Sierra Daily: November 2011
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17 posts from November 2011

Nov 10, 2011

Who’s The Greenest of Them All?

In its latest ranking of the greenness of electronics manufacturers, Greenpeace put HP at the top of the list of 15 contenders. The company rose three spots from its 2010 rank “by reducing the carbon emissions from its manufacturing as well as its supply chain and for advocating legislation to fight climate change,” according to USA Today. Elsewhere in the green scramble, Dell moved into second place after committing itself to cut its carbon emissions by 40 percent; Apple jumped five places to fourth place overall; and Nokia slipped to third place after nabbing the top spot for three years running.

-- Reed McManus

Nov 09, 2011

Not Just A River In Egypt

Our mates in the Antipodes, having succeeded in putting a price on carbon emissions, are celebrating by poking fun at climate-change denialism. Connoiseurs of the genre will especially appreciate the acid barbs directed toward Lord Christopher Monckton, 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, elsewhere hilariously satirized as the latest creation of Sacha Baron Cohen.   


--Paul Rauber

h/t to Climate Progress

Nov 03, 2011

"Game Over"?

This Sunday, thousands of Americans will circle the White House in an attempt to get President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry half a million barrels of dirty Canadian tarsands oil a day from ravaged Alberta to refineries in Texas. If the pipeline is built, warns NASA climatologist Dr. James Hansen, it will be "game over" for attempts to maintain a stable climate. In case anyone asks you to run the numbers while you're ringing the White House, the invaluable RealClimate has done the math for you, courtesy of Dr. Ray Pierrehumbert of the University of Chicago.

652x420_maintileAssumptions: A climate model in which we have a 50-50 chance of holding temperature increases under 2 degrees Centigrade if we keep cumulative carbon emissions under 1 trillion metric tons. The bad news is that we've already added half that to the atmosphere. Proven reserves of conventional oil stocks add another 140 gigatonnes (i.e., billion metric tons), and natural gas another 100. Coal adds an unholy 846 gigatonnes (pushing us into "game over" territory already). Tarsands bitumen could add up to 230 further gigatonnes, depending on how much could be developed. Pierrehumbert cites a study by the National Petroleum Council saying that new technology could push that number to 70 percent, in which case, "Yes, the Keystone XL pipeline does tap into a very big carbon bomb indeed."

But not all at once.

The pipeline would carry 500,000 barrels per day, and assuming that we’re talking about lighter crude by the time it gets in the pipeline that adds up to a piddling 2 gigatonnes carbon in a hundred years. However, building Keystone XL lets the camel’s nose in the tent. It is more than a little disingenuous to say the carbon in the Athabasca Oil Sands mostly has to be left in the ground, but before we’ll do this, we’ll just use a bit of it. It’s like an alcoholic who says he’ll leave the vodka in the kitchen cupboard, but first just take “one little sip.”

If President Obama hears us this Sunday, he'll put a stake through the heart of this project before it gets going. If not, it may be left to the market to do the honors. Here's Energy Secretary Steven Chu on the rapidly approaching day of cost parity of fossil fuels with solar:

[Solar's] price has come down 50 percent in the last five or six years, it's going to come down by another 50 percent, and we think there's a chance it could come down by 70 percent. At that point, you're talking about wholesale electricity at utility scale, at 6 or 7 cents levelized cost per kilowatt hour--that's as much as you would have to spend for any fossil fuel plant without subsidy."

The world's dirtiest oil, or clean solar power? This is a decision we can make right from the start.

--Paul Rauber

Image: David Dodge, Pembina Institute, http://www.pembina.org/oil-sands

Quaking and Fracking

A report by the UK’s Cuadrilla Resources concluded that a series of earthquakes in Lancashire, UK, were likely caused by hydraulic fracturing. Another study, written by a seismologist with the Oklahoma Geological Survey, suspects that a swarm of quakes in Gavin County, Oklahoma, could have been induced by fracking.

While it’s established that “induced seismicity”can be the result of large scale drilling and injection processes, it’s too easy to conclude that fracking and quakes are inextricably linked. That goes for the 5.8 quake centered in Mineral, Virginia, in August that rattled the Eastern Seaboard. The epicenter was at least 80 miles from the Marcellus Shale formation that is the center of East Coast natural-gas drilling, and East Coast quakes, as its residents were recently reminded, are a natural occurrence. According to the United States Geological Survey, the “Central Virginia Seismic Zone has produced small and moderate earthquakes since at least the 18th century. The previous largest historical shock from the Central Virginia Seismic Zone occurred in 1875.”

Still, Environment & Energy News does point out that because of ongoing quake/fracking news, “hydraulic fracturing may be in for a bumpy ride.”

-- Reed McManus

Nov 02, 2011

Nine Outta Ten Ain’t Bad

Solar panels doeAccording to the 2011 Schott Solar Barometer, an annual survey conducted by independent polling firm Kelton Research, Americans are hot for solar power:  “For the fourth consecutive year, the survey found that about nine out of 10 Americans (89 percent) think it is important for the United States to develop and use solar energy. Support for solar is strong across the political spectrum with 80 percent of Republicans, 90 percent of Independents and 94 percent of Democrats agreeing that it is important for the United States to develop and use solar.” Support for public incentives for solar is nearly as strong: “The survey also found that more than eight out of 10 Americans (82 percent) support federal tax credits and grants for the solar industry similar to those that traditional sources of energy like oil, natural gas and coal have received for decades. Seventy-one percent of Republicans agree, as well as 82 percent of Independents and 87 percent of Democrats.”

The New York Times points out key federal incentives for solar and wind energy that will expire at the end of 2011 and 2012, respectively, unless renewed by Congress.

--Reed McManus

Image: U.S. Department of Energy

Nov 01, 2011

The BPA Debate Rages On; Campbell's Becomes a Target

Like most mothers, CampbellsDr. Alicia Bigelow was thrilled that her son loved lentils. And as a busy mom and doctor, she thought giving him canned organic lentils and pasta in tomato sauce was both healthy and convenient.

So she was more than a little alarmed when the 3-year-old started complaining of pain around his nipples — and she realized he was developing breast buds.

"He was 3, and a boy, developing bits of breast tissue," she said. "My immediate thought was, 'What has he just been exposed to?'"

A conversation with her son's pediatrician revealed that the cause was probably hormone disruption from a chemical compound called bisphenol A (BPA) in the canned food he was eating. Bigelow's son ate around three to four cans per week, the mother of two said.

She immediately stopped feeding him canned food. After two months, the breast buds were gone. He no longer eats canned food, but continues to enjoy copious amounts of lentils and pasta that Mom makes for him. The breast buds have not returned. 

Though Bigelow didn't want to name the brand of soup her son was eating (BPA is an industry-wide problem, she says) and did not get the product tested for BPA, she is certain the chemical is responsible for her child's symptoms. The can did not, after all, say it was BPA-free.

Bigelow, a naturopathic doctor and faculty member at the National College of Natural Medicine, has since signed a petition started by a nonprofit called Healthy Child, Healthy World, against BPA in the lining of Campbell's soup cans. The petition began in August but last week, the organization posted it on Change.org with a goal of getting 5,000 signatures. At press time, that goal has been met; now the petition's magic number is 7,500.

Continue reading "The BPA Debate Rages On; Campbell's Becomes a Target" »

D.C. Deafness on Keystone XL

Waste basketThis can't be good. According to The Hill, White House press secretary Jay Carney "appears to be trying to keep some political space between Obama and the looming decision on TransCanada Corporation’s proposed Alberta-to-Texas pipeline."

“This is a decision that will be made by the State Department, or is housed within the State Department. And they are taking into . . . they are in a phase now of taking into account public comment and comments certainly from experts, both environmental, as well as energy experts. So this process includes a full review of various concerns from all areas,” Carney said.    

For starters, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is responsible for recommending whether vastly expanding dirty energy is in the U.S. national interest, the buck does stop with President Obama. But about those public comments: Inside Climate News reports that "The State Department has lost tens of thousands of submissions and cannot say how the remainder will be handled or will influence the pending decision." This might have something to do with the fact that the State Department is offshoring the handling of those comments to Cardno Entrix, the consulting firm that organized the public hearings on the pipeline and which counts among its "major clients"--TransCanada, the Alberta-based company that wants to build Keystone XL. (Small world, isn't it?)

Inside Climate News cites our own Kate Colarulli, associate director of the Beyond Oil campaign:

From April through June, [the Sierra Club] worked with seven other anti-pipeline groups to collect 269,000 written comments from their members. They submitted them electronically to a Cardno Entrix email address set up for that purpose.

But in July, when the Sierra Club checked the website that Carno Entrix maintains for the State Department, Colarulli said her office found that the company's count came up short by 94,000 comments. About 25,000 of the missing comments were written by Sierra Club members, she said.

"So we reached out to [State Department official] Alex Yuan, just saying there's a discrepancy, this is pretty weird," Colarulli said. "Mr. Yuan was pretty concerned."

Yuan told the Sierra Club to load the missing comments onto CDs and mail them to the State Department, Colarulli said. Two days later, Yuan "wrote us back and said never mind ... we're not willing to take these comments."

What will it take to make Washington listen? This Sunday, Sierra Club activists will join thousands of others in encircling the White House for the largest tar-sands protest in history. Mr. President? Can you hear us now?

UPDATE: In an interview this afternoon in Nebraska, Obama made it clear that he will be making the final decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. “We need to make sure that we have energy security and aren’t just relying on Middle East sources. But there’s a way of doing that and still making sure that the health and safety of the American people and folks in Nebraska are protected, and that’s how I’ll be measuring these recommendations when they come to me.”

--Paul Rauber

Image by iStock

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