much more seriously:

“While the international nuclear industry appears so far to have dodged being hit square in the head by a bullet from Fukushima, it should not expect that it will get another chance if there is another serious nuclear accident anywhere in the world.”

Contacts: Casey Research, www.caseyresearch.com; MIT Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research, http://web.mit.edu/ceepr/www.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com.

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EarthTalk Snowy Winters-Global Warming
The harsh winter we are having shouldn’t be viewed as a refutation of global warming, but rather as further evidence of a growing problem. Trying to get around in Cortland, Ill., on Jan. 4, 2014 was difficult. (Photo by Michael Kappel, courtesy Flickr)

By E - The Environmental Magazine
Dear EarthTalk: Does the fact that we’ve had such a cold and snowy winter mean that global warming might not be such a big problem after all? – Lacey L., Lynchburg, Va.
It’s tempting to think that the cold air and snow outside augur the end of global warming, but don’t rejoice yet.
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), weather and climate are two very different beasts: “Weather is what’s happening outside the door right now; today a snowstorm or a thunderstorm is approaching. Climate, on the other hand, is the pattern of weather measured over decades.”
Isolated weather events and even seasonal trends are not an indication of global warming’s existence one way or another, and most climatologists agree that the carbon pollution we have been spewing into the atmosphere for the past century is leading to more frequent and intense storms of every kind and causing greater temperature swings all around the planet.
In short, the harsh winter we are having shouldn’t be viewed as a refutation of global warming, but rather as further evidence of a growing problem.
“There is a clear long-term global warming trend, while each individual year does not always show a temperature increase relative to the previous year, and some years show greater changes than others,” reports the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The agency chalks up these year-to-year fluctuations to natural processes such as El Niño or volcanic eruptions, but points out that, regardless, the 20 warmest years on record have occurred since 1981, while the 10 warmest were in the past 12 years. And global average temperatures have risen by 1.4°F overall since the early 20th Century.
According to Becky Oskin of LiveScience.com, shrinking polar ice caps as a result of global warming in recent decades are one factor that may be contributing to the cold weather in North America this winter. “One way the shrinking ice changes weather is by pushing winter air south,” she reports.
“When the stored ocean heat gradually escapes in autumn, it changes the pattern of an atmospheric wind called the polar vortex, streaming frigid Arctic air into North America and Europe.”
Meanwhile, a 2012 study by researchers Jennifer Francis and Stephen Vavrus concluded that intense warming in the Arctic has caused changes to the jet stream that regulates air circulation around the planet, potentially leading to stronger winter storms hitting the eastern seaboard of the U.S.
And what about all that snow? “Hotter air around the globe causes more moisture to be held in the air than in prior seasons,” reports UCS. “When storms occur, this added moisture can fuel heavier precipitation in the form of more intense rain or snow.”
The U.S. is already enduring more intense rain and snowstorms, says the group: “The amount of rain or snow falling in the heaviest one percent of storms has risen nearly 20 percent, averaged nationally – almost three times the rate of increase in total precipitation between 1958 and 2007.”
And some regions of the country “have seen as much as a 67 percent increase in the amount of rain or snow falling in the heaviest storms.”
And Oskin points out that while we may be bundling up and shoveling out in the U.S., it’s turned into another scorcher of a summer in the Southern Hemisphere: 2013 was Australia’s hottest year on record, and 2014 has started off even hotter, with temperatures soaring to 125°F and severe fire warnings issued in at least two states there.
Apparently global warming is still on.
Contacts: UCS, www.ucsusa.org; NOAA, www.noaa.gov; LiveScience.com, www.livescience.com.
EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com.

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EarthTalk White BarkPine
Whitebark Pines, already under siege by a lethal disease brought to the continent on imported seedlings, now face a new threat from mountain pine beetles, which have expanded into high-elevation forests due to warmer temperatures brought on by climate change. Shown here a Clark's Nutcracker sits atop a Whitebark Pine in Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. (Photo by Frank D. Lospalluto, courtesy of Flickr)

By E - The Environmental Magazine
Dear EarthTalk: How is it that climate change is responsible for killing whitebark pine trees and thus impacting mountain ecosystems? – Dale Livingstone, Salem, Oreg.
Whitebark pine trees are a “keystone” species in high-altitude ecosystems across the American West, meaning they play an important role in maintaining the natural structure of many of our most iconic mountain regions.
Wildlife from grizzly bears to songbirds are dependent on whitebark pine seeds for nourishment, while forest stands of the trees stabilize and shade the snowpack in winter, which helps reducing avalanches and helps extend snowmelt flows into the dry summer months.
“This slow melting process not only keeps rivers cool for trout and other aquatic wildlife but also helps maintain sufficient water resources for the people living in the arid American West,” reports the non-profit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a leading U.S. environmental group.
Given how important the iconic tree is to Western mountain ecosystems, it’s no wonder that NRDC and other green groups are distressed by its recent decline due to changing environmental conditions.
“White pine blister rust, a lethal disease accidentally brought to the continent on imported seedlings, has wiped out roughly 50 percent of the whitebark pine in the Rocky Mountains since its arrival in the early 20th century,” reports NRDC.
“In some areas such as Glacier National Park, it has killed 85 to 95 percent of the whitebark pine. Infected trees can take a long time to die, but the disease can also cause their cone production to drop significantly, affecting grizzlies and other wildlife.”
And now a newer threat, expanding populations of mountain pine beetles, is exacerbating the effects of blister rust. These small insects bore into mature pine trees, killing them by eating critical tissue under the bark.
“Cool year-round temperatures and freezing winters once kept this beetle confined to low-elevation forests, where native lodgepole pines evolved natural defenses against beetles,” reports NRDC.
“Global warming, however, has allowed the mountain pine beetle to expand its range into high-elevation forests, where the whitebark pine is virtually defenseless against this newcomer and its explosive attacks.”
NRDC fears that this one-two punch – beetles attacking mature whitebark pines and blister rust killing smaller ones – could have a devastating impact on high-altitude forests across the American West.
In late 2008 the group petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the tree under the Endangered Species Act. A year and a half later, the agency indicated that the tree might be worthy of endangered species status, although the case is still under review.
“Endangered Species Act protections could help federal agencies focus their whitebark efforts and could bring increased resources for research, conservation, and restoration efforts,” adds NRDC.
Everyday people who live in or near whitebark pine territory can help the cause by taking photographs and writing down observations about the changing health of high-altitude forests and the prevalence of Clark’s nutcrackers, red squirrels and grizzly bears, each of which depends on the trees for sustenance.
The Whitebark Pine Citizen Scientists Network, a project sponsored by NRDC and TreeFight.org, coordinates this research and synthesizes the findings to give researchers and policymakers more information so they can make sensible land management and species protection decisions.
Contacts: NRDC, www.nrdc.org; Treefight.org, www.treefight.org.
EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com.

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Earth Talk Smart Thermostats
Navigant Research reports that the number of smart thermostats in operation around the world will jump from 1.4 million currently installed to some 32 million by 2020. These kinds of numbers will help utilities meet or exceed energy efficiency goals regardless of other upgrades on their power plants. (Photo courtesy of The Nest)

Dear EarthTalk: Will I really be able to save money and energy in the long run by shelling out hundreds of dollars now for a so-called “smart” thermostat? – Bill Cone, Aptos, Calif.
Spending $200 or more to replace that older, still functioning thermostat with a new whiz-bang “smart” variety might seem like a waste of money, but it can be one of the best small investments a homeowner can make, given the potential for energy and cost savings down the line.
The coolest of the bunch of new smart thermostats, the Nest, was created by former Apple employees who had been instrumental in designing the original iPod and iPhone years earlier.
This simple looking round thermostat is reminiscent of old-school thermostats that one would manually adjust by turning the temperature dial. But the auto-awake feature that turns on the bright blue digital display when someone walks nearby gives the Nest away as an ultra-modern piece of high tech gadgetry.
The Nest’s software “learns” the habits in a given space by logging when inhabitants tend to be home and awake and noting when they tend to turn up or down the heat – and then sets a heating/cooling schedule accordingly.
Owners can also program the Nest, which connects to the Internet via Wi-Fi, to heat up or cool down the house at a set schedule or go into “away” mode from any web browser or smart phone.
While the Nest is likely the best known smart thermostat available – especially since Google acquired the company behind it in early 2014 – several other manufacturers (including Honeywell, ecobee, Hunter, Radio Thermostat, Trane and Lux) have Wi-Fi-enabled smart thermostats available now as well.
While only some of them have the auto-sensing and “learning” capabilities of the Nest, those without that feature also cost less. And merely programming in a weekly schedule to any smart thermostat will be the main source of cost and energy savings.
People who were diligent about turning their old thermostats up and down throughout the day might not see any substantial savings with a smart thermostat, but most of us aren’t so diligent – especially when it comes to turning the heat down at night when we are sleeping.
Many smart thermostat owners report savings of between $10 and $30 per month on their heating/cooling bills – and research has shown that such an upgrade can save upwards of 10 percent of the total energy consumed by a given household.
Smart thermostats range in price from $50 to $250, so upgrading could pay for itself within a year or two at most, with long-term savings racking up month-by-month after that.
Many utilities now offer free or discounted smart thermostats to customers. Getting in on such a program is a great way to reduce energy costs without the up-front expense of installing a smart thermostat independently.
According to the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE), incentives to install smart thermostats are available through utilities in 45 states. New York’s Con Edison, California’s PG&E and Texas’ CPS Energy are just a few of the larger utilities offering such incentives.
Those that do upgrade certainly won’t be alone. Navigant Research reports that the number of smart thermostats in operation around the world will jump from 1.4 million currently installed to some 32 million by 2020.
These kinds of numbers will help utilities meet or exceed energy efficiency goals regardless of other upgrades on the power plant side of their businesses. Likewise, the efficiency boost also can play a key role in reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and our emissions of greenhouse gases.
Contacts: Nest, www.nest.com; DSIRE, www.dsireusa.org; Navigant, www.navigantresearch.com.
EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com.s

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EarthTalk Ocean Sprawl
The next frontier in sprawl may be on the high seas, where the proliferation of fishing, shipping, tourism, resource extraction, energy development, military exercises and other human activity has begun to call into question just how vast our oceans really are. Shown is a fishing trawler on the high seas. (Photo by Jon Anderson, courtesy of Flickr)

Dear EarthTalk: I recently heard the term “ocean sprawl,” which was a new one on me. We all know “sprawl” as it manifests itself above sea level. But in the oceans? Can you enlighten? – Bill Chadwick, Nantucket, Mass.
We are all familiar by now with “urban sprawl” - the uncontrolled spread of urban development into areas beyond the city. But environmentalists warn that the next frontier in sprawl is on the high seas, where the proliferation of fishing, shipping, tourism, resource extraction, energy development, military exercises and other human activity has begun to call into question just how vast our oceans really are.
According to the non-profit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), our oceans are already under siege from problems like pollution, overfishing and acidification, and increased industrial activity off-shore – leading to so-called “ocean sprawl” – will jeopardize the food, jobs and recreation we have come to depend on the oceans to provide.
It’s hard to believe, given how much planning goes into various types of development and human activity on land, that the oceans are still like the Wild West – with various entities staking claims on huge stretches of open water for different purposes.
A promising approach to combat ocean sprawl is called coastal and marine spatial planning (CMSP), a form of zoning for the seas to help define who can do what and where.
Says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the federal agency charged with predicting changes in climate, weather, oceans and coasts, CMSP “identifies areas most suitable for various types or classes of activities in order to reduce conflicts among uses, reduce environmental impacts, facilitate compatible uses and preserve critical ecosystem services to meet economic, environmental, security and social objectives.”
“Marine planning places sound science and the best available information at the heart of decision-making and brings federal, state, tribal and other partners together to cooperatively develop coastal and marine spatial plans,” continues NOAA.
“This process is designed to decrease user conflict, improve planning and regulatory efficiencies, decrease associated costs and delays, engage affected communities and stakeholders, and preserve critical ecosystem functions and services.”
President Barack Obama’s 2010 National Ocean Policy directs NOAA and other federal agencies to work with ocean users, industries and coastal communities on ways to implement CMSP in America’s off-shore waters to prevent ocean sprawl at home while setting an example for other nations around the world.
Nine regional planning bodies are currently tasked with developing detailed plans for their own regions by early 2015, at which point federal policy makers will begin to coordinate implementation.
In response to momentum on CMSP, a coalition of industries including offshore energy, shipping, fisheries, recreation, mining and others formed the World Ocean Council to have a say in how and where marine spatial planning is implemented.
The group organized a National Business Forum on Marine Spatial Planning in 2011 and will take part in a World Ocean Summit in San Francisco in February 2014.
Those of us who appreciate the sea certainly hope that CMSP and other approaches will succeed in turning the tide for oceans and not be undermined by special interests only concerned with bottom lines.

Contacts: NRDC, www.nrdc.org; NOAA Coastal & Marine Spatial Planning, www.msp.noaa.gov; World Ocean Council, www.oceancouncil.org.
EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com.

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The Polar Vortex that changed everything

By Jillian MacMath, Staff Writer for AccuWeather.com

 

            650x366_01061838_screen-shot-2014-01-06-at-1.38.37-pm.87.jpgAccuWeather.com reported Jan. 7, 2014, as the coldest air in 20 years surged into major population centers in the United States, many eyebrows were raised over its rare cause: The positioning of the polar vortex.

            A polar vortex is a large pocket of very cold air, typically the coldest air in the Northern hemisphere, which sits over the polar region during the winter season.

            The frigid air found its way into the United States when the polar vortex was pushed South, reaching southern Canada and the northern Plains, Midwest, northeastern and southern portions of the United States.

            "This is why we've had such extreme cold," Expert Meteorologist Brett Anderson said. And what caused the Polar Vortex to move?

            "The polar vortex moves around at times during the course of the winter, but rarely do you see it get pushed this far south," Anderson said.

            A large, powerful high pressure system originating in the Eastern Pacific stretched to the North Pole, shoving the vortex farther south than typical, allowing it to settle in Canada and the U.S.

            "These high pressure systems can reach Alaska, but it is not typical to stretch all the way to the North Pole," Anderson said.

            The vortex threatened temperatures were as low as minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit in the Plains and in the negative 20s and negative teens farther into the Midwest.

            The high pressure system, paired with the extensive snow cover over southern Canada and the northern United States, allowed the air to stay very cold, according to Anderson.

            According to the National Weather Service, the Upper Midwest, where some of the lowest temperatures occurred was more than 98 percent snow-covered.

            The Upper Great Lakes region was 100 percent snow-covered, and the Midwest more than 76 percent covered.

            When the strong air from the Eastern Pacific weakened and fell apart, the polar vortex retreated and went back into place near the North Pole.

            Until then, temperatures across the northern Plains and Midwest continued to be life-threateningly cold, shattering some all-time low record highs.

 

By the Numbers: RealFeel Temperatures Plummeted to Brutal Extremes in U.S.

By Meghan Evans, Meteorologist for AccuWeather.com

            Long-standing records were shattered across the East and South on Tuesday morning, Jan. 7, 2014, as the coldest air in 20 years arrived.

AccuWeather RealFeel® temperatures were even lower than actual temperatures due to icy winds and seven additional parameters taken into account by this unique index.

It is one of a kind because AccuWeather is the only company that can use more than two elements in its equation, because it is patented. Additional factors, such as humidity and sun angle, can make a big difference in how cold it feels outside.

The cold was extreme enough to close schools, threaten frozen pipes and cause significant flight delays [one day report up to 2,000 flights cancelled nationwide].

Numerous record lows fell as the cold gripped the region on this Tuesday, and some were records set more than 100 years ago.

Highlights of Record Lows Shattered Tuesday Morning, Jan. 7:

            4 degrees F in New York City's Central Park; old record for the date was 6 degrees F which was set back in 1896. The AccuWeather RealFeel® temperature (wind chill) fell below 20 below zero F Tuesday morning.

            4 degrees F in Philadelphia, Penn.; old record for the date was 7 F which was set in 1988. The AccuWeather RealFeel® temperature reached as low as 25 below zero F Tuesday morning.

            13 degrees below zero F in Dubois, Penn.; old record for the date was 5 below zero F which was set in 1988. The AccuWeather RealFeel® temperature plunged to 45 below zero F Tuesday morning.

            8 degrees below zero F in Zanesville, Ohio; the old record for the date was 3 below zero F which was set in 1968. The AccuWeather RealFeel® temperature hit as low as 36 below zero F Tuesday morning.

            6 degrees F in Dover, Dela.; old record for the date was 10 F which was set in 1988. The AccuWeather RealFeel® temperature dropped to 24 below zero F Tuesday morning.

            3 degrees F in Baltimore, Md.; old record for the date was 8 F which was set in 1988. The AccuWeather RealFeel® temperature was as low as 20 below zero F Tuesday morning.

            10 degree F in Richmond, Va.; old record for the date was 12 F which was set in 1988. The AccuWeather RealFeel® temperature reached 12 below zero F Tuesday morning.

            9 degrees F in Raleigh, N.C.; old record for the date was 15 F which was set in 1988. The AccuWeather RealFeel® temperature was as low as 10 below zero F Tuesday morning.

            7 degrees below zero F in Morgantown, W.Va.; old record for the date was 4 below zero F which was set in 1970. The AccuWeather RealFeel® temperature dropped below 25 below zero F.

            7 degrees F in Charlotte, N.C.; old record for the date was 12 F which was set back in 1884. The AccuWeather RealFeel® temperature was as low as 2 below zero F early Tuesday morning.

            13 degrees F in Columbia, S.C.; old record for the date was 16 F which was set back in 1924. The AccuWeather RealFeel® temperature plummeted to 5 F Tuesday morning.

            6 degrees F in Atlanta; old record for the date was 10 F which was set back in 1970. The AccuWeather RealFeel® temperature bottomed out at 11 below zero F Tuesday morning.

            7 degrees F in Birmingham, Ala.; old record for the date was 11 F which was set back in 1970. The AccuWeather RealFeel® temperature hit as low as 4 below zero F Tuesday morning.

 

Then Next Week, Look Out for Record-Challenging Warmth from Philly to Boston

By Alex Sosnowski,

Expert Senior Meteorologist

for AccuWeather.com

 

            On Jan. 9, 2014, Wednesday, AccuWeather.com reported that after an arctic blast had tens of millions people shivering for a week in the East, a dramatic temperature turn-around would bring a break from winter's grip in the week that followed.

            By Sat., Jan. 11, comparisons are being made with record highs in certain areas.

            The record high in New York City's Central Park is 60 degrees set in 1876. Temperatures are forecast to reach at least into the middle to upper 50s around the Big Apple by Saturday.

            Other cities, including Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, Hartford and Boston, were expected to challenge record highs by the weekend. This, only a few days after many areas from the Midwest to the South and East set record lows.

            Even if temperatures fall short of reaching record highs, in some cases actual temperatures will be 40 to 60 degrees higher Saturday, compared to the morning lows Tuesday, Jan. 7. And it could feel 60 to 80 degrees warmer factoring in AccuWeather RealFeel® temperature changes.

            The warm up will be accompanied by drenching rain in much of the Appalachians and the Atlantic Seaboard.

            The rain and warmth may cause its share of problems ranging from urban flooding to the risk of ice jams, potholes, water main breaks and more travel delays.

 

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Earth Talk Dark Factories
Manufacturing facilities that do not depend on human labor to get work done may have some energy saving benefits but are certainly not beneficial overall considering the impact widespread adoption would have on needed jobs. Here a robotic arm is loading Coca Cola bottles into boxes and loading the boxes onto an assembly line. (Photo by Tom Maglieri, courtesy of Flickr)

By E - The Environmental Magazine

            Dear EarthTalk: What are “dark factories” and are they good for the environment? –Mitchell Pearson, Erie, Penn.

So-called dark factories – otherwise known as “lights out” or “automatic” factories – are manufacturing facilities that do not depend on human labor to get work done. While they may have some benefits for the environment, they are certainly not beneficial overall considering the impact widespread adoption would have on needed jobs.

Without human line workers, such factories can operate without lights, heating and cooling and other “amenities” required by human workers. Of course, very few such facilities are completely automated, as human workers are usually required to set up equipment or remove completed parts.

And some run “lights-out” between human labor shifts or as separate shifts to meet increasing demand or save money.

While the up-front costs of setting up automated work routines manned by robots and other machines may be higher than setting up a traditional factory, on-going expenses can be significantly less, given the lack of human payroll and other human-centric outlays.

The first dark factories started appearing in Japan in the 1980s, as companies there started to take advantage of improvements in the technology of robotics and automation to get around the high costs of human labor.

At that time, business analysts predicted then that as technology improved and qualified workers became harder to find and more expensive to support, dark factories would become more prevalent around the world.

But in the interim the spread of manufacturing to developing nations with cheap human labor may have temporarily forestalled the rise of dark factories. Also, General Motors’ unsuccessful implementation of automated manufacturing in the 1980s – quality declined and sales fell accordingly – soured many big companies on the concept back then.

That said, there are many thriving examples of dark factories around the world. Many machine shops in the U.S. run “unattended” all or part of the time. Robots are commonplace now in the auto industry despite GM’s faltering early on.

Amazon.com makes extensive use of robotic systems in its distribution centers and last year even acquired the company behind the technology, Kiva Systems, for $775 million in cash.

In Japan, FANUC Robotics operates a lights-out factory employing robots to make other robots. Japanese camera giant Canon recently announced that it is phasing out human workers at several camera factories by 2015.

And in the Netherlands, Philips produces electric razors in a facility with 128 robots and nine human quality assurance workers.

While widespread adoption, lights-out manufacturing could deliver substantial energy savings and thus be environmentally beneficial, but analysts wonder whether replacing human laborers with computers, machines and robots is a good thing for humanity overall.

According to NaturalNews.com editor Mike Adams, the rise of automation is more likely to sharply divide the economic classes and cause widespread strife.

“Those who are replaced by robots will become jobless and homeless,” he explains. “Those whose lives are enriched by the benefit of the robots will become abundantly wealthy in the material quality of their lives.”

Contacts: FANUC Robotics, www.fanucrobotics.com; Kiva Systems, www.kivasystems.com; SingularityHub, www.singularityhub.com, NaturalNews.com, www.naturalnews.com.

            EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com.

Politics

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By Nusayba Hammad, Communications Director, US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (nusayba@uscpr.org) WASHINGTON, D.C. – In an act unprecedented in recent history, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand...
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