Category: Environment

China passes new pollution law

Legislators have approved amendments to China’s 15-year-old air pollution law that grant the state new powers to punish offenders and create a legal framework to cap coal consumption, the Asian giant’s biggest source of smog.

The draft amendments were passed by 154 votes to 4, with five abstentions, Zhong Xuequan, spokesman for the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament, told a media briefing…

The ruling Communist Party has acknowledged the damage that decades of untrammeled economic growth have done to China’s skies, rivers and soil. It is now trying to equip its environmental inspection offices with greater powers and more resources to tackle persistent polluters and the local governments that protect them.

The amendments are expected to make local governments directly responsible for meeting environmental targets. They also ban firms from temporarily switching off polluting equipment during inspections and outlaw other behavior designed to distort emission readings.

Tong Weidong, vice-director of the NPC’s legal work committee, told the briefing the law would improve the way local authorities were assessed and allow them to draw up their own plans to meet environmental targets…

However, researchers said the changes do not go far enough and that the third reading of the bill should have been postponed until all its shortcomings had been resolved.

Sounds like another step forward. The article isn’t clear about household air pollution though broadly it sounds as if it is covered.

Like England in the period after WW2, half of China’s coal-generated air pollution comes from home fires for cooking and heating. These are almost always in the least efficient stoves for any purpose – regardless, there isn’t any way to bring them up to useful standard.

I’ve blogged earlier about efforts to bring NatGas into easy urban access and the last-mile problem will remain the greatest obstacle. That solution is what changed life in many American industrial cities as well as the UK in the fifteen years or so after the war. That change didn’t have to provide new pipelines or local access. We already had use of coal gas. The conversion only required a new orifice for each burner in every stove or furnace.

China’s cities will have to excavate.

Coastal conservatives need new places to hide their heads – Sea level rising faster


Click to enlarge — this ain’t the future, this is Miami in June 2014

Ocean levels on Earth have risen an average of three inches in the last 23 years, and could rise an additional three feet in the next century, according to an interdisciplinary NASA team charged with measuring changing sea levels.

Scientists from NASA Wednesday presented satellite data gathered since 1992 that measured ocean levels rising at an average of 3 millimeters per year. The findings pointed to thermal expansion caused by warming ocean temperatures, as well as melting ice sheets and glaciers, as the reasons for the rise — and scientists warned that the rate at which sea levels are climbing is accelerating.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made a comprehensive assessment of rising sea levels in 2013, with climate experts stating that oceans would rise from one to three feet by the end of the century.

But NASA said Wednesday that satellite data gathered since then has shown that sea levels will climb to the higher end of that range, though it will be difficult to predict exactly how long it will take to reach that level.

Along with partners from French space agency Centre National d’Études Spatiales, the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA has been tracking changing sea levels and the melting of ice sheets and glaciers using satellites equipped with highly sensitive instruments.

Mike Freilich, director of NASA’s earth science division in Washington, explained that the satellites were so accurate that they would be able to detect the movement of a dime lying on the ground from 40,000 feet above it.

The scientists said that melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica have been contributing to rising sea levels sooner and more significantly than they had anticipated…

Sea levels don’t rise uniformly across the planet, and in some places — particularly on the West coast of the U.S. — they are actually declining due to natural cycles of ocean currents. The scientists expect sea levels in those regions to catch up, and perhaps to exceed global average sea levels.

People need to understand that the planet is not only changing, it’s changed,” said NASA scientist Tom Wagner…

Researchers noted that with the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets melting, it will be difficult for scientists to predict when sea levels will rise as a result because they have never actually witnessed the collapse of an ice sheet.

This will not bother the folks who not only never witnessed a conversation with a burning bush – they can’t find scientific record of such an occurrence. But, they still believe.

The same cultural rejection of science and scientific research that justifies superstition makes it easy to place the fate of future generations in the hands of politicians who make the same noises as your grandparents. And that’s true whether your rationale is defined in terms of ideology, religion or just something your favorite demagogue said, last Thursday on the radio.

Groundbreaking for Colorado’s largest solar farm


Same old stodgy photo opportunity — progressive results

Renewable Energy Systems Americas will construct Colorado’s largest solar farm, one that backers say will produce electricity more cheaply than natural gas-powered sources.

Broomfield-based RES expects to employ 300 to 400 workers to build the Comanche Solar project, which broke ground…7 miles south of Pueblo…

SunEdison, the world’s largest developer of renewable energy projects, raised $253 million for the project and will run the solar farm with four employees once it is operating.

The farm’s 500,000 panels will stretch across about 1,000 acres, with a capacity of 156 megawatts that will generate enough power to supply 31,000 homes, said Paul Gaynor, an executive VP with SunEdison…

Several factors contribute to lowering the project’s price tag and making it cost competitive with natural gas generation, Gaynor said. Those include economies of scale, existing roads in the area, and “plug-and-play” access to transmission lines serving a nearby power plant.

Public Service Company of Colorado, a subsidiary of Xcel Energy, has signed a 25-year purchase agreement with SunEdison…

Gaynor said SunEdison has additional wind and solar projects that it can bring forward when utilities in the state want to purchase more power generation.

Smart people in educated states keep on making smart long-range choices. Even while the most reactionary politicians on the planet keep on trying to turn energy-production back to the Dark Ages of King Coal.

Armed conflict: bad for humanity, great for reducing air pollution!

NM Ozymandias

Air pollution has decreased dramatically in parts of the Middle East in the past five years – partly due to armed conflicts since the Arab Spring.

A new study suggests the improvement is the result of the conflicts, economic recessions and human displacement suffered across the region.

The findings state: “A combination of air quality control and political factors, including economical crisis and armed conflict, has drastically altered the emission landscape of nitrogen oxides in the Middle East.”

Jos Lelieveld of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany, was the lead author of the study, which was published in Science Advances.

Between 2005 and 2010, the Middle East had the world’s fastest-rising air pollution emission levels.

A similar increase took place in East Asia, most likely due to economic and industrial growth.

“However, [the Middle East] is the only region where this pollution trajectory was interrupted around 2010 and followed by a strong decline,” Professor Lelieveld said…

In Syria, the level of nitrogen dioxide over Damascus has fallen by 50 per cent since the start of the civil war in 2011.

It’s proportional to people, so if emissions have gone down in Syria by 50 per cent, I’d expect that 50 per cent of the people might have been displaced, as indeed they have,” Prof Lelieveld said.

The findings “disagree with scenarios used in prediction of air pollution and climate change for the future,” he added.

Yes, yes. Unless you’re one of the delightful nation-states which carries around the occasional nuclear weapon and threatens other lands with an opportunity to glow in the dark for several thousand years.

I admit, though, it is tempting to consider reducing the number of human beings in any location because of generally positive results. I would prefer doing so in a manner equally beneficial to the human species – as it is to those others, animal and vegetable, occupying the same landscape.

I suggest providing a basic scientific education including knowledge of birth control. In general, everywhere that happens the birth rate diminishes and tends to produce the same result. No fighter-bombers or helicopters required.

Researchers sample Great Pacific Garbage Patch before clean-up begins


Boyan Slat, cleanup system inventorVice Media/Manuel Freudt

Researchers returned on Sunday from mapping and sampling a massive swirling cluster of trash floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, as the Dutch-borne crew works to refine a clean-up strategy it will roll out globally.

The crew of the Ocean Cleanup, backed by volunteers in sailboats, ventured to areas of the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”, a swirling mass of human-linked debris spanning hundreds of miles of open sea where plastic outnumbers organisms by factors in the hundreds.

The debris, concentrated by circular, clockwise ocean currents within an oblong-shaped “convergence zone”, lies near the Hawaiian Islands, about midway between Japan and the U.S. West Coast. The trash ranges from microscopic pieces of plastic to large chunks.

Working for about a month, the group collected samples as small as a grain of sand and as large as discarded fishing nets weighing more than 2,000 pounds. They mapped the area, using aerial balloons and trawling equipment to locate samples, said oceanographer Julia Reisser…

The next phase, planned for 2016, is the deployment in Japanese coastal waters of a 2,000-meter scale model of the group’s proposed debris collection system, which researchers believe could extend for 96 kilometers.

That system will contain floating stationary booms tethered to the ocean floor and linked in a V shape intended to skim and concentrate surface plastics floating on top of ocean currents.

Every little bit counts. We’re still waiting for realistic regulation and record-keeping of trash discarded from commercial use of Earth’s oceans. The trash should be returned to shore and recycled by those producing it. Of course.

Hurricane Katrina — 10 years after

Nearly 10 years after Hurricane Katrina overran New Orleans, the city is still recovering from a disaster that was as much human-caused as natural.

Katrina, which formed on August 23, 2005 and hit the Gulf Coast of the US on August 29, was a massive storm that was likely to wreak havoc in the region regardless of how the government reacted. But the government response was so wildly incompetent that it allowed the worst of the catastrophe to continue and sometimes created entirely new, unnecessary problems…

At least 1,800 people died due to Hurricane Katrina

With a death toll of more than 1,800, Katrina was the third deadliest hurricane in US history after Galveston in 1900 (which killed 8,000 to 12,000 people) and Okeechobee in 1928 (which killed 2,500 to 3,000 people), according to US News and World Report. But Katrina is by far the costliest hurricane in economic terms, running up $108 billion in costs…

The levees failed because of bad engineering, not just because Katrina was too big

More than six months after Katrina hit, the US Army Corps of Engineers released a report in which they took blame for the levees breaking, flat-out admitting that the levees were built in a disjointed fashion based on outdated data. Much of this, the report revealed, was due to a lack of funding — resulting in a flawed system of levees that was inconsistent in quality, materials, and design. Engineers also failed to account for the region’s poor soil quality and sinking land, which created more gaps in barriers…

Federal officials were slow to react to local and state officials’ pleas

After the response to Katrina proved to be its own kind of unmitigated disaster, the Bush administration attempted to shift some of the blame to local and state officials — particularly Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco. Some media outlets, going by information from administration officials, claimed Blanco didn’t declare a state of emergency.

In fact, Horne noted in the Washington Post, Blanco declared a state of emergency on August 26 — a day before Mississippi and the White House did, and three days before the storm made landfall. And while President George W. Bush vacationed in Texas as the storm hit, Blanco pleaded for the administration to send more aid. At one point, the Louisiana National Guard asked FEMA for 700 buses — but, days later, the agency sent only 100, and it took a week to evacuate flood survivors.

RTFA for more of what you might guess. Between bureaucrats who just don’t do their homework to politicians who govern by ideology rather than evidence-based solutions, we get screwed. Add in the opportunist and cowardly complicity of a Free Press in a Free World that defines itself as entertainment – instead of living up to constitutional mandates – and we get screwed in spades.

National sampling finds neonicotinoid insecticides in more than half of streams

Neonicotinoid insecticides (neonicotinoids) were present in a little more than half of the streams sampled across the United States and Puerto Rico, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study. This is the first national-scale study of the presence of neonicotinoids in urban and agricultural land use settings across the Nation and was completed as part of ongoing USGS investigations of pesticide levels in streams.

Neonicotinoids are one of the fastest growing classes of insecticides worldwide and are registered for use throughout the United States and the world. They are used in agricultural and urban settings and some are used predominately as seed coatings to protect seedlings such as corn and soybeans. The insecticides are also used as foliar sprays on horticultural, vegetable, and ornamental crops, pastures, and grasslands, and for domestic pests…

As an addition to the national reconnaissance study, four complimentary studies were led to determine how neonicotinoid concentrations varied in streams over time and during different streamflow conditions. Neonicotinoids were present in urban streams throughout the year, whereas pulses of the insecticides were typical in agricultural streams during the crop planting season.

None of the neonicotinoid concentrations exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency aquatic life criteria, and all detected neonicotinoids are classified as not likely to be carcinogenic to humans. However, the occurrence of low levels in streams for extended periods of time highlights the need for future research on the potential effects of neonicotinoids on aquatic life and terrestrial animals that rely on aquatic life.

We must politely tiptoe around the lobbying and other political power of the manufacturers of pesticides. In alliance with agribusiness, they are a wondrous Goliath to behold. If you think brute power worth admiring.

Meanwhile, Europe continues with it’s interim ban on such substances and more studies on the death of bees from this crap continue in assent. As a nation, we don’t especially care any more for the death of little creatures essential to our existence – than we do the death of human beings in foreign lands. Especially when and where the profits of large American corporations might be affected.

Last month was the hottest month in recorded history. Again.


Click to enlarge

Congratulations, you’ve just lived through the hottest month ever recorded. (Yes, another one.) According to NASA, the Japan Meteorological Agency, and, now, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), July 2015 was the hottest month registered on the planet since record-keeping began.

“The July average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.46°F (0.81°C) above the 20th century average,” NOAA reports. “As July is climatologically the warmest month for the year, this was also the all-time highest monthly temperature in the 1880–2015 record, at 61.86°F (16.61°C), surpassing the previous record set last year in 2014 by 0.14°F (0.08°C).”

The heat was especially scorching around the Equator, in the oceans, in parts of Asia, and in Southern Europe…

It’s been more than 30 years since the world has seen a colder-than-average month. Get ready to live through plenty more record-breakingly hot ones.

You can forward this to your favorite know-nothing idjit who kneels before the altar of fossil fuel profits. People who think individuals who make their living imitating some 19th Century industrial baron are more important than the rest of us – don’t deserve to be counted among the rest of us. They are not human beings. They are obedient little political robots.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Breakthrough in cost and efficiency in “artificial leaf” technology


Only symbolism, folks – but, you get the idea :)

New research out of Melbourne has broken records and brought emission-less hydrogen energy a step closer to commercial production. Thom Mitchell reports.

Researchers at Monash University have published a breakthrough paper detailing their success in creating hydrogen and oxygen from water and sunlight in a process which artificially mimics photosynthesis, the source of most of the world’s energy, including the fossil fuels that currently dominate energy markets.

The research represents a new level of efficiency in this so-called ‘artificial leaf’ technology which scientists say could become commercially viable within a few years because researchers have managed to produce a record-high level of hydrogen using nickel as a type of conductor, rather than more expensive precious metals.

“The reason this technology has not been at the forefront [of the discussion around renewable energy] is that it’s not that efficient,” said Professor Douglas MacFarlane, one of the researchers behind the paper…“There are better catalysts and materials that people have been working on for probably 10 or 15 years, but what we’ve done is show that you can actually do this with cheaper materials that are [still, and in this case particularly, efficient ].”

The process the researchers followed involves taking water, sunlight, and some conventional wiring, and using them to produce oxygen and the hydrogen that can then be converted into a range of fuels, including electricity, and stored with relative ease…

“The idea of making a fuel directly from sunlight is rapidly becoming practical at a household and petrol station level, and even at the solar farm level.”…

‘Artificial leaf’ devices are considered to be effective if 10 per cent of the solar energy captured is converted into hydrogen and earlier efforts had resulted in a conversion rate of around 18 per cent.

However they required more expensive and rarer metals for use as catalysts, whereas the Monash researchers were able to achieve a conversion rate of solar energy to hydrogen of around 22 per cent using nickel instead.

And hydrogen is a simple clean-burning gas. Storable, usable in fuel cells, a replacement for fossil fuels and absent the storage questions required of direct conversion of solar energy to electricity.

The kind of Green Science bound to piss off fossil fuel-reactionaries like the Koch Brothers even more than the EPA or James Hansen do.

Thanks, Honeyman

Capturing the beauty of California’s wildfires


Click to enlarge

Thanks to California’s historic four-year drought, some specialists are now referring to frequent wildfires as a “new normal” for the state. For the past two years, Los Angeles-based photographer Stuart Palley has been chasing these flare-ups to capture their unusual beauty.

“The fires move fast and you need to get there on the first night of the fire to capture its most intense behavior,” Palley told Quartz. “Two years ago I left my own birthday party early to go photograph a fire.”

Taken with a long-exposure or under a starry night sky, the 27-year-old’s shots of flames and smoke engulfing hills, forests, roads and homes are hair-raisingly gorgeous.

Some of the most dangerous moments in nature may also be beautiful. One more tightrope for a serious photographer.