Germany is racing past 20 percent renewable energy on its electricity grid, but news stories stridently warn that this new wind and solar power is costing "billions." What is often left out (or buried far from the lede) is the overwhelming popularity of the country's relentless focus on energy change (energiewende).
How can a supposedly expensive effort to clean up the energy supply be so popular?
The last time America's carbon dioxide emissions were this low, Nelson Mandela was being inaugurated as South Africa's president, O.J. Simpson was being chased by police in a white Bronco, and Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin were agreeing to ease up on the whole let's-point-countless-nukes-at-each-other thing.
U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions steadily rose from the mid-90s until they hit a peak in 2007. Since then, emissions have fallen in five out of seven years. In 2012, emissions were 12 percent below the 2007 level, dipping back to 1994 levels. That's according to data released Tuesday by the U.S. Energy Information Administration:
Let's celebrate with a trip down memory lane. Here are the reasons the EIA gives for America's falling emissions, set to a soundtrack of some of the biggest hits of 1994.
If you have an image in your head when you think "plow," it’s probably a moldboard plow: a deep cutting edge that swoops up and out into a curved wing, the moldboard. As the plow moves forward, it lifts the earth and flips it, inverting sod into neat lines of corduroy.
The point of plowing is to kill. It wipes out perennial plants and buries seeds deeply enough that they’ll never have a chance to grow. There’s something beautiful about the plow and its action of bringing linear order to the chaos of a weedy field. But there’s nothing natural about the act. Nature only rarely turns the land upside down -- only during disasters.
As a result, soil organisms have not evolved to thrive in this kind of tillage. Soil ecosystems, made up of insects and worms, microbes and fungi, are arranged according to depth and chemical needs. For instance, many soil microbes near the surface need oxygen, but oxygen is toxic to others that live deeper down. This ecosystem responds to being turned upside-down the same way a rainforest would: It falls apart. In the process, soil erodes, waterways are polluted, and greenhouse gases are released.
Monsanto and its competitors advertised herbicide-tolerant transgenic plants as a solution to this problem. Instead of plowing, you could use chemicals to deal with the weeds. Genetic engineering would lead to a boom in no-till farming, company representatives said.
Is that what actually happened? There are indeed farmers around the world who have embraced no-till farming because herbicide-tolerant corn made it easier. But judging from the statistics, most low- or no-till farmers in the U.S. are more like Brian Scott.
A new study released Sunday concludes that Koch Industries and its subsidiaries stand to make as much as $100 billion in profits if the controversial Keystone XL pipeline is given the go-ahead by President Obama.
The report, titled "Billionaires' Carbon Bomb," and produced by the think tank International Forum on Globalization, finds that David and Charles Koch and their privately owned company, Koch Industries, own more than 2 million acres of land in Northern Alberta, the source of the tar-sands oil that will be pumped to the United States via the Keystone XL pipeline.
The government shutdown might be over, but for some climate scientists the headache is just beginning. During the shutdown, National Science Foundation-funded research facilities in Antarctica -- where some of the world's most important climate research takes place -- were left with a skeleton staff at just the time of year they would normally be coming back to life after a long, dark winter.
On its first day back online, NSF released a statement saying it would salvage the research season "to the maximum extent possible," without giving a definite timeline. NSF warned that "certain research and operations activities may be deferred until next year's austral research season." For scientists studying everything from ocean acidification to earthquakes to seal pups, the 16 days of the shutdown were 16 missed opportunities to collect irreplaceable data.
One of those scientists was Gretchen Hofmann, a marine biologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who published a column Friday in Nature about her frustration with the shutdown and its long-term impacts on basic research. As Hofmann and her peers stand by for word from NSF, we spoke to her about how some of the worst pain from the last two weeks could be felt by the next generation of up-and-coming scientists.
Q.What have the last couple weeks been like for you?
In Antarctica, scientists who study the Adelie penguin worry that they won’t be in place when the fast-declining species arrives later this year at its nesting and breeding grounds. “If we have breaks in that record, there are a lot of scientific statistical analysis of our observations that we can’t do. And so in our case, these data, the observations are all just gone forever. We never get them back,” said Hugh Ducklow, an oceanographer and professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.
It's been more than two years since my husband and I installed solar panels on the roof of our home in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. As the months have passed, I've enjoyed watching the ticker continually rise on the amount of solar power our panels have generated. I love knowing that our home is more powered by the sun, and less by dirty coal mined by blowing up the beautiful mountains in Appalachia. And across the U.S, I'm not alone! Rooftop solar power is expanding exponentially, and the Sierra Club just celebrated our 1,000th solar home as part of our Solar …
The bill that Kauai passed doesn’t go so far as to ban GM crops. As Reuters reported:
The version of the bill that passed late Tuesday was stripped of some of its tougher conditions and now requires the agricultural companies to disclose the presence and use of genetically modified crops and pesticides; establishes buffer zones around schools, hospitals, homes and other areas, and requires the county to conduct a study on the health and environmental impacts of the industry.
Kauai matters because it’s the first place in the U.S. to pass a tough GM regulation that could actually affect the industry. Other places have cracked down harder on GM plants -- Mendocino County, Calif., banned them, for instance -- but they don't matter to biotech the way Kauai does.
Hawaii is a key part of the plant-development process for seed companies. Because of the tropical climate, breeders can grow three generations of corn a year on the islands, and this speeds up the work of producing new varieties.
This bit of the tropics is also important to the industry because it’s within the U.S., free from the uncertainty and complication that comes with developing technology abroad, under a different set of laws. As a result, all the big seed companies are there.
There was a fistfight over corndogs at my first Meatpaper party. We were crowded up against the kitchen counter at Camino, a restaurant in Oakland, Calif., with brick walls and a big open fireplace. They were cooking a whole pig in that fireplace, dispensing plates of flesh to the crowd on the other side of the counter. To get some pig you had to push your way into this mosh pit and lunge for a platter when it emerged. You’d come away with a handful of something -- though not necessarily something readily identifiable: Chitlins? Head cheese?
I’ll admit that I didn’t see the fistfight -- I heard there were punches thrown, but perhaps it was just a scuffle. The story could have been embellished as it spread around the room. But it wouldn’t surprise me if somebody lashed out when denied homemade corndogs. I retreated from my excursion to the front of the restaurant, coddling a handful of offal and breathing hard.
For years, the editors at Meatpaper (I was one) considered writing about this high-testosterone meat frenzy, but we never did. It recurred at many of our parties. Meatpaper was a tiny, beautiful magazine. It was started by two former vegetarians, Amy Standen and Sasha Wizansky, with conflicting feelings about meat. It just published its 20th, and last, issue. The parties were the yin to the magazine’s yang. The magazine was poor, primarily female, and sensitively nuanced. The parties were sold out, joyfully macho, and boisterous to the point of anarchy.
Should the atmosphere be considered part of the public trust, a resource essential for our collective survival? That’s one question currently being considered by the Alaska Supreme Court, which earlier this month traveled to the northernmost town in the United States to hear arguments for a climate change lawsuit brought by six youth plaintiffs. On behalf of the youth, attorney Brad De Noble argued that the atmosphere itself should be considered a legally-protected resource under the state’s constitution. The plaintiffs, who live throughout the state, initially sued the Alaska Department of Natural Resources last year, and that lawsuit was dismissed by …