CITIZEN SCIENCE PROJECTS:
CITIZEN SCIENCE PROJECTS:
If you need a good reason to compost your food waste, Kenneth Weiss provides it an article he wrote for Science magazine in May (Vancouver’s Green Dream, Science 20 May 2016, Vol. 352, Issue 6288, pp. 918-921, DOI: 10.1126/science.352.6288.918). Weiss describes Vancouver’s efforts to combat climate change, among other environmental initiatives, by capturing methane generated in its landfills with extraction wells. Methane can be 30 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than is carbon dioxide, so rather than allow methane to escape to the atmosphere, Vancouver burns what it collects to generate useful heat.
Then the city discovered that about 40% of the methane generated in its landfills evaded the extraction wells and escaped to the atmosphere. Extraction wells can only capture so much, so Vancouver decided to do what other cities have begun, barring the food wastes and other compostable garbage that generates methane when buried in a landfill.
That meant convincing the city’s population (over 600,000 within the city limits alone) to keep their food wastes and other compostables out of the regular trash and save it for a separate collection. When that separate collection only happened every other week, compliance lagged, but when the frequency increased to weekly, the city experienced a 40% reduction in garbage while compost collections jumped 60%.
It’s coming, folks. We can’t afford to throw food and other recoverable garbage into landfills which not only tosses valuable nutrients out of reach, but also produces dangerous greenhouse emissions. If your town or city collects food scraps for composting, participate in the program. If they don’t, start your own compost bin. It’s not that difficult, and it will combat climate change.
The following letter appeared in the January 1, 2016 edition of the News and Observer, Raleigh, NC
It’s deja vu all over again reading George Will (“Another false ‘turning point’,” N&O, 12/17) and Charles Krauthammer (“Obama’s legacy of fiction,” N&O, 12/18) whine about efforts to address climate change. Neither one considers the science or the history. In this case, it’s history worth repeating, not avoiding.
When the world faced the destruction of stratospheric ozone, 12 countries sat down in 1977 to plan how to negotiate a planet-wide pact. It took 10 years, and the outcome was the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, signed by just 24 countries. It’s strength was flexibility, proven in the eight revisions made since 1987.
Now 197 countries are party to a protocol that includes monitoring, reporting, and critically, sanctions for noncompliance. Most important, it’s working, as the rates of emissions of ozone-depleting chemicals have dropped, and since 2000, the ozone layer has begun its slow process of recovery.
International agreements can succeed in addressing a global environmental crisis. The fits and starts seen in the attempts to address climate change might work faster if those with a monetary or political stake in burning fossil fuels would cease their misinformation campaigns, aided by the head-in-the-sand antics of Will and Krauthammer.
P.S. See this article by Jennifer Morgan and Eliza Northrop, “Form AND Function: Why the Paris Agreement’s Legal Form Is So Important” for confirmation that the Paris deal holds real promise, not unlike the situation with the Montreal Protocol when it was first signed my just 24 countries. It was published online December 16, 2015 by the World Resources Institute.
Several weeks ago there was a big splash in the media about astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) eating lettuce they had grown in Earth orbit. Having once spent ten weeks on a faculty fellowship at Kennedy Space Center working on potential problems associated with growing plants in space, I was curious about the progress that had been made since I had that experience.
Okay, I was more than a bit curious. I’m also writing a science fiction novel where plants grown in a greenhouse provide oxygen and food for the crew on a long-duration space mission. The reports from the ISS hardly dented the array of issues I’ve had to consider in creating a system that uses plants to provide crucial life-support for astronauts. By contrast, this recent story seemed almost trivial, a novelty. Astronauts had something better to eat for a change than vacuum-wrapped dry food or paste packaged months earlier back on Earth. I know NASA has grown plants in space for years. Is this the first time astronauts have officially eaten something they’ve grown in orbit? Really?
In fact, I have come up with a list of questions I hope to pose to NASA public relations contacts about plants in space. My questions follow below, and if anyone reading this list either has an answer, knows where I can find an answer, or knows who I might ask for an answer, please reply with a comment to this post.
1. Was the recent event on the ISS the first time space-grown plants have been eaten by astronauts in orbit?
I’ve found a tantalizing hint or two of other astronauts or cosmonauts eating space-grown food unofficially. But it seems that most space-grown plants were harvested and frozen or otherwise stored for shipment back to earth. Which leads to my next question.
2. Have space-grown plants ever been eaten by Earth-bound scientists before?
So if the space-grown veggies were promptly shipped back to Earth, did they get taste-tested there? I’ve gathered hints here and there about concerns that space-grown plants might not be safe for human consumption. I have to admit this sounds a bit like the worries about the safety of genetically-modified crops (GMCs). If it grows like a leaf of lettuce, is the same color – green, and looks like a lettuce leaf… Which leads to the next question.
3. Have toxic compounds ever been discovered in space-grown plants as a result of their growth in microgravity?
If it’s a serious concern, and not the wide-eyed speculations of someone who would rather bring food up to orbit from traditional farms back on good old planet Earth, then presumably space-grown plants have been tested for their safety. Has anything been found to justify further testing, or can our astronauts relax and enjoy any veggies they find the time and space to grow up there in the Space Station?
My last question, for now, goes back a bit further than the International Space Station and even the Space Shuttle. I think I know the official answer to this one, but it was a long boring ride (when nothing went wrong anyhow) from Earth orbit to the Moon.
4. Were plants ever grown by Apollo astronauts on a lunar landing mission either on the Moon or on the way there?
Once again, if you know part of an answer to any of these questions, please share. Even if you’re not sure, share your speculations. Or if you know where I might find an answer, or who I might ask, speak up. And thanks in advance.
The U.S. Department of Energy has for the second time decided to terminate its financial support of the attempt to demonstrate carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). The concept of “clean coal” depends on the ability to capture and inactivate or permanently store the carbon dioxide emissions and other contaminants otherwise released when coal is burned to produce electricity.
The following undated statement appears at the very bottom of the FUTUREGEN 2.0 page of the federal government’s energy.gov Office of Fossil Energy website under the banner, CLOSEOUT OF FEDERAL SUPPORT.
“Due to statutory restraints under The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the Department of Energy initiated a structured closeout of federal support for the FutureGen 2.0 project in February 2015. Although federal support for the project has ended, FutureGen 2.0 provided tangible benefits and valuable information, particularly with regard to oxy-combustion technology and storage site characterization.”
It is unclear whether, without continued federal support, FutureGen will continue. Of course it was an open question whether “clean coal” would ever be feasible. Retrofitting existing coal-fired power plants with CCS was an expensive proposition from the beginning. Companies burn coal because it can be obtained without paying the health and environmental costs of mining it, and without paying the health and environmental costs of burning it. In other words, we mine and burn coal to produce electricity because our government has structured the energy industry in such a way that it is cheap to do so.
We could choose to make the energy industry pay those health and environmental costs of coal up front, passing the costs on to consumers of the electricity, or we could avoid some of those health and environmental costs by paying to capture and isolate or destroy the carbon dioxide and other pollutants produced from burning coal. Either choice would turn coal into an expensive and likely unaffordable source of energy, not something that would gladden the hearts of the rich industrial giants burning it.
CCS has been sponsored off and on by the federal government since 2003. It is an open question whether or not CCS would ever have been affordable. It is also an open question whether or not the very concept of “clean coal” was anything more than a wistful oxymoron that those in the know knew would never really happen.
One’s perception of risk doesn’t always match up well with the reality. Today, the sixth of October in the year two thousand and fourteen, the risk of Ebola dominates the news. It seems to be a scary time. This perceived risk has persuaded some elected politicians to call for travel bans, something you don’t hear about very often. So the risk must be extreme, right?
So far, one person with Ebola entered the United States. There may be a few more, even several more or a dozen or so before the crisis in west Africa is contained. But for perspective, last year’s flu season here saw 58,732 confirmed cases of flu serious enough to require hospitalization. Last year, 108 children died from the flu in the United States alone. Although it’s difficult to get a firm count, the total death toll from the flu here ranges from 3,000 to 49,000 every year.
The flu virus can spread from a cough or a sneeze, something Ebola cannot do. Ebola is more deadly than the flu if you catch it, but it’s not easily spread. Ebola is out of control in west Africa because it’s a desperately poor region with little capacity to deal with something new. Public health doctors here insist that the best way to protect the rest of the world from the Ebola virus is to snuff it out in west Africa where its numbers have mushroomed. Travel bans will only make it more difficult to send the health care workers needed there to stop the virus in its tracks. And given the slow and poor transmission ability of Ebola, screening travelers is a highly effective containment tool. Such screening would not be nearly so effective with the flu.
In the meantime, if you’re really worried about you or your kids catching a virus and getting sick, get a flu vaccination and keep your kids’ mumps, measles, and rubella and other vaccinations up to speed.
The video opens with the following quote:
“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.
This statement and its author tell us much about the documentary that follows. The focus is on action, in keeping with the title itself, Disruption. The target of the action is, clearly in this case, the fossil fuel industry and the political machine that protects and supports it. And quoting Frederick Douglass hints at the central environmental justice theme.
As a scientist, I am nervous when the discussion moves from a consideration of the science to how to achieve political goals. So, yes, I am not thrilled with the documentary’s fuzzy use of the “tipping point” concept, and avoidance of the more accurate term, “positive or reinforcing feedback.” Yes, I am anxious when specific storm events come to characterize climate change rather than global shifts in heat content of the oceans and the atmosphere. Yes, I am concerned with the touch of exaggeration I perceived when methane was described as fifty times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (I believe twenty-five times is more like it). And I don’t understand why they left out sea level rise and long-term climate events like drought.
However, as a parent and a new grandparent I am more nervous with the risks we take doing nothing, or doing as little as we have done for the past decade to avert climate change. The risk is significant, the consequences likely to be severe, and many unknowns exist that could send us spiraling down paths to new unpleasant, perhaps catastrophic “normals” we could find difficult to avoid or change. I don’t want that for my children or their children.
The purpose of this documentary was not so much education as motivation. The clear goal was to spur individuals to take part in the upcoming climate change march in New York City, either directly or in their local community. Given the seriousness of the problem and especially our country’s negligence in taking sufficient steps to address climate change, I can live with a little rabble-rousing. I only wish it were done with more dispassionate logic, but passion is what they hope, and need, to arouse. On that point I have no dispute.
Next to large crowds on the streets, neighbor to neighbor efforts to share knowledge of the causes and consequences and solutions to climate change seem important as well. Consider participating in that type of activity in addition to marching in the streets.