Posts Tagged ‘carbon dioxide’

We haven’t talked much about Keystone XL here at Spinach HQ for a while now, mostly becauase the news on that front continues to be more of the same – and more depressing.  Quite frankly, I’m not sure whether or not the general public (those of you outside the environmental field, that is) are sick of hearing about Keystone or not.  False claims and an incredibly convoluted regulatory and political process regarding approval of the environmental impact determination as well as the pipeline itself have slowly muddied the waters better than an oil spill.  I’ll be honest, even I’ve had a hard time keeping track of the timeline and the number of times the pipeline has been resurrected and then killed.

Which is why I was somewhat surprised (but excited!) to wander into the Foggy Bottom Metro stop in D.C. on Tuesday and be greeted by something that looked like this:


I couldn’t capture the whole ad in my camera phone (especially while trying not to look like some creeper taking a picture of the metro floor during rush hour….) but activist group SumOfUs.org is continuing to fight the good fight not just against Keystone XL, but against the expanded Tar Sands extraction that would come with it.

The ads direct you to the SumOfUs anti-tar-sands site, where they have already collected more than 17,000 of their goal level of 20,000 signatures for a petition to President Obama regarding the pipeline and expanded tar sands extraction.  Rather than solely attacking Keystone XL, the group is focusing on the impacts of the recent ExxonMobil tar sands oil spill in Arkansas.  Exxon’s response to the spill has been heavily criticized, with many community members voicing their doubts that the spill is contained or that Exxon is truly doing their part to take responsibility for the spill, contain it, and mitigate damages.

While the Keystone XL pipeline is likely to be decided by politics and not environmental impacts, the statement made by SumOfUs here is clear – and is taking the debate one step farther.  Instead of focusing on the impacts of the pipeline alone, the group is working to inform regarding some of the inherent risks (both environmental and economic) to expanded tar sands oil use as an energy source.  I’m happy to see these ads placed front and center in several key metro stations – maybe it’s a chance to finally have some dialogue about the real issue here, which is the overall direction of our energy future, and not one single pipeline.


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First of all, happy bike to work day, everyone! DC was pretty ideal for a ride today – although, personally, I think that more or less every day is a great day to bike to work.  It’s actually faster than getting around by car, saves a ton of money on gas, parking, and public transit fares, and best of all – no emissions.  That last bit, while I don’t harp on it ALL the time – is a pretty key point in light of some news today. I don’t usually talk climate – our meteorologist and climate expert El Nino more often covers that – but today is an exception.  Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have officially reached 400 ppm, the highest they have been since the Pliocene Epoch (which ended 2.588 million years ago) – an age where the Arctic had virtually no ice caps and Earth’s surface in sum was significantly warmer. 


CO2 levels as measured at Mauna Loa, HI. Concentration in ppm.

While much of the news media and public opinion portrays the causes of this as up for scientific debate, a study conducted by skepticalscience.com that reviewed over 12,000 scientific papers from 1991 – 2011 found that fully 97% of the worldwide scientific community considers this warming to be anthropogenic. 

Let me repeat that: 97% of published, peer-reviewed scientific papers agree that global warming is caused by humans.  This is such a big deal that even Barack Obama tweeted about it. 

It gets better – or worse.

Remember during this past campaign year, when then-Presidential candidate Mitt Romney said the following?

“My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet,” he said, according to CBS. “And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.”

Well, Mitt – turns out there’s a saying about an ounce of prevention.  A United Nations report today indicated that during the past decade, losses from natural disasters have exceeded $2.5 trillion dollars worldwide.  Paying for the results of climate-related disasters cost the American taxpayer more in 2012 than any other non-defense, discretionary budget item – totaling around $100 billion.  Just during the past two years (2011 – 2012) there were more than twenty five climate related disasters (storms, heat waves, drought, and other extreme events) that cost upwards of $1 billion each.  

There’s a message in here, and it’s not that the world is ending.  The truth is, we can’t afford climate change.  Maybe not everyone is going to care about hundreds of species that may go extinct from the impacts of shifting temperatures and water patterns.  Maybe not everyone cares about the destruction of coral reefs from climate related ocean acidification or the loss of tropical islands such as the Pearl Cays or Kiribati.

But $2.5 trillion is hard to argue with – especially when 97% of experts agree that it’s our fault.  Maybe, just maybe, it’s finally time to do something about it.

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This kid has not been to a wedding to do the real electric slide

The news I’m reporting is electric.  It pertains to the trucking industry (I have a thing for big cars that can get the mileage of a Prius (when I studied in Italy I found a diesel Land Rover, it’s not available in the U.S.)).  A new report by the Carbon War Room found that the trucking industry could eliminate 624 million tons of carbon dioxide by 2020, and each truck would save $22,400 annually by retrofitting to electric engines. Now, I’m not a mechanic and I don’t know the full logistics of how the conversion would occur (that’s what YouTube is for), but the article reports that transmission and cruise control upgrades and better tires will play a large role in the reduction of carbon dioxide (I’m not for warming, I like wearing a jacket in the winter).

The most important conclusion of the report is that the financing for the upgrades will be repaid in 18 months!  We often forget that most of the goods we get in this country are trucked and transported from a port or warehouse that can be several states away, especially food (I don’t need pineapples in the dead of winter)!  The trucking industry is a very large sector of economy and the potential for reduction of carbon dioxide is great. EPA started the “SmartWay Partnership” in 2004 to reduce carbon emissions in the trucking industry.

Since it began, the program has amassed nearly 3,000 partners that have benefited from $6.5 billion in fuel savings and reduced 23.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, according to the agency.

Two weeks ago, the City of Chicago announced it received $15 million  from the U.S. Department of Transportation to create an incentive program for the private and public trucking industry to convert to electric vehicles.

Phew Doritos are electric

The program is set to launch in the Spring of 2013 and Chicago will be a national leader of electric fleets on it’s city’s streets. The vouchers will support up to 60% of the conversion costs and roughly 250 vouchers will be issued.

This movement is great; both sides benefit – reduced fuel costs and lower carbon emissions.  This news also comes at a time when Consumer Reports just announced that the Chevy Volt is America’s Most Loved Car. 92% of owners said they would buy the Volt again.  If I had to take a survey, I’d give high remarks to my no-car decision, as I approach year 3.  Do what you can to reduce your footprint – walk, bike, public transport, reduce the weight in your car, make less trips, and carpool.

Have a great week. Cheers.

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At least, according to researchers at Columbia University.  This post risks sounding like a typical climate “alarmist,” but last week brought about some alarming news.  Published in Nature came news of accelerated ocean acidification.  Researchers revealed that the ocean is not just becoming increasingly acidic (as has long been noted), but it is happening at a rate faster than in the past 300 million years.  Note that the past 300 million years encompasses four mass extinctions.  Also note that by faster, researchers mean ten times faster than any period in those 300 million years.  None of this is said with the purposeful intention of sounding alarmist; but, that information is actually alarming, isn’t it?

The ocean has always served as a carbon sink, in that it absorbs a sizable chunk (approximations can range from 25 to 50 percent) of the carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere.  (It should be noted that they are increasingly less effective sinks (see here and here).)   How does this work?  The carbon dioxide reacts with water molecules to produce carbonic acid.  Some of the carbonic acid will dissociate to produce hydrogen ions and bicarbonate.  These hydrogen ions have two effects.  Some will remain free ions.  As pH is a function of the hydrogen ion concentration, the increase in the amount of free hydrogen ions will produce a more acidic ocean (and thereby lowering the pH—this point can get folks confused, so just remember that the pH scale is 0-14 where anything less than 7 is acidic, with more acidic substances being closer to 0).  Other hydrogen ions will react with the carbonic acid already in the ocean to produce more biocarbonate.  Both of these two reactions are important to understand the impact and subsequent fear surrounding ocean acidification. (To check my equations, see here.)

Like many other species before them, our current ocean population can adapt to changes in their environment.  The problem here is two–fold: (1) Will they adapt quickly enough?  (2) What will these evolutionary changes bring?

Allow me to expand on point two:  You may enjoy a good shellfish or two.  It has been noted that increasing the acidity of the ocean makes it increasingly difficult for certain species to produce their protective shells.  It also, most notably, hurts the rain forests of the sea:  coral reefs.

Who would want this beauty to turn into...

... this?

This is because, as I touched on earlier, the free hydrogen ions will bond with carbonate in the ocean to produce bicarbonate.  This leaves less carbonate available for sea species that use carbonate to produce their shells or that need it for growth.  Couple this with the increasing temperature of our oceans and, due to that fact, species will have to work harder (read: exert more energy) in order to maintain internal equilibrium, it is likely that these changes will produce some big alterations… then pile on this news that they will adjust more quickly than they have before… it’s painting a grim picture, isn’t it?

The Washington Post had a great editorial on this news that you should take five minutes to read.   One major point being:

Scientists cannot and need not be definitive about exactly what will happen and when all over the earth. As ever with climate change, there is a range of risks involving mind-bogglingly complex planetary systems that scientists can attempt to anticipate, and probably many they have not considered. The point is there are enough dangers of such magnitude and probability that humans should invest in reasonable policies to avoid them.

Ocean acidification is one such danger.  To read the rest of the editorial, see here.

(Photo credit to the NRDS and Centre for Marine Studies, The University of Queensland/Ove Hoegh-Guldberg/REUTERS/Centre for Marine Studies, The University of Queensland/Ove Hoegh-Guldberg/Reuters)

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