Thursday, August 31, 2006

Northern Forests Dying From Global Warming

Forests in northern climates from Alaska to Oregon are dying off as warmer temperatures create heat stress for trees accustomed to a cooler climate.

In the North Cascades in Washington state the forest is dying near the top; the trees are turning red. Similar reports of dying forests are coming from Mt. Ranier, Glacier Peak Wilderness, and down to central Oregon.

Huge expanses of forest in central British Columbia have died and turned red. Millions of acres of lodgepole pine have been killed by warming temperatures.

In northern Canada, satellite data shows a wide swath of forests getting browner. A massive Alaska yellow cedar die-off on 500,000 acres of land in ALaska has been documented by the US Forest Service. Scientists have ruled out any possible cause for the die-off other than global warming.

As these forests die, they will no longer convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, adding another possative feedback loop to the global warming process.

It may just be that by the time we recognize the seriousness of what's happen it will be too late to change it.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Melting Glaciers Threaten South American Water Supply

The .glaciers of the Andean mountains are melting so fast that they could disappear in the next 15 to 25 years, taking with them a major source of fresh water for Colombia, Peru, Chile, Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina and Bolivia.

The Chacaltaya glacier in Bolivia has lost over 3,000 acres of ice, about 40% of the area it covered 30 years ago. The glacier is the source of fresh water for the cities of La Paz and El Alto. At it's present rate of melt, it will be gone in 15 years.

The president of Peru's water management institute notes that, in the short run, the faster rate of melt could cause overflows of reservoirs and trigger mudslides, while in the longer run it will cut off water supplies.

South American countries are not the major source of greenhouse gasses and can only urge richer countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Juan Maldonado, former Colombian environment minister and president of the UN convention on biological diversity comments that; "The only option we have, apart from demanding that developed countries take responsibility for the damages that climate change is causing, is to try to neutralise the adverse impacts that are [already] upon us. It is time to rethink the model of international aid."

First "Certified Marketer" of Biodiesel

Sprague Energy, Inc. has become the first petroleum distributer to earn a certified marketer designation under the voluntary biodiesel quality program, BQ-9000.

BQ-9000 is a quality assurance certification program that includes procedures for fuel storage, handling and management aimed at ensuring fuel quality throughout distribution. There are two categories: certified marketer and accredited producer. Although there are more than a dozen accredited producers, Sprague Energy is only the second company to become a certified marketer. The other is Peter Cremer, an Ohio-based biodiesel manufacturer.

The New Hampshire based company recently opened a rack-blended biodiesel terminal in Albany, New York. The terminal helps home heating and diesel fuel retailers throughout Upstate New York, Vermont and Western Massachusetts supply a precisely blended biofuel product to their customers. Sprague’s Albany terminal, which also stores approximately 40 million gallons of traditional petroleum fuels, stores 40,000 gallons of pure biodiesel. The B100 is blended with diesel fuel for over-the-road applications and #2 heating oil for residential and commercial heating applications.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

A Third of the World Faces Water Shortages

Water scarcity around the world was increasing faster than expected, with agriculture accounting for 80 percent of global water consumption, the world authority on fresh water management told a development conference in Canberra.

Globally, water usage has increased six fold in the past 100 years and would double again by 2050, driven mainly by irrigation and demands by agriculture, said Frank Rijsberman, the International Water Management Institute director-general.

We will not run out of bottled water any time soon but some countries have already run out of water to produce their own food. Without improvements in water productivity ... the consequences of this will be even more widespread water scarcity and rapidly increasing water prices.

A report on global water by environment group WWF released on Wednesday warned that rich nations, like Australia, were not immune to the coming water crisis. It said Sydney was using more water than could be replenished and Australia had among the highest water usage in the world. Each day, urban Australians use an average of 300 litres of water each, compared with Europeans who consume about 200 litres, while people in sub-Saharan Africa existed on 10-20 litres a day, said the report.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Prudhoe Bay shuts down

Last night, BP Exploration Alaska, Inc. announced that it was shutting down Prudho Bay due to extensive corrosion of the pipelines and oil leaks. This move will shut in some 400,000 barrels per day of production, roughly half of what Hurrican Katrina took offline last year. It will take several days just to shut down production completely. Some have speculated that prices could rise $10 a barrel as a result. In early trading this morning, prices are up nearly $2 a barrel.

Aggravating matters is the fact that the world is starting from a weaker postion than last year. Worldwide oil production is down about half a million barrels a day from last year. Mexico's production has rolled over into decline since last year, as well as Kuwait's largest oil field. Nigeria has lost about 300,000 bpd due to unrest in the country, Iran's production is in decline and most ominously of all, Saudi production has dropped by half a million bpd in the last year. Overall, total OPEC production is down by over a million bpd in a year, despite the fact that Iraq has regained something close to prewar production.

The Saudis have so far denied that their production capacity is in decline, explaining the drop to "declining demand." The next few months will be a serious test for the Saudis. If they cannot stem the decline in the face of the Prudhoe Bay shut in, then they are almost certainly past peak production--and likely so is the world.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Mexico City looks for solutions to water problems

Mexico City is fast draining the aquifer underneath it as demand for water grows. So fast that the entire city sinks by about a foot a year.

At the same time the city gets 27 inches of rain; but most of the water runs off paved over surfaces into drainage systems and then stright into the sea.

Now a group of Mexican engineeers believe they have a solution to the problem; water periable concrete.

The porous concret was discovered by accident in 1996, by chemist Jamie Grau, who considered it a faulty piece of work. But his friend, architect Nestor de Buen immediately realized that this paving tile could be the solution to rainwater runoff problems around the world. De Buen convinced Grau to patent the procuct, whcihc they called Ecocrete, and together they began selling to the Mexican and US construction industry.

Many have realized the potential benefit of this product, but so far its use has been minor, with city officials preferring to use cheaper, traditional materials. But as water problem intensify, Ecocrete may see a boom in popularity.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The limits of Ethanol

According to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences, if all of last year's corn crop had been used to make ethanol, it would only have provided 12 percent of U.S. gasoline demand.

Ethanol contains about one third less energy than gasoline, limiting its benefit.

Some experts doubt the wisdom of giving ethanol the prominent role itwas given in the 2005 energy bill.

A naging doubt that has yet to be put to rest is whether ethanol delivers more energy than tha which is used to make it. Researchers in Minnesota recently concluded that corn based ehtanol provides 25% more energy than is required to produce it; but most of that gain came from a byproduct that is used for animal feed.

Contrast this with the 100 to 1 return on energy invested in the early days of the oil boom and you get some idea of the "limits of growth" we face in the future.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Department of Energy to Create Bioenergy Research Centers

The U.S. Department of Energy announced yesterday that it will spend $250 million to establish and operate two new bioenergy research centers to accelerate basic research in developing cellulosic ethanol and other fuels derived from plant byproducts.

DOE Secretary Samuel Bodman stated that; “This is an important step toward our goal of replacing 30 percent of transportation fuels with biofuels by 2030.”

The centers’ will "accelerate research that leads to breakthroughs in basic science to make biofuels a cost-effective alternative to fossil fuels.”

A PDF factsheet about the centers is here.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Study predicts a much hotter, drier California

California will become significantly hotter and drier by the end of the century, causing severe air pollution, a drop in the water supply, melting of 90 percent of the Sierra snowpack and up to six times more heat-related deaths in major urban centers, according to a sweeping study compiled with help from respected scientists from around the country.

The weather expected to be up to 10.5 degrees warmer by 2100. If industrial and vehicle emissions continue unabated, there could be up to 100 more days a year when temperatures hit 90 degrees or above in Los Angeles and 95 degrees or above in Sacramento. Both cities have about 20 days of such extreme heat now.

The good news: If emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are significantly curtailed, according to the report released Tuesday, the number of extremely hot days might only increase by half that amount.

Climactic changes will only aggravate population pressures on the environment. Already, grain production has been flat for the last five years while consumption has grown. Water demand has caused the disaapearance of thousands of streams and lakes.

The federal government has taken a head in the sand attitude toward environmental problems; the solurions--how to live on less-- may very well have to come from the local level