Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology is being discussed as a promising way to stave off emissions from coal-fired plants. I know some environmentalists scorn the idea of pumping CO2 into the ground, but many experts believe that CCS could help keep global warming in check. For better or for worse, they say, coal will remain an important energy source, because it remains cheap and abundant even as oil prices climb.
I was waiting for this to happen. One of the major stumbling blocks to efficient production of biofuels is the conversion of bulky biomass into ethanol. GM bacteria that can condense this complex process into a single multi-course meal have been in the works for some time already. Now the major agricultural biotechs are jumping into the game with plants designed specifically to be energy crops.
The finalists are in. Vote for your favorite at Science Idol: The Scientific Integrity Editorial Cartoon Contest, sponsored by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Yesterday, Chevron Corp. announced the finding of a vast untapped oil reserve in the Gulf of Mexico, after Jack2, its test well, hit the biggest jackpot in a generation. It comes as a relief for some, but could be a headache for environmentalists.
In an effort to test the effectiveness of landscape corridors, scientists down in South Carolina have been surveying forest plots either connected by greenways or not. The result, reported in the current issue of Science as well as in today's Science Times, was a 20% increase in species biodiversity in the connected patches. Not too astounding, except when you consider that the survey has been going for just six years. Said Dr. Ellen Damschen, lead author of the study: It is surprising that we would see such a dramatic change over a short time scale ... plants can change relatively quickly through their interactions with the landscape and the animals that interact with them. Biodiversity, it appears, thrives with connectivity. Just another reason for neighborhoods to have sidewalks. That is, unless your neighbors happen to be the human equivalent of praying mantises -- then you best watch your back, uh, head.
Not if you are dark-skinned, live in the South, or vote Republican. Also not you if you're a woman, earn more than 60K a year, or prefer the Weekly Standard to the New York Times. These statistics (not verbatim, mind you) are the findings of a paper in the latest issue of Science Communications. The authors write that the Pacific Northwest boasts the highest rate of environmental news coverage (70% of papers and 21% of TV stations have devoted staffers) of any region of the country. Only an abstract is available online, but Framing Science over at Science Blogs delivers a better-than-average digest -- which is great, because according to the survey, environmental reporters list "time constraints" as the greatest barrier to covering the green beat. Gotta run.
After weeks of wrangling over the details, Fabian Núñez and the Democratic Legislature on Wednesday presented Governor Schwarzenegger with a bill he could not refuse (that is, if he wanted to give himself any chance at reelection.) The new bill -- which I discussed in detail here and here -- will be settled Thursday when the Congressional session ends. It is indeed a breakthrough piece of legislation, calling for a 25 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 and controls on the largest industrial sectors, including utilities, oil refineries, and cement plants. And soon, California's passage of this bill will cause a domino effect prompting other states, other countries, and -- who knows? -- maybe even the United States government to jump on board. And a shout out to my own assembly rep., Fran Pavley, who co-sponsored this bill. Proud to be your constituent.
The current issue of Scientific American -- "Energy's Future: Beyond Carbon" (sorry, full text is subscription only) -- features a series of articles on that topic by experts in the fields of energy research, transportation, ecology, and urban planning. The first piece, "A Plan to Keep Carbon in Check," is a reader-friendly rehash of an outstanding paper by Robert Socolow and Stephen Pacala that originally appeared in Science in 2004. That paper, deftly summarized by Jamais Cascio of Worldchanging, presents a long-term carbon reduction strategy in the form of "stabilization wedges" -- each representing one billion tons a year of averted emissions. A cool pie chart in the SciAm version shows 15 possible technologies, ranging from increased fuel economy to stopping deforestation, that the authors say could flatten out CO2 emissions by 2056. And Pacala and Socolow are decidedly optimistic about our ability to do this: "Holding CO2 emissions in 2056 to their present rate, without choking off economic growth, is a desirable outcome within our grasp."
As I said a couple of weeks ago after Arnie's eco-rendezvous with the British PM, the real measure of the governor's greenness will be in the passage of several bills being deliberated in Sacramento right now. In the next ten days, assembly members will decide whether The Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32 [PDF])and the Clean Alternate Energy Act (Prop 87 [PDF]), among others, will arrive at Schwarzenegger's desk intact or as grossly watered-down versions. According to this story in the L.A. Times, business groups and even the California Chamber of Commerce are putting major pressure on the governor to reign in those legislators who would be so brash as to listen to their constituency (a poll conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California and released in mid-July indicated that 80% of likely voters support these climate change bills). Schwarzenegger is indeed straddling a barbed fence: on the one hand, he can ill afford to alienate the businessmen who support his campaign, yet on the other, public opinion is strongly anti-global warming.