Environment Forum

Save the planet, and win a T-shirt?

 If you come up with an idea for saving the planet from global warming, you may be the lucky winner of a T-shirt emblazoned with your design.

A group opposed to large-scale intervention in nature to change the climate – such as placing vast mirrors in space to reflect the sun’s rays or fertilising the oceans with iron to promote the growth of algae that soak up greenhouse gases from the air – wants to hear of any zany ideas by April Fool’s Day.

Canada-based ETC Group, which says it works for conservation of ecological diversity and human rights, says the winner of what it calls the “pie-in-the-sky” contest will get a T-shirt and ETC will publish a cartoon of the winning entry on its website.

“The winning submission will be original, ludicrous and contain at least a nano-shred of perverse logic,” ETC says. “Industrialization geo-engineered us into the climate mess in the first place, and some companies and scientists are crazy enough to  think they can geoengineer us out of it,” said Kathy Jo Wetter of ETC Group.

But are all these ideas really so daft?

Proponents of geo-engineering says that short-cut fixes are worth studying in a world where governments are failing to rein in rising emissions of greenhouse gases, from factories, power plants and cars.

Antarctic weather balloons give climate clues


 Meteorologist Tamsin Gray releases a weather balloon at the British Rothera research station on the Antarctic Peninsula to help record temperature and other data from the freezing air. Apart from helping predict the weather, the balloons are also giving scientists clues to global warming.

As you can see, it starts off about 2 metres across but how big it is when it reaches about 25 km above the ground?

a) it shrinks to the size of a tennis ball

b) it swells to the size of a double-decker bus

c) it drifts off into space unchanged

Gray, of the British Antarctic Survey, says that data from the atmosphere about 5 km above Antarctica are helping to confirm findings by the U.N. Climate Panel that greenhouse gases are warming the planet.

Don’t rain on my electric car parade

Electric car organization Plug In America revved up the inaugural festivities this past weekend with a parade of 74 plug-in vehicles in Santa Monica, California, dubbing it the “greenest procession of its kind.”

The non-profit group first applied to ride in the Presidential inaugural parade in Washington, but was not chosen. Undeterred, it took the parade west, said spokeswoman Zan Dubin Scott.

“Today we congratulate President Barack Obama, who has called for one million plug-in cars by 2015,” Paul Scott, one of the group’s co-founders, said at the parade on Saturday, taking the moment to make a “plug” for more plug-ins by 2016. “With the audacity of hope and the confidence born of years driving these cars, we’re asking Obama to accelerate his plan and make it happen three years sooner, then to boost that number to ten million plug-ins by 2016.”

How much electricity do you use in a year?

It was a disarmingly simple question but, embarrassingly, I didn’t have a clue when first asked that 18 months ago. Even though I’d have to describe myself as a genuine tightwad when it comes to expenditures, I simply had no idea, strangely enough, about how much money my four-person household was spending on electricity — nor how much carbon dioxide was being produced.

Now, after a year of carefully tracking the daily use of electricity, I’ve discovered a bit about when and where power is being used and, in theory, saved — without much pain. It seemed like a no-brainer and it honestly was not hard to cut our consumption by 1,000 kilowatt hours in 2008 to 5,000 kWh — saving about 200 euros and 500 kg of CO2 in the process. There were only minor sacrifices: rigidly turning off “standby” switches and unused lights, pulling plugs on little-used appliances, putting in energy-efficient lightbulbs, using the washing machine sparingly and the dryer only rarely, and replacing an inefficient dishwasher with a low-energy model.

In the past year, we used as little as 4 kWh on some days (in the summer) and as much as 30 on others (in the winter) — although most days were in the 10-to-17 range. Annoyingly, the house “wasted” about 3 kWh per day when we were away on holiday — largely due to the refrigerator, which I’ll be emptying and turning off next time. The 2008 total of 5,000 kWh (which amounted to an electricity bill of about 1,000 euros) isn’t bad for four people (one rule of thumb I’ve seen is 1,500 kWh per person/year) but I’m convinced that usage could be even less (the benchmark of 1,000 kWh per person/year is considered “thrifty”).

On Antarctic safaris, remember to bring a microscope

Many people hope to come back from a wildlife safari with close-up pictures of lions or elephants – this picture below is my best attempt from a search for the largest land animals in Antarctica.

If you look hard you can see a reddish blob at the tip of the thumb — it’s Antarctica’s most aggressive land predator, an eight-legged mite known as Rhagidia.

Pete Convey, a biologist at the British Antarctic Survey (that’s his thumb), says that such tiny creatures evolved in Antarctica over tens of millions of years — they can freeze their bodies in winter in an extreme form of hibernation.

Only dreaming of a “White Christmas”?

More and more people are only dreaming of a “White Christmas” because of global warming.

That’s the conclusion by my colleague Erik Kirschbaum in a nice story from Berlin today about how climate change is making it less likely that people in the northern hemisphere will see snow at Christmas.

The picture above proves that this year there has been plenty of snow in some places — this snowman was pictured in Central Park, New York, on Dec. 19. According to one report, Canada may get its first country-wide white Christmas in four decades.

California takes leap of global warming faith

California is either about to bankrupt all its businesses, or it’s unleashing a green revolution.

Either way, it took a big step toward cutting greenhouse gases on Thursday, when its top air quality regulator, the California Air Resources Board, passed a scoping plan. That sounds deadly dull, we know, but it has excited a lot of people because it means specific targets are being set by the largest U.S. state in the midst of the worst economy almost anyone living has seen.

Some businesses fear they won’t be able to survive the costs. Some feel California will be economically reborn. Check out our story, and don’t be afraid to go to the CARB site and check out the plan itself, along with economic analysis and more.

Citi mulls moving (coal) mountains after Bank of America acts

Now that Bank of America is cutting back on lending to mountain top removal mining companies, citing the environmental costs, rival Citigroup is weighing its options.

“Bank of America’s announcement has just been released so Citi will study the content,” the bank said on Friday. Citi and Bank of America were prime targets of Rainforest Action Network and others for their support of mountaintop removal mining for coal in Appalachia. Cutting the top off a mountain is a cheap and efficient way to get coal — and environmental groups call it an ecological disaster.

“We are continuing to learn about this issue through engaging and listening to a variety of stakeholders, including our clients. Today we met with a number of industry, scientific, and community experts to listen and learn from their perspectives. Citi has a long history of engaging in dialogue with our stakeholders on this and other critical environmental issues,” the bank said.

Tulane advises New Orleans: move above sea level

Tulane University professors worried about global warming’s effect on New Orleans have advice for their co-citizens — don’t build new shopping malls below sea level.

Still recovering from Hurricane Katrina, Nola, as it is affectionately called, is a city built on a swamp. In fact, it is urban sprawl built on a swamp. Large parts are below sea level.

An early post-Katrina plan to restrict rebuilding to the parts above sea level was scrapped due to popular pressure, but professors Torbjörn E. Törnqvist and Douglas J. Meffert say New Orleans needs to think unconventionally. “New Orleans could accommodate more than 300,000 residents above sea level, which by U.S. Census Bureau estimates is approximately the current population of the entire city,” they say in a Nature Geoscience article, arguing for greater population density.