Environment Forum

Harry Potter, horcruxes and Steven Chu

Anyone familiar with Harry Potter knows as least two things: 1) this is the U.S. opening weekend for the final movie in the blockbuster series about the boy wizard and 2) ultimate villain Voldemort uses horcruxes to hold bits of his soul and extend his life.

Leave it to U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu to riff on horcruxes to explain energy storage.

“While I confess I haven’t yet seen all of the Harry Potter movies including the “Deathly Hallows Part 2,” a staff member (who might be a bigger nerd than I am) was telling me about Lord Voldemort’s “horcruxes” — objects he used to store his life energy.  Without them, he lost his power and couldn’t survive,” Chu said on his Facebook page.

“In the ‘muggle’ world, energy storage is crucial to our future as well, but for more positive reasons.  It is the key to greatly expanding the use of renewable energy sources that are intermittent like wind and solar power. Better batteries will mean longer range, lower cost electric vehicles, and will make our entire electricity generation and distribution system more efficient by smoothing out fluctuations in demand.”

Check out what the Nobel laureate says about the seven “clean energy horcruxes” in the rest of his post.

As if 2007 never happened?

If four years is a lifetime in politics, it’s an eternity in climate change politics. Events in Washington this week might make climate policy watchers wonder if 2007 really happened.

At issue is the decision by American Electric Power to put its plans for carbon capture and storage on hold, due to the weak economy and the lack of a U.S. plan to limit emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide. Read the Reuters story about it here.

Carbon capture and storage, or CCS for short, has been promoted as a way to make electricity from domestic coal without unduly raising the level of carbon in the atmosphere. Instead of sending the carbon dioxide that results from burning coal up a smokestack and into the air, the plan was to bury it underground. But that costs money and requires regulatory guarantees, and neither are imminent in the United States. Legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions bogged down on Capitol Hill a year ago and has not been re-introduced.

How many politicians does it take to NOT change a light bulb?

Some stories, no matter how serious, are just joke-prone. So it was this week with the proposed U.S. BULB act, which aimed to repeal light bulb efficiency standards that became law in 2007. Sponsored by Joe Barton, a Texas Republican congressman, the BULB bill failed to receive the two-thirds vote of those present in the House of Representatives that would have been needed to suspend House rules and pass the measure.

That was the signal for Washington politicians, interest groups and some headline writers to crank up the pun-producing machinery:

“Lights out for GOP Energy Agenda?” in Politico;

“Republican bill to ban energy-saving lightbulbs fades” in the Guardian;

It’s not just fancy. It’s green.

When munching on a sumptuous spread of white truffles, sampling almonds tucked into syrupy preserved figs or chomping on a cigar-sized chunky chocolate bar, do you ever wonder about these luxury foods’ environmental impact?

Apparently lots of consumers do — enough that organic, sustainable and otherwise “green” foods are proliferating at this year’s Fancy Food Show.

Usually held in New York City, the trade show for artisanal, niche and rare comestibles was moved this year to Washington D.C. The U.S. capital’s convention center, which next month will host robotic weapons systems, is the current home to literally thousands of food stalls promoting their wares to the trade. Even if environmental stewardship is not paramount for some companies, many offer at least some products with green cred, since this is what wholesale buyers and their customers demand, according to Louise Kramer, communications director for the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade.

Why is this Great White Shark smiling?

For this Great White Shark, it’s even better now in the Bahamas.

The long-running tourist slogan has a new meaning for all 40 of the shark species around the Caribbean island chain after the Bahamian government banned all commercial shark fishing in the approximately  243,244 square miles  (630,000 square kilometers) of the country’s waters.

What’s good for sharks is good for the Bahamian economy. These big fish bring in about $78 million each year, or more than $800 million over the last 20 years, according to the Bahamas Diving Association — the Bahamas is one of the world’s premier shark-watching destinations for divers.

This latest conservation move adds to a 20-year-old ban on longline fishing gear in Bahamian waters. The prohibition on longline fishing — which often nets sharks along with tuna and other big fish that are the fishers’ main aim — is one reason that sharks are thriving around the Bahamas.

Even everyday weather could pack a $485 billion punch

No question about it: this has been a wild weather year so far in the United States, with record rains, droughts, wildfires and tornadoes. But a new study indicates that even routine weather events like rainstorms and cooler-than-normal days could pack a huge annual economic wallop.

Weather’s effect on all sectors of the U.S. economy may total $485 billion a year, as much as 3.4 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, according to research published in the current Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. It is the first study to apply qualitative economic analysis to estimate the U.S. economy’s weather sensitivity.

Mining and agriculture are particularly sensitive to weather influences, with routine variations taking a toll of 14 percent on mining each year — possibly because of changing demands for oil, gas and coal — and farming feeling a 12 percent impact, conceivably because temperature and precipitation affect many crops, the study said.

Is this the greenest office on Earth?

Every workstation has a view. Much of the lighting comes from reflected sunshine. It’s so naturally quiet that unobtrusive speakers pipe in “white noise” to preserve a level of privacy. The windows open, and they’re shaded in such a way that there’s no glare. Even with the windows closed, fresh air circulates through vents in the floor. Extreme recycling prevails, not just of bottles, cans and kitchen refuse but beetle-blighted wood.

Welcome to the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which contains some of the greenest office space on the planet.

NREL’s headquarters in Golden, Colorado, is also the home to cutting-edge research on biofuels, photo-voltaics for solar power and other renewable energy technology, but the physical plant is a living lab for green building. At $63 million, or $259 per square foot for its construction cost, including interiors and furniture, the Research Support Facility as it is called, was hardly cheap to build. But with 220,000 square feet of space, it is the biggest energy efficient building in the United States.

A flying HIPPO, with ICE-T on the side


A HIPPO took off from a windswept airfield in Colorado today, as  ICE-T waited in a nearby hangar, getting ready for a summer trip to the Caribbean.

OK, OK, enough fun with acronyms. HIPPO and ICE-T are flying climate laboratories, one in a Gulfstream V jet, the other in a refurbished C-130 military cargo plane.

Unlike its animal namesake, HIPPO is actually a rather sleek aircraft, fitted with equipment and a crew of 10, that makes flights of  eight hours or more at a go, sampling the atmosphere around the Pacific Basin, from near the North Pole to just off the coast of Antarctica. HIPPO is actually a combination of two acronyms: HIAPER Pole-to-Pole Observations. HIAPER itself stands for High-performance Instrumented Airborne Platform for Environmental Research. Quite a mouthful.

from Photographers' Blog:

An erupting volcano on the horizon

It was Saturday, May 21, and I was returning from a tour with nine friends. We had spent 15 hours climbing a 1420 metre (yard) high peak named Midfellstindur near Iceland's Skaftafell national park. While driving back along route 1 from Skaftafell towards our hotel, the organizer of the trip Hans Kristjansson said "This is a strange cloud just above the glacier".

As a hang glider and ultralight pilot I knew right away that this was no ordinary cloud and said to Hans: "My friend, this is not a ordinary cloud but the start of an eruption". We stopped the car and I tried to use well the last seven frames that I had on my memory card in my Canon D300 DSLR camera. I took seven frames in about 20 minutes. I always take my photos in RAW format to be able to post-process them. It paid off this time. The pictures were taken at N 63° 56.712 W 17° 23.729.

When I got back to the hotel I was unable to view my pictures as my laptop was at home in Reykjavik along with my card reader. The lesson of the trip is that I will never ever travel again without my MacBookPro and my Lexar card reader. And I will make sure that I have ample space on different memory cards!

Big banner bedecks bridge in Bay, urges Chevron to pay

Boats cruising near Chevron’s refinery on San Francisco Bay got a friendly reminder from environmentalists that it’s once again annual meeting time for the California oil company.

Three activists rappelled off the Richmond-San Rafael bridge with a neon-green banner saying ”Chevron Guilty; Clean up Amazon,” prompting a flurry of radio chatter on Monday between at least one commuter ferry and the Bay’s vessel traffic authorities.

The three, including Amazon Watch finance manager Thomas Cavanagh, braved some heavy winds on a clear, sunny morning to generate publicity ahead of Chevron’s annual shareholder meeting. All three, along with some helpers, were later arrested, a spokeswoman for the activists said.

  •