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WIND, WATER AND SUN BEST FOR FUTURE ENERGY
Dec 11, 2008
Wind, water and sun beat biofuels, nuclear and coal for clean energy, Stanford researcher says.
The best ways to improve energy security, mitigate global warming and reduce the number of deaths caused by air pollution are blowing in the wind and rippling in the water, not growing on prairies or glowing inside nuclear power plants, says Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford.
And "clean coal," which involves capturing carbon emissions and sequestering them in the earth, is not clean at all, he asserts.
Jacobson has conducted the first quantitative, scientific evaluation of the proposed, major, energy-related solutions by assessing not only their potential for delivering energy for electricity and vehicles, but also their impacts on global warming, human health, energy security, water supply, space requirements, wildlife, water pollution, reliability and sustainability. His findings indicate that the options that are getting the most attention are between 25 to 1,000 times more polluting than the best available options.
"The energy alternatives that are good are not the ones that people have been talking about the most. And some options that have been proposed are just downright awful," Jacobson said. "Ethanol-based biofuels will actually cause more harm to human health, wildlife, water supply and land use than current fossil fuels." He added that ethanol may also emit more global-warming pollutants than fossil fuels, according to the latest scientific studies.
The raw energy sources that Jacobson found to be the most promising are, in order, wind, concentrated solar (the use of mirrors to heat a fluid), geothermal, tidal, solar photovoltaics (rooftop solar panels), wave and hydroelectric. He recommends against nuclear, coal with carbon capture and sequestration, corn ethanol and cellulosic ethanol, which is made of prairie grass. In fact, he found cellulosic ethanol was worse than corn ethanol because it results in more air pollution, requires more land to produce and causes more damage to wildlife. The paper with his findings will be published in the next issue of Energy and Environmental Science but is available online now. Jacobson is also director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program at Stanford.
To place the various alternatives on an equal footing, Jacobson first made his comparisons among the energy sources by calculating the impacts as if each alternative alone were used to power all the vehicles in the United States, assuming only "new-technology" vehicles were being used. Such vehicles include battery electric vehicles (BEVs), hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCVs), and "flex-fuel" vehicles that could run on a high blend of ethanol called E85.
Wind was by far the most promising, Jacobson said, owing to a better-than 99 percent reduction in carbon and air pollution emissions; the consumption of less than 3 square kilometers of land for the turbine footprints to run the entire U.S. vehicle fleet (given the fleet is composed of battery-electric vehicles);l the savings of about 15,000 lives per year from premature air-pollution-related deaths from vehicle exhaust in the United States; and virtually no water consumption. By contrast, corn and cellulosic ethanol will continue to cause more than 15,000 air pollution-related deaths in the country per year, Jacobson asserted.
Because the wind turbines would require a modest amount of spacing between them to allow room for the blades to spin, wind farms would occupy about 0.5 percent of all U.S. land, but this amount is more than 30 times less than that required for growing corn or grasses for ethanol. Land between turbines on wind farms would be simultaneously available as farmland or pasture or could be left as open space.
Indeed, a battery-powered U.S. vehicle fleet could be charged by 73,000 to 144,000 5-megawatt wind turbines, fewer than the 300,000 airplanes the U.S. produced during World War II and far easier to build. Additional turbines could provide electricity for other energy needs.
"There is a lot of talk among politicians that we need a massive jobs program to pull the economy out of the current recession," Jacobson said. "Well, putting people to work building wind turbines, solar plants, geothermal plants, electric vehicles and transmission lines would not only create jobs but would also reduce costs due to health care, crop damage and climate damage from current vehicle and electric power pollution, as well as provide the world with a truly unlimited supply of clean power."
Jacobson said that while some people are under the impression that wind and wave power are too variable to provide steady amounts of electricity, his research group has already shown in previous research that by properly coordinating the energy output from wind farms in different locations, the potential problem with variability can be overcome and a steady supply of baseline power delivered to users.
Jacobson's research is particularly timely in light of the growing push to develop biofuels, which he calculated to be the worst of the available alternatives. In their effort to obtain a federal bailout, the Big Three Detroit automakers are increasingly touting their efforts and programs in the biofuels realm, and federal research dollars have been supporting a growing number of biofuel-research efforts.
"That is exactly the wrong place to be spending our money. Biofuels are the most damaging choice we could make in our efforts to move away from using fossil fuels," Jacobson said. "We should be spending to promote energy technologies that cause significant reductions in carbon emissions and air-pollution mortality, not technologies that have either marginal benefits or no benefits at all".
"Obviously, wind alone isn't the solution," Jacobson said. "It's got to be a package deal, with energy also being produced by other sources such as solar, tidal, wave and geothermal power."
During the recent presidential campaign, nuclear power and clean coal were often touted as energy solutions that should be pursued, but nuclear power and coal with carbon capture and sequestration were Jacobson's lowest-ranked choices after biofuels. "Coal with carbon sequestration emits 60- to 110-times more carbon and air pollution than wind energy, and nuclear emits about 25-times more carbon and air pollution than wind energy," Jacobson said. Although carbon-capture equipment reduces 85-90 percent of the carbon exhaust from a coal-fired power plant, it has no impact on the carbon resulting from the mining or transport of the coal or on the exhaust of other air pollutants. In fact, because carbon capture requires a roughly 25-percent increase in energy from the coal plant, about 25 percent more coal is needed, increasing mountaintop removal and increasing non-carbon air pollution from power plants, he said.
Nuclear power poses other risks. Jacobson said it is likely that if the United States were to move more heavily into nuclear power, then other nations would demand to be able to use that option.
"Once you have a nuclear energy facility, it's straightforward to start refining uranium in that facility, which is what Iran is doing and Venezuela is planning to do," Jacobson said. "The potential for terrorists to obtain a nuclear weapon or for states to develop nuclear weapons that could be used in limited regional wars will certainly increase with an increase in the number of nuclear energy facilities worldwide." Jacobson calculated that if one small nuclear bomb exploded, the carbon emissions from the burning of a large city would be modest, but the death rate for one such event would be twice as large as the current vehicle air pollution death rate summed over 30 years.
Finally, both coal and nuclear energy plants take much longer to plan, permit and construct than do most of the other new energy sources that Jacobson's study recommends. The result would be even more emissions from existing nuclear and coal power sources as people continue to use comparatively "dirty" electricity while waiting for the new energy sources to come online, Jacobson said.
Jacobson received no funding from any interest group, company or government agency.
Energy and vehicle options, from best to worst, according to Jacobson's calculations:
Best to worst electric power sources:
1. Wind power 2. concentrated solar power (CSP) 3. geothermal power 4. tidal power 5. solar photovoltaics (PV) 6. wave power 7. hydroelectric power 8. a tie between nuclear power and coal with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).
Best to worst vehicle options:
1. Wind-BEVs (battery electric vehicles) 2. wind-HFCVs (hydrogen fuel cell vehicles) 3.CSP-BEVs 4. geothermal-BEVs 5. tidal-BEVs 6. solar PV-BEVs 7. Wave-BEVs 8.hydroelectric-BEVs 9. a tie between nuclear-BEVs and coal-CCS-BEVs 11. corn-E85 12.cellulosic-E85.
Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles were examined only when powered by wind energy, but they could be combined with other electric power sources. Although HFCVs require about three times more energy than do BEVs (BEVs are very efficient), HFCVs are still very clean and more efficient than pure gasoline, and wind-HFCVs still resulted in the second-highest overall ranking. HFCVs have an advantage in that they can be refueled faster than can BEVs (although BEV charging is getting faster). Thus, HFCVs may be useful for long trips (more than 250 miles) while BEVs more useful for trips less than 250 miles. An ideal combination may be a BEV-HFCV hybrid.
Press release stanford.edustanford.edu
CLIMATE CHANGE PUTS FORESTS AND PEOPLE AT RISK
ADAPTATION NEEDED TO AVERT CRISIS
Nov 30, 2008
Large areas of forests could succumb to climate change; scientists urge local adaptation responses to avoid disaster for environment, forest-dependent people in new report.
Bogor, Indonesia - Unless immediate action is taken, climate change could have a devastating effect on the world's forests and the nearly 1 billion people who depend on them for their livelihoods, warned a leading group of forest scientists in a report to be released next week. The researchers from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) called for the implementation of adaptation measures to reduce the vulnerability of forests and forest-dependent communities that will experience an unprecedented combination of climate change-associated disturbances like flooding, drought, wildfire, and other environmental challenges in the next 100 years.
Negotiations within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are set to begin to reduce tropical deforestation and forest degradation, and therefore greenhouse gas emissions. Yet according to Facing an Uncertain Future: How Forests and People can Adapt to Climate Change, a new book by CIFOR that will be released next week at the UNFCCC Conference of Parties meeting in Poland, immediate measures must be taken now to adapt forests to climate change. Measures include buffering ecosystems against climate-related disturbances and selecting species in plantations better suited to predicted changes in climates.
If they are managed properly, forests can greatly assist vulnerable communities adapt to the impacts of climate change, yet if they are not managed sustainably, forests will exacerbate these impacts. Similarly, because of their ability to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, forests have the potential to be a big part of the solution to climate change. However, if forests are destroyed, the increasing amount of carbon in the atmosphere could lead to the destruction of what remains. So it is a self-perpetuating cycle, according to the report.
"The imperative to assist forests and forest communities to adapt to climate change has been poorly addressed in national policies and international negotiations. The adaptation challenge is being treated as secondary to mitigation, and yet the two are inextricably linked," said Frances Seymour, Director General of CIFOR.
Forests provide millions of people with income, food, medicines and building materials and deliver many vital ecosystem services like flood or drought regulation and water purification, according to CIFOR's report. They are, therefore, critical to the ability of human societies to adapt to climate change.
The report identifies two related but distinctive adaptation responses. One of these would aim to adapt forest management and conservation to reduce the impacts of climate change on forest ecosystems.
"We have identified two broad categories of adaptation measures for forest ecosystems," said Bruno Locatelli, a CIFOR scientist and lead author of the report. "The first is to buffer ecosystems against climate-related disturbances like improving fire management to reduce the risk of uncontrolled wildfires or the control of invasive species. In plantations, we can select species that are better suited to coping with the predicted changes in climate. The second would help forests to evolve towards new states better suited to the altered climate. In this way we evolve with the changing climate rather than resist it."
A second adaptive response is to help the people who are managing, living in or conserving forests to adapt to future changes.
"The people living in forests are highly dependent on forest goods and services and are often very vulnerable socioeconomically," said Locatelli. "They usually have a much more intimate understanding of their forests than anyone else, but the unprecedented rates of climate change will almost certainly jeopardise their ability to adapt to new conditions. They will need help."
The report reviewed the scientific literature on the effects of climate change on forests and came to several alarming conclusions:
- By the end of the 21st century, tropical regions in Africa, South Asia, and Central America are likely or very likely to be warming at a faster rate than the global annual mean warming.
- Rainfall in East Africa and during the summer monsoon of South and Southeast Asia is likely to increase.
- Annual precipitation in most of Central America is likely to decrease; this region is the most prominent tropical hotspot of climate change. It is unclear how rainfall in the African Sahel and the Amazon will change.
- Peak wind intensities of tropical cyclones are likely to increase, in particular in tropical Southeast Asia and South Asia, bringing extreme rainfall.
- Droughts and floods are expected to increase globally, making water management more difficult.
"In many forests, relatively minor changes in climate can have devastating consequences, increasing their vulnerability to drought, insect attack and fire," said CIFOR forest ecologist Markku Kanninen, a co-author of the report. "Burning or dying forests emit large quantities of greenhouse gases, so there is a chance that an initially small change in climate could lead to much bigger changes."
Mountain forests might be the first to disappear, said Kanninen. "We know that cloud forests are extremely sensitive to climatic changes, as are other types of mountain forest, because when temperatures increase and rainfall decreases, they have nowhere to go." Mangrove forests in coastal parts of West Africa, which help mitigate storms and underpin many commercial fisheries, are highly vulnerable to rising sea levels, according to the report. Some mangroves are expected to dry out almost completely - droughts in Senegal and The Gambia have already had devastating effects on mangrove communities.
Scientists have already found examples of biodiversity loss due to climate change. In the highland cloud forests of Costa Rica, the lifting of the cloud base associated with increased ocean temperatures has been linked to the disappearance of 20 species of frogs.
"That is just a foretaste of what could be huge losses of forest biodiversity worldwide due to climate change,' said Kanninen. Several studies have predicted that decreased rainfall in the biodiversity-rich Amazon would cause massive dieback of the forest and its large-scale substitution by savannah.
"Tropical dry forests are also highly vulnerable," said Kanninen. "Only slight decreases in rainfall, predicted in many regions, will make them more susceptible to fire and to long-term ecological shifts that potentially could cause the extinction of thousands of species."
According to the report, adaptation policy must be multi-sectoral. For example, ministries of transportation have an interest in conserving healthy forests. Haze from forest fires in Indonesia is often thick enough to close airports, while landslides often close roads. Drinking water or hydroenergy companies in South America are starting to consider upstream ecosystem management, including forests, in order to reduce their vulnerability and ensure the quality and quantity of their water supply.
"Adaptation strategies should build on existing local knowledge about forest management in the face of climatic variability, and empower community members to take action to suit their own local circumstances," said Seymour. "For many forest communities, adapting to climate change is already a matter of survival. We need to act now to ensure a better future."
This report, and another CIFOR report on mitigation, will be released on December 5 in Poznan.
News release cifor.cgiar.org
REVISED THEORY: CARBON DIOXIDE LEVELS ALREADY IN DANGER ZONE
Nov 8, 2008
If climate disasters are to be averted, atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) must be reduced below the levels that already exist today, according to a study published in Open Atmospheric Science Journal by a group of 10 scientists from the United States, the United Kingdom and France.
The authors, who include two Yale scientists, assert that to maintain a planet similar to that on which civilization developed, an optimum CO2 level would be less than 350 ppm - a dramatic change from most previous studies, which suggested a danger level for CO2 is likely to be 450 ppm or higher. Atmospheric CO2 is currently 385 parts per million (ppm) and is increasing by about 2 ppm each year from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas) and from the burning of forests.
"This work and other recent publications suggest that we have reached CO2 levels that compromise the stability of the polar ice sheets," said author Mark Pagani, Yale professor of geology and geophysics. "How fast ice sheets and sea level will respond are still poorly understood, but given the potential size of the disaster, I think it's best not to learn this lesson firsthand."
The statement is based on improved data on the Earth's climate history and ongoing observations of change, especially in the polar regions. The authors use evidence of how the Earth responded to past changes of CO2 along with more recent patterns of climate changes to show that atmospheric CO2 has already entered a danger zone.
According to the study, coal is the largest source of atmospheric CO2 and the one that would be most practical to eliminate. Oil resources already may be about half depleted, depending upon the magnitude of undiscovered reserves, and it is still not practical to capture CO2 emerging from vehicle tailpipes, the way it can be with coal-burning facilities, note the scientists. Coal, on the other hand, has larger reserves, and the authors conclude that "the only realistic way to sharply curtail CO2 emissions is phase out coal use except where CO2 is captured and sequestered."
In their model, with coal emissions phased out between 2010 and 2030, atmospheric CO2 would peak at 400-425 ppm and then slowly decline. The authors maintain that the peak CO2 level reached would depend on the accuracy of oil and gas reserve estimates and whether the most difficult to extract oil and gas is left in the ground.
The authors suggest that reforestation of degraded land and improved agricultural practices that retain soil carbon could lower atmospheric CO2 by as much as 50 ppm. They also dismiss the notion of "geo-engineering" solutions, noting that the price of artificially removing 50 ppm of CO2 from the air would be about $20 trillion.
While they note the task of moving toward an era beyond fossil fuels is Herculean, the authors conclude that it is feasible when compared with the efforts that went into World War II and that "the greatest danger is continued ignorance and denial, which could make tragic consequences unavoidable."
"There is a bright side to this conclusion" said lead author James Hansen of Columbia University, "Following a path that leads to a lower CO2 amount, we can alleviate a number of problems that had begun to seem inevitable, such as increased storm intensities, expanded desertification, loss of coral reefs, and loss of mountain glaciers that supply fresh water to hundreds of millions of people."
Yale University press release - earth.geology.yale.edu
BRAZIL CONFERENCE ON RAINFOREST
Oct. 17, 2008
The Head of Geography at the University of Leicester has addressed an international conference in Brazil on the use of modern radar technology for monitoring the rainforests.
Professor Heiko Balzter told 200 scientists and foresters in Brazil "We need advanced radar satellites for monitoring tropical deforestation and forest biomass".
The researchers from South America, the US, Canada and Europe had come together for the 8th Seminar on Remote Sensing and Geographical Information Systems Applications in Forest Engineering in the city of Curitiba, Brazil.
Professor Balzter, who is Professor of Physical Geography at the University of Leicester, had been invited by the Brazilian Space Research Institute (INPE) to speak at the conference about his work on monitoring forest biomass using remote sensing.
According to a recent FAO report (the Forest Resources Assessment 2005), Brazil had the world's largest deforested area between 1990 and 2005. The country lost over 42 million hectares of forest, which is more than one and a half times the size of the United Kingdom.
"With modern radar technology and knowledge of tree structures we can produce spatial carbon maps", said Professor Balzter, whose research has been published in the journal Remote Sensing of Environment in 2007.
Trees take up carbon from the air when they grow. This helps slow down the greenhouse effect and global warming. When the trees are felled, this important function is lost.
"Radar uses microwaves to penetrate through the forest canopy. They measure how much wet plant matter and indirectly how much carbon is there in the forest.
"Our case studies in the UK have shown that using two radar antennas with different wavelengths can provide maps of the top of the forest canopy and the forest floor. The managed forests in Britain and the rainforest of Brazil are of course very different. Nevertheless, similar results were found by scientists in Brazil".
Conference participants came from Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Canada, the US, Finland and other countries.
The European Space Agency, NASA and the Brazilian Space Research Institute are currently studying possible new radar satellites.
The Eliasch review report to the prime minister Gordon Brown recently set out a British-led plan to set up a revolutionary multibillion pound to pay the owners of the world's rainforests for stopping deforestation. This fund is hoped to make a contribution to slowing down global warming. Reducing fossil fuel emissions is not enough to combat global warming. At the moment people emit more greenhouse gases than every before in the planet's history. Professor Balzter was one of only two scientists to be invited by the Office of Climate Change to be involved in the Eliasch review round table.
University of Leicester press release.
TO PROTECT THE ENVIRONMENT, BIOFUEL STANDARDS ARE NEEDED
Oct. 10, 2008
Society is in a race to find renewable sources of carbon-neutral energy. Cellulose-based biofuels hold promise, but we need to proceed cautiously and with an eye toward minimizing long-term ecological impacts. Without a sound plan, we could wind up doing more environmental harm than good.
The United States lacks the policies needed to ensure that cellulosic biofuel production will not cause environmental harm, says a distinguished group of international scientists. The paper, published in the October 3rd issue of the journal Science, urges decision makers to adopt standards and incentives that will help ensure that future production efforts are sustainable, both energetically and environmentally.
Because the cellulosic biofuel industry is young, policymakers have the opportunity to implement science-based standards before large scale crop production begins. Early preventative polices could play a major role in minimizing the unintentional side effects of large-scale crop production, such as fertilizer and pesticide pollution, soil erosion, invasive species spread, the fouling of waterways, and species loss.
Dr. Kathleen Weathers, an ecosystem scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and one of the paper's authors, comments, "Society is in a race to find renewable sources of carbon-neutral energy. Cellulose-based biofuels hold promise, but we need to proceed cautiously and with an eye toward minimizing long-term ecological impacts. Without a sound plan, we could wind up doing more environmental harm than good."
Grain-based ethanol has already served as a lesson in the perils of embracing energy solutions before their environmental effects are understood. Most of the commercial ethanol produced in the United States is made from corn. When large parts of the landscape are converted to such resource-intensive, monoculture grain crops, as is the current model, the scientific consensus is that the environment suffers.
Moving forward, if cellulosic ethanol is to emerge as a feasible source of renewable energy, a vast amount of land will need to be used for its production. This land conversion - estimated to be as large as the amount of land in row-crops today - will change the face of the global landscape. Production standards and incentive programs could help minimize negative impacts and, in many cases, help farmers choose crops that provide valuable ecosystem services.
Weathers notes, "There is the real potential for science to inform sustainable cellulosic crop strategies; it's about picking the right plant, or assemblage of plants, for a given landscape and managing crops in a minimally invasive way." No-till farming can slow erosion and enrich soil; cover crops can sequester soil carbon and minimize nutrient run-off; and buffers can support beneficial insects such as pollinators.
But this won't happen without making environmentally sustainable growing practices widely available and establishing incentives to farmers that adopt the techniques. The authors stress that as the technology to make cellulosic biofuels improves, and efforts become commercialized, both industry and legislators must adopt policies that reward sustainable crop production.
This is one of the first times such a large and diverse group of internationally recognized scientists have spoken with one voice on the issue. The 23 authors - some of the world's top ecologists, agronomists, conservation biologists and economists - encompass diverse backgrounds and professional experiences.
Weathers concludes, "Incentives, such as substantial subsidies for cellulosic ethanol production, could send us hurtling down an environmentally tenuous path. I hope decision makers heed our recommendations. They emerged from a collaborative effort that cut across disciplines and ideologies, and we came to a strong scientific consensus."
The Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies is a private, not-for-profit environmental research and education organization in Millbrook, NY. For over twenty five years, Cary Institute scientists have been investigating the complex interactions that govern the natural world. Their objective findings lead to more effective policy decisions and increased environmental literacy. Focal areas include air and water pollution, climate change, invasive species, and the ecological dimensions of infectious disease. Learn more at www.ecostudies.org.
Press release Oct. 9, 2008 - Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
STEPHANE DION'S CARBON TAX EXPLAINED
EXCERPTS FROM THE LIBERAL PARTY GREEN PLAN
Sept. 28, 2008
The time has come to do what is right - not what is easy - for our environment and for our future.
That is why the Liberal Party of Canada has introduced the Green Shift, a bold plan that will cut income taxes, put a price on pollution, fight poverty and position Canada to be a leader in the 21st century global economy.
Our plan is as powerful as it is simple. We will cut taxes on those things we all want more of such as income, investment and innovation, and we will shift those taxes to what we all want less of: pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and waste.
Energy costs are soaring all over the world. While energy prices continue to rise, we need to encourage energy efficiency. We need to change wasteful habits. We need to discourage polluting activities.
But an economic slow-down is also threatening Canada - too many jobs are disappearing. So we need to create new, well-paying, green jobs.
We also need a fairer and more progressive tax system so that we help all Canadians become part of the solution to the climate change crisis while protecting lower- and middle-income Canadians and more vulnerable Canadians - seniors, the disabled, etc. - from rising energy costs.
Over four years, the length of a government’s usual mandate, we will put an increasing price on the greenhouse gas emissions associated with fossil fuels, like coal and natural gas. This greenhouse gas pollution is what traps heat in our atmosphere and causes climate change.
Higher energy costs will be off-set by tax cuts. We will dramatically reduce other taxes, for individuals and for businesses. We will make sure that this dramatic tax shift is revenue neutral.
It cannot be, and we commit that it will not become, a tax grab by government. This commitment will be enshrined in legislation, and we will have the Auditor General look at the numbers and confirm this each and every year to Canadians.
But putting money back in the hands of Canadians is only part of the solution. Investing in renewable energy and conservation - helping families to use less and pay less - is also key to our plan. As part of our broader climate change plan, Canadians will have access to a full suite of programs to help them reduce their own carbon footprint and the pollution they produce.
This will allow Canadians to save even more money on their own energy costs, while helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution.
Our plan includes many other tax measures that will ensure no one gets left behind - specific measures for low-income earners, for families, for rural and Northern residents.
By the fourth year of our plan, we expect that a family with two children and a combined income of $20,000 will save almost $2,500; a family with two children earning $40,000 a year will save nearly $2,000; a family with two children earning $60,000 will save over $1,300, as will a family earning $80,000.
To attract investment and create jobs, our plan will also see corporations having their tax rates cut so they can invest more money in reducing their own pollution and increasing their energy efficiency.
Editors note: Explained this way it almost makes sense.