Environment Forum

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.

Unlike most Gulfstream V’s — usually used as corporate jets — this one has no in-flight bar. (Roger Wakimoto, the director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, which manages the program along with the National Science Foundation, said the bar was one of the first things to go after the plane was delivered.)

HIPPO takes off steeply and then flies in a sawtooth pattern, rising to 28,000 feet and then dipping to just 1,000 feet above the water or land. The point of this roller-coaster flight is to figure out how climate-warming carbon dioxide and other trace gases is distributed, not just at Earth’s surface but up to the edge of the troposphere, the lowest layer of the atmosphere, where most weather occurs. Learn more about this project here.

from Gregg Easterbrook:

What we should be taxing: greenhouse gases


Bravely, international diplomats, United Nations officials and environmentalists are meeting in Cancun this week to demand that other people use less fossil fuel. Bravely they met in Copenhagen a year ago to make the same demand, after also bravely meeting in Bali, Montreal and similar resort locales in prior years.

I will skip the obvious point about the greenhouse gases emitted by the jets and limos that bring the participants to these annual confabs, where preaching-to-the-choir is the order of the day.

Most of what happens at the annual international conference on climate change has been decided on in advance, so the greenhouse emissions could be avoided by a tele-meeting. But then the delegates won’t get a paid trip to Cancun!

Making REDD work for illegal loggers

Hendri, 27, an illegal logger cuts down a tree in a peat swamp forest in Indonesia's Central Kalimantan province on Borneo island. Illegal logging remains a project for forest conservation projects because timber represents quick income for villagers needing work or to feed families. Credit: Yusuf Ahmad

Hendri, 27, an illegal logger cuts down a tree in a peat swamp forest in Indonesia's Central Kalimantan province on Borneo island. Illegal logging remains a problem for forest conservation projects because timber represents quick income for villagers needing work or to feed families. Credit: Yusuf Ahmad

It took just 30 seconds to fell the tree. Hendri, 27, a skinny Indonesian from Central Kalimantan on Borneo island, skilfully wielded the chainsaw more than half his height. The result is a thunderous crash and a tree that is quickly cut into planks on the forest floor near by.

And the reward for this effort? About 125,000 rupiah, or roughly $12 per tree measuring 30 cm or more in diameter. Hendri and the three other members of this local gang of illegal loggers make about $45 a day (not including expenses and bribes) cutting down between 4 and 5 trees and slicing them into planks with a chainsaw, using no protective gear. They work for about 10 days at a stretch.

from UK News:

Are you losing faith in climate science?

climatechangeWhile attending a meeting of prominent climate sceptics during the U.N. Climate Conference in Copenhagen in December (an anti-COP15, if you will), I listened to each of the speakers put forward their theory on why conventional evidence on the primary causes of climate change should be dismissed as, for lack of a better phrase, complete hokum.

Among their denunciations of widely-accepted truths regarding global warming, greenhouse gases, melting glaciers and rising sea levels was the assertion that a change in attitude was afoot; the public may have been duped into believing the mainstream scientific assessment of climate change, but not for long.

There was something in the air, the sceptics said, and soon people would begin to question their trust in the majority view.

Don’t you find this car sexy?

That’s what Nissan President and CEO Carlos Ghosn asked reporters in Los Angeles while presenting the Leaf, a pure electric car to be made for the masses and launched in late 2010. 

The hatchback to be manufactured in Tennessee starting in late 2012 is no nerdy eco-friendly car, that’s for sure. And the prototype certainly was fun to drive. Nissan set up a test course in the Dodger Stadium parking lot and even this cautious driver couldn’t help but race down the straightaway. No emissions, no tailpipe, no noise — but lots of speed, right away.

Ghosn says the Leaf goes from 0 to 60 miles per hour in less than 10 seconds, although it felt much faster than that. “This is not a golf cart,” he reminded us several times.

Travel agent scraps “medieval pardons” for emissions

A travel agent is ditching an offer allowing holidaymakers to pay extra if they feel guilty about the greenhouse gases created by their flights, saying it’s like selling “medieval pardons”.

responsibletravel.com said it was dropping carbon offsets from its website, bucking an industry trend of recent years.

Ever more airlines and travel groups offer customers the option of paying a bit more to plant trees in Africa, for instance, or to help build a wind farm in India to soak up greenhouse gases equal to those emitted by their vacations.

Pakistanis set tree planting record: 1,800 each a day

If you feel proud about having planted a tree sometime to help protect the environment, you may have to think again.

Pakistan has apparently set a record for tree plantings, with volunteers planting about 1,800 mangroves each in a day in mud and temperatures of up to 37 Celsius, according to the WWF International conservation group. 

Maybe such competitions will catch on if a new U.N. climate treaty due to be agreed in Copenhagen in December includes measures to combat deforestation. Trees soak up greenhouse gases as they grow and release them when they burn or rot.

New ‘gold rush’ buzz hits Germany over Sahara solar

A “gold-rush-like” buzz has spread across Germany in the last week over tentative plans to invest the staggering sum of 400 billion euros to harvest solar power in the Sahara for energy users across Europe and northern Africa. Even though European and Mediterranean Union leaders have been exploring and studying for several years the idea of using concentrated solar power (CSP), the Desertec proposition suddenly captivated the public’s attention a week ago when German reinsurer Munich Re announced it had invited blue chip German companies such as Deutsche Bank, Siemens and several major utilities to a July 13 meeting on the project. The 20 companies aim to sign a memorandum of understanding to found the Desertec Industrial Initiative that could be supplying 15 percent of Europe’s electricity in the decades ahead.

Germany’s deputy foreign minister, Guenter Gloser, has been the government’s point man for the project. I had the chance to talk to him about it.

Question: How did this project to turn the sun in the Sahara into electricity for Europe and north African countries get started?
Guenter Gloser: About 15 months ago Germany and France proposed including the solar plan into the list of projects for the Union for the Mediterranean. There were institutions that had already done research and we thought: ‘Why don’t we use this sun belt where there is such an abundance of sunshine as a source of renewable energy?’ Together Germany, France and Egypt put forth this solar plan as one of the six projects for the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and underscored the fact that it could benefit both sides. It was not an idea where just countries north of the Mediterranean will benefit but rather those countries south of it as well as across the EU would also benefit.

Historic climate deal in Copenhagen: dream or reality?

French President Nicolas Sarkozy declares “nuclear is dead”; Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is taken to hospital suffering from “confetti inhalation” and “hug-related injuries” after they agree to a historic U.N. deal to curb greenhouse gases in Copenhagen.

At least that’s part of the wishful thinking behind a spoof December 19, 2009 edition of the International Herald Tribune (left) showing a beaming German Chancellor Angela Merkel flanked by Sarkozy (left) and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso above the headline “heads of state agree historic climate-saving deal”.

Among other headlines in the 8-page edition sponsored by environmental group Greenpeace: “Markets soar on news of Copenhagen climate deal”, “Exxon finally comes clean” (by abandoning oil and shifting to renewable energies), “Atmosphere named world heritage site”, “India turns its back on the carbon economy”, “Amazon forest a big winner in Denmark”.

Coal-promoting ringtones draw Sierra Club’s ire

West Virginians who want to show off their pride in the state’s coal industry can now do so via some catchy, coal-promoting ringtones put together by the West Virginia Coal Association.

Beware, however, that the ringtones have already drawn the ire of environmentalists.

The ringtones are jingles the West Virginia coal group has used for some time to promote the state’s vast coal resources (and presumably to offset the bad rap coal gets for producing about 30 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gases).