Category: Earth

Our species’ environmental footprint is not sustainable

Substantial, fundamental changes in the world economy are required to reduce humanity’s overall environmental footprint to a sustainable level. This is the conclusion of Arjen Hoekstra, professor of Water Management at the University of Twente. He publishes his findings in the article “Humanity’s unsustainable environmental footprint[.pdf] in Science magazine.

Hoekstra, mainly known for the water footprint, has published the research together with his German counterpart Thomas Wiedmann, employed by the University of New South Wales in Australia. In Science, the authors describe how intertwined the global economy, politics, consumption and trade are in their effect on global land, water and raw material consumption and on the climate.

“Our article mainly focuses on understanding the interdependence of the different types of footprints and the role that businesses, consumers and governments play in creating our overall footprint,” says Hoekstra. “We know that we are not sufficiently sustainable in our actions. But the interdependence has not previously been shown in this way. The various players have divergent interests and take too little responsibility. Consumers do not feel responsible for what producers do and politicians focus too much on growth, exports and cheap imports. For example, who feels responsible for the distress caused when we deplete the resources in China because of cheap imports? If you buy a stolen bicycle, you are liable to punishment and individually responsible. But isn’t the consumption of products that are not produced sustainably also irresponsible behaviour? Rethinking the global supply chain, that’s what it’s all about.”

Hoekstra and Wiedmann map out mankind’s total environmental footprint in a scientific, unique manner, but also realize that a solution is not immediately obvious. “This of course requires fundamental changes in the global economy and international cooperation. But understanding the role of the various parties and the enormous complexity underlying our overall footprint is a first step. Everyone should assume and be given greater supply-chain responsibility; only then can we sustain our society“, concludes Hoekstra.

I don’t think this will provoke anymore examination and thought in the bowels of our government than, say, in the boardrooms of Western Capitalism.

That is not to say it will be ignored in the ever-burgeoning hinterlands of Brazil or China or the few centers of Realpolitik that engage with science. None of which are within the borders of the United States. Unfortunately.

Thanks, Mike

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Global warming is humidifying the upper atmosphere

We have long suspected that greenhouse gases which cause the Earth to warm would lead to a wetter atmosphere. The latest research published by Eul-Seok Chung, Brian Soden, and colleagues provides new insight into what was thought to be an old problem. In doing so, they experimentally verified what climate models have been predicting. The models got it right… again.

To be clear, this paper does not prove that water vapor is a greenhouse gas. We have known that for years. Nevertheless, the paper make a very nice contribution. The authors show that the long-term increase in water vapor in the upper troposphere cannot have resulted from natural causes – it is clearly human caused. This conclusion is stated in the abstract,

Our analysis demonstrates that the upper-tropospheric moistening observed over the period 1979–2005 cannot be explained by natural causes and results principally from an anthropogenic warming of the climate. By attributing the observed increase directly to human activities, this study verifies the presence of the largest known feedback mechanism for amplifying anthropogenic climate change.

As stated earlier, climate models have predicted this moistening – before observations were available. In fact, the models predicted that the upper troposphere would moisten more than the lower atmospheric layers. As the authors state,

Given the importance of upper-tropospheric water vapor, a direct verification of its feedback is critical to establishing the credibility of model projections of anthropogenic climate change.

To complete the experiments, the authors used satellite measurements of radiant heat. The emissions have changed but it wasn’t clear why they have changed. Changes could be caused by increases in temperature or from increased water vapor. To separate the potential effects, the authors compared the first set of experiments with others made at a different wavelength. That comparison provided a direct measure of the separate effect of moistening.

Next, the authors used the world’s best climate models to test whether the observed trends could be caused by natural changes in the Earth’s climate or whether they require a human influence. Sure enough, only the calculations that included human-emitted greenhouse gases matched the observations. The authors conclude that,

Concerning the satellite-derived moistening trend in recent decades, the relations of trend and associated range among three experiments lead to the conclusion that an increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gases is the main cause of increased moistening in the upper troposphere.

Another box ticked, another set of relevant questions answered. Now, real scientists will continue with their work – preparing answers for those nations and politicians ready to deal with serious ecological questions.

The rest…? I don’t know. Don’t waste too much time asking a Republican what they intend to do?

Thanks, Mike

NASA releases HD footage of Mars landing system

The US space agency released a spectacular video detailing the testing of an interplanetary landing system, which is designed to place more massive payloads on the surface of Mars, as it hurtled toward Earth.

In the cosmic quest to explore the surface of Mars, NASA is attempting to devise technologies that will allow it to deliver heavy payloads to the mysterious red planet. In June, NASA engineers, with the help of a massive balloon, lifted the 7,000-pound saucer-shaped test vehicle to an altitude of 190,000 feet before it was released.

The strenuous trial, which tested the so-called Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), was designed to create conditions similar to that of a Mars landing.

At this point, with rockets firing to keep the vehicle stabilized, video from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory showed the ‘flying saucer’ traveling at a speed of Mach 4.3 – or more than four times the speed of sound. Engineers then released an inflatable, life-preserver shaped device around the perimeter of the vehicle, officially known as a Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator, or SIAD, which slowed the craft to Mach 2.

However, while the inflatable device proved tough enough to endure the rigors of such intense force, the 100-foot-wide parachute proved less successful, and nearly disintegrated as it attempted to slow the bulky, fast moving object on its descent toward Earth…

Project manager Mark Adler said that the videos will help his team as they continue to study how to improve the LDSD’s performance for a mission to Mars.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth about a million,” Adler said…

Gotcha!

I have to thank Ursarodinia for early prompts about this test – which didn’t have this level of video available. Thanks, Mike, for catching this new release.

China provinces on track to meet 2015 energy/pollution reduction goals


Pilot project in carbon capture and storage technology at this facility in Inner Mongolia

Most of China’s provinces are ahead of schedule or on track to meet 2015 energy savings targets, the government said on Friday, with Beijing and Shanghai among the frontrunners as the world’s No.2 economy seeks to reduce its impact on the environment.

China has pledged to reduce its energy intensity – the amount of energy it uses to add a dollar to its gross domestic product – to 16 percent below 2010 levels by 2015.

Beijing’s intention in setting the targets was to slow emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases and cut expensive fuel imports, but they have won new relevance with the pollution crisis that has enveloped the nation the past two years.

Data released by China’s top economic planner the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) showed that 26 of 30 regions had achieved more than 60 percent of their targets by the end of last year…

Yang Fuqiang, an environmental expert with U.S.-based non-government agency Natural Resources Defense Council, said China would meet its 2015 target.

“But for the (following) five-year period, there is not much that can be done to improve end users’ efficiency, other than clean up the entire energy mix,” he said.

I guess he’s not as much of a news junkie as I am. Beijing is planning to ban all coal-fired electric generation by 2020 – converting to natural gas and syngas. The national government plans to have 50 coal gasification plants on stream around the Northwest and Central cities in the next few years.

SynGas is what we used in the United States until natural gas was available in economic quantities. I remember the changeover. And natural gas, either recovered domestically or brought in as LNG will enable further reduction of coal dependency.

The “last mile” of this solution is as critical in China as it was in the UK after World War 2. Probably half of the air pollution in northern and eastern China comes from coal fires used for home cooking and heating.

Details in the article – including regions ahead of schedule.

We don’t have to worry about being on time or ahead of schedule in the United States. Our Do-Nothing Congress won’t OK a schedule or fund an energy program that acknowledges either science or the need to reduce pollution.

Gorilla Reunion

After raising a Gorilla in an English zoo, Damian Aspinall ventured out to the jungle where it was released to try to catch a glimpse of him, five years later. Not expecting the Gorilla, “Kwibi”, to recognize him, he was in for a major shock when they crossed paths.

What happened next was an amazing display of affection and shows that love can transcend boundaries, whether it be size, shape, race, or even species. If it put a smile on your face, as it did to me, share this amazing reunion between father and “child”.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Comet close-ups from the Rosetta spacecraft

Following a decade-long meandering multi-loop de loop through the solar system, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft has finally reached its primary target: Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. What the comet lacks in a stylish name, it makes up for in historical prominence as it is the very first comet to get up close and personal with a manmade spacecraft…

Over the next few months, Rosetta will attempt to close in on a near-circular orbit of 30 km…before attempting to send a lander (dubbed” Philae”) onto the comet where it will take direct scientific measurements.

The Rosetta team has identified five possible landing sites on the comet and plans to settle on one by the middle of October, after which the agency will attempt to land the Philae lander in mid-November…

While the Rosetta mission will surely unlock a new understanding of our solar system, it has—more immediately—given us the privilege of being the very generation to see what a comet really looks like. Click through our slideshow of some of these spectacular images courtesy of the ESA.

As close as any of us are likely to get, folks. Take advantage of the photos.

Thanks, Mike

Study of rivers and streams in the Midwest finds neonic insecticide runoff

A new study has added to mounting evidence against a class of insecticides called neonicotinoids…linked in numerous studies to bee declines, the new research looks at neonics’ impacts on surface water.

Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey looked at 9 rivers and streams in the U.S. Midwest—home to vast plantings of corn and soybeans as well as widespread use of neonics—in the 2013 growing season.

The researchers detected neonics in all the waterways, which included the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. One systemic pesticide, clothianidin, was found in 75 percent of the water samples.

“We noticed higher levels of these insecticides after rain storms during crop planting, which is similar to the spring flushing of herbicides that has been documented in Midwestern U.S. rivers and streams,” USGS scientist Michelle Hladick, the report’s lead author, said in a statement.

“In fact, the insecticides also were detected prior to their first use during the growing season, which indicates that they can persist from applications in prior years,” Hladick stated…

“The fact that neonics are pervasively contaminating surface waters should be a wake-up call for state and federal regulators…”

The USGS study comes on the heels of findings by researchers from the Netherlands who noted that concentrations of one neonic called imidacloprid were linked to declines in bird population, suggesting “the impact of neonicotinoids on the natural environment is even more substantial than has recently been reported.”

And a global analysis out last month based on 800 peer-reviewed reports found “clear evidence” that neonics pose threats to bees, other pollinators and terrestrial invertebrates like earthworms, which are exposed to neonics through the soil, the treated plant itself and water.

What does it take to get the liberal flag-wavers inside the Obama administration to live up to the most basic standards of ecology? When domestic and foreign research contradicts the statements of corporate chemical producers, the minimum, the least our government must do is to halt the use of these chemical agents for a period of independent in-depth testing.

Other governments have already done so. All the more reason to act up to a standard supposedly embraced by Democrats and their party. How about deeds instead of words, folks?

Thanks, Mike

Monday morning reminiscence of Italy over breakfast


Click to enlarge source

A gentle rain, this morning. One of the delights of monsoon season, sometimes, in high desert country. Sunrise shining through the rain. Felt and smelled like nothing but my Italian grandparents’ farm in New York state – or Tuscany, which never got so cold in the winter.

My notes about a morning in Bivigliano are over at my friend Om Malik’s personal blog. The link is behind the photo above, taken in his vacation, the R&R he’s still immersed in – in Tuscany.

And Monday breakfast often depends on leftovers. I ate just a tad extra of my wife’s pork stew, yesterday; so no meat in the most important meal of the day – yet. Only my second cup of coffee with a touch of cinnamon in the brew, dark roast and strong as usual.

I’d baked a couple of long slender loaves of Italian bread, last week, instead of the usual boule. A quarter whole wheat, three-quarters unbleached white flour per usual. I turned one into broccoli bread the way the maestro did it at the Grand Bakery in my old Fairhaven neighborhood. I stuffed the loaf with steamed broccoli, minced garlic lightly sauteed in e.v. olive oil, dried red chile fragments.

The two heels of that loaf remained from the weekend. So, I split them, leaving a little broccoli in each piece. Toasted them till the sharp edges of the bread were just turning brown. Rubbed the stiff crust with a clove of garlic and brushed each surface with more of my favorite Sicilian extra virgin olive oil, and just a few grains of Malden sea salt.

Sat down with my coffee and Paul Desmond on Pandora streaming. “So long, Frank Lloyd Wright”.

The rain should stop, soon. Sheila’s a true New Mexico dog and won’t come outside for a walk with me until it does.