Sustainability

Fall Colors and the natural Carbon Cycle
October 16, 2012 06:26 AM - Roger Greenway, ENN

As Fall turns leaves to colorful displays, starting in northern New England, and moving ever southward as Fall progresses, we think of the approaching Winter. We might also think of all the carbon that the once green leaves contain that will be released to the atmosphere as they decay. In the springtime, leaves soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, converting the gas into organic carbon compounds. Come autumn, trees shed their leaves, leaving them to decompose in the soil as they are eaten by microbes. Over time, decaying leaves release carbon back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. In fact, the natural decay of organic carbon contributes more than 90 percent of the yearly carbon dioxide released into Earth’s atmosphere and oceans. Understanding the rate at which leaves decay can help scientists predict this global flux of carbon dioxide, and develop better models for climate change. But this is a thorny problem: A single leaf may undergo different rates of decay depending on a number of variables: local climate, soil, microbes and a leaf's composition. Differentiating the decay rates among various species, let alone forests, is a monumental task.

Turning Trash into Art
October 15, 2012 08:57 AM - Kristina Anderson, Sierra Club Green Home

When you think of the words "garbage dump," the first thoughts or images that spring forth from your mind probably aren't related to art. But if you were to visit the Recology collection center in San Francisco, you would be seeing—and thinking about—trash in a whole new way. What you would witness is not only the incredible amount of debris that comes in every day, but also the artists who thrive on it. Twice a year, Recology SF brings in new artists to its Artist in Residence Program, a one-of-a-kind program that utilizes the center as inspiration, as a studio, and as an art supply closet.

Update: Fusion Power
October 13, 2012 07:06 AM - Roger Greenway, ENN

Green house gasses, nuclear waste.....these are concerns with our most widely used power generation technologies, fossil fuel combustion and nuclear fission. Fusion power holds the promise of abundant energy, no green house gas emissions, and little to no waste products. Fusion is getting closer to commercial reality. Until now, it has been produced only in the lab, and only for the briefest of time scales. Scientists in several countries are getting much closer to sustained fusion and this offers the real potential for commercial power production! The crucial next steps on the roadmap to developing fusion energy will be the focus of more than 70 top fusion scientists and engineers from around the world who will gather at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) this month. The Oct. 15-18 session will kick off a series of annual workshops under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that will address key scientific and technological challenges facing countries developing fusion as a source of clean and abundant energy for producing electricity.

Major Wind Energy Project Approved in Wyoming
October 10, 2012 05:46 AM - Roger Greenway, ENN

The pace of wind energy development on public lands is picking up. Interior Ken Salazar announced this week that the Department has reached its goal of authorizing 10,000 megawatts of renewable power on public lands with the approval of the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project site as suitable for wind energy development. The Project is a proposed complex that could generate up to 3,000 megawatts of power in southeastern Wyoming. The project developers expect the proposal to create an estimated 1,000 construction, operation and maintenance jobs and generate enough energy to power nearly 1 million homes. The decision authorizes the BLM to proceed with site-specific environmental analyses for the Sierra Madre Wind Farm, the Chokecherry Wind Farm, the internal haul road, the internal 230 kilovolt transmission line, the rail distribution facility, and substations to connect the generated power to the electric grid. The Record of Decision also approves amendments to the BLM’s Rawlins Resource Management Plan, identifying the project area as available for wind energy development. The BLM Rawlins Field Office oversees more than 3.5 million acres in Albany, Carbon, Laramie and Sweetwater counties.

Update: Lab-grown Meat
October 8, 2012 06:11 AM - Tom Levitt, The Ecologist

Lab-grown meat could help reduce the environmental footprint of intensive farming. But will it ever appeal to vegetarians or even more eco-conscious consumers? Tom Levitt reports Lab-grown meat will create up to 96 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions. Before the end of the year, Dutch scientists are promising a high-profile debut for a burger made from meat grown not on a farm but in their laboratory. Synthetic or lab-grown meat involves taking a small amount of cells from a living animal and growing it into lumps of muscle tissue in the lab, which can then, in theory, be eaten as meat by people.

Stop the trade in Bear Bile!
October 7, 2012 07:43 AM - Miguel Llanos, NBC News

Two brother bear cubs rescued from suspected smugglers in Vietnam have become poster children for a campaign against the use of capturing and harvesting bears for their bile. The two men arrested said "they bought the cubs for $1,500" and were "going to sell them for a much higher price," most likely to a farm that harvests bear bile, Tuan Bendixsen, the Vietnam director for the nonprofit charity Animals Asia, told NBC News. "To get the cubs they would have to kill the mother," Bendixsen added, "and the mother's body parts would be sold" for the trade in purported medicinal cures from bear parts. The body parts most in demand are gallbladders and paws.

Northern forests may become stressed due to increasing outdoor recreation
October 3, 2012 06:20 AM - Allison Winter, ENN

Federal and state park systems in the United States are known for their natural beauty, uninhabited forests and pristine environments. We also think of them for the variety of outdoor recreation they provide. However, as regional populations grow along with the influx of tourists and daily visitors, forests will surely be affected. This increase will call for a greater development of land and water resources as the demand for outdoor recreation expands.

Large Earthquakes create more aftershocks and farther away than previously thought
October 3, 2012 05:14 AM - Roger Greenway, ENN

New research by the University of California has produced significant new data on large earthquakes the related aftershocks that can occur nearby and in distant locations. The largest earthquake in 2012 a magnitude 8.6 temblor on April 11 centered in the East Indian Ocean off Sumatra, did little damage, but it triggered quakes around the world for at least a week, according to a new analysis by seismologists from the University of California, Berkeley, and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The April 11 quake was unusually large — the 10th largest in the last 100 years — and, similar to a few other recent large quakes, triggered small quakes during the three hours it took for seismic waves to travel through Earth's crust. The new study shows, however, that some faults weren't rattled enough by the seismic waves to fail immediately, but were primed to break up to six days later.

Inuit Face Tensions with Outside World as their environment melts away
October 2, 2012 06:35 AM - Ed Struzik, Yale Environment360

With Arctic summer sea ice rapidly disappearing, the native Inuit of Canada are encountering not only unsettling changes in their subsistence way of life, but also a growing number of outsiders who will further transform their once-isolated homeland. Sakiasiq Qanaq has seen a lot of changes on the north coast of Baffin Island in recent years as the retreat of summer sea ice has continued unabated. But the Inuit hunter has never seen anything quite like this year, when sea ice loss in the Arctic hit a record low. First, the community's spring narwhal hunt, which usually yields roughly 60 of the tusked whales, produced only three. The sea ice was so thin that the Inuit couldn’t safely stand on it and shoot the narwhal as they migrated into Arctic Bay from Greenland through channels in the ice. Then an unprecedented number of killer whales, or orcas — rarely seen in heavy ice — showed up in the largely ice-free water, with Inuit hunters in nearby Pond Inlet observing three pods of orcas that reportedly killed some of the narwhals and scared off the others.

Turning Seawater into Jet Biofuel
October 1, 2012 12:16 PM - Allison Winter, ENN

From using vegetable oil and animal fats to trees and grasses as new sources of energy, biofuels are continuing to gain attention due to current oil prices and concern for energy security. As energy is produced from carbon fixation in these biofuels, scientists are experimenting with other types of renewable sources as mediums. The latest research endeavor? Creating jet fuel from seawater. Last year, the U.S. Navy Military Sea Lift Command, who is in charge of supplying fuel and oil to the U.S. Navy fleet, delivered nearly 600 million gallons of fuel to vessels underway, operating 15 fleet replenishment oilers around the globe. Refueling U.S. Navy vessels at sea is not only costly, but the process requires a lot of time and coordination, which can ultimately affect national security.

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