The NY Times has three new and very interesting articles on green issues. Try to read at least one of them this weekend while the sun is still shining and life feels good. Bad news is no excuse for pessimism.
- The Cloud Factories: Power, Pollution, and the Internet (23 Sept 2012, Technology) reports on issues that you will never hear discussed in the Reed ETC building (or anywhere else on campus): the massive electricity needs of today’s computer technology, especially those ‘cloud’ services that let your data follow you everywhere you go. Go buy a thumb drive and use it.
- Ending Its Summer Melt, Arctic Sea Ice Sets a New Low That Leads to Warnings (19 Sept 2012, Environment) looks at this past summer’s melting of the Arctic sea. The summer of 2007 had been the previous modern low on ice, but 2012 has set a new record. For those of you who are new to this: ice is not only essential to the integrity of the Arctic biosphere, it also reflects sunlight back into space, which keeps the planet cool, and locks up water in ice formations, which keeps sea levels down. So loss of ice is big news globally.
- How ‘Silent Spring’ Ignited the Environmental Movement (21 Sept 2012, Magazine) takes a look back at Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking book about the effects of DDT. I read it in high school around the time of the original Earth Day. We thought we could ‘save the world’ back then. We still can. We just have to try.
Speaking of saving the only planet that humans have ever lived on, Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, is coming to Portland on November 8 as part of his Do The Math tour. Tickets to his public event are cheap, just $10, but only about 350 are left. Don’t miss this sure-to-be-inspiring event. (Will someone please tell Greenboard and the ES program about this?) And, if you haven’t done so yet, take a look at the Green Science blog post on Bill’s Rolling Stone article: Three Numbers Point Toward a Future Meltdown (23 July 2012).
The September/October 2012 issue of Sierra magazine lists the 96 greenest colleges and universities in the United States. Top contenders included several Oregon institutions: U. of Oregon (#13), Lewis & Clark College (#22), Portland State (#28), and Southern Oregon U (#45). See the related article, Building the Future, for more information about the survey.
Other Sierra articles of interest: the two-sides of polar fleece garments (a fleece coat keeps polyester plastic out of a landfill, but may dump it somewhere worse), the World’s Coal Stack presents coal burning around the globe in an easy-to-understand chart, and An Inconvenient Subject asks whether classroom teachers are avoiding discussions of climate change because the topic is too controversial or too depressing?
Hey, this isn’t green science or anything like that. It’s just fun. Go see the Vaux swifts as they gather around, and then swarm into, the Chapman Elementary school chimney. Viewing times are towards sunset in September, but sooner is better than later because the swifts are migratory and will move on as the weather grows cold. Get more info here.
Energy density (energy stored per volume) has been a limiting factor in battery design. If you want to power your car with electricity, you would like a battery that can provide hundreds of miles worth of energy, and yet be small and lightweight.
Lithium ion batteries have become the standard for modern batteries because of their relatively high energy density. Their negative electrode is made from lithium (6.9 amu) and is extremely lightweight, but their positive electrodes typically rely on much heavier metals like cobalt (58.9 amu), nickel (58.7 amu), and manganese (54.9 amu).
One possible step forward over ‘lithium ion’ is the so-called ‘lithium air’ battery. The positive electrode here is molecular oxygen, O2, which would turn into various peroxides when it is reduced (see Lighter, More Powerful Batteries in the Green Science Project, 19 July 2011). A research team in the UK now describes some innovations in lithium-air battery design that lead to much higher charging rates (see A Reversible and Higher-Rate Li-O2 Battery, Science, 3 Aug 2012, DOI: 10.1126/science.1223985)
An email from the AAAS arrived today. It pointed to an editorial written by Alan Leshner (AAAS CEO) and William Chameides (Dean, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University) concerning a law recently enacted in North Carolina that prevents state planners from using scientific projections of sea-level rise in their planning documents (“N.C. Can’t Outlaw Global Climate Change“, 1 Aug 2012, News & Observer).
North Carolina has a long Atlantic coastline and some kind of planning for sea-level rise would seem prudent. While news reports say scientists estimate a rise of 3 feet by 2100, there is certainly considerable uncertainty in this estimate and it makes good sense for planners to balance costs against the likelihood of any future scenario. But whether the actual rise is two feet or four hardly matters if it is illegal to discuss the point. One wonders if the legislature’s next move will be to cancel weather forecasts.
First-quarter (Jan-Mar) CO2 emissions by the U.S. energy sector reached a 20-year low this past winter (Green blog, NY Times,17 Aug 2012). The graph tracks emissions generated by energy producers only: electricity, heating. Transportation and other sectors are not included. To learn more about what might be causing the drop in emissions and whether this signifies the start of a long-term trend, read the NY Times’ Green blog.