Archive for 2014

Burned Birds Become New Environmental Victim of the Energy Quest

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 20, 2014   View Article

Birds singed in midair by a solar thermal power plant in the Mojave Desert — known as “streamers” for the smoke plume they emit — viscerally highlight the reality that the quest for energy almost always causes some form of environmental harm, even through technologies considered green and clean.

The same power plant that’s creating streamers was nearly derailed due to concerns about its potential impact on habitat for rare desert tortoise, for example. Wind power projects routinely kill birds and ruffle residents within their eyesight with concerns about visual blight. Geothermal energy projects have rattled nerves over elevated earthquake risks. Hydroelectric dams drove salmon runs to extinction.

“There are sacrifices that every technology has and the question is how visible those are,” Nathan Lee, a graduate student and researcher with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Energy Initiative who is developing a course on the ethics of energy policy with his adviser Lucas Stanczyk, told NBC News. “In the case of the birds getting singed by giant towers, it’s pretty visible and understandably it is therefore probably more upsetting than the quieter ways in which energy technologies cause a lot of harm.”

Human Activity Really Is Melting Glaciers, Study Says

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 14, 2014   View Article

Time lapse photography of shrinking glaciers makes a powerful visual case for the impact of human-caused global warming. That’s why, for example, it’s used in former Vice President Al Gore’s slideshow, An Inconvenient Truth, and by GlacierWorks, a nonprofit started by famed mountaineer and filmmaker David Breashears to document climate change in the Himalaya.

But is human activity really causing the world’s glaciers to melt? After all, these rivers of ice have been melting ever since the Little Ice Age came to an end nearly two centuries ago, long before humans pumped out enough greenhouse gases to change the global climate. Perhaps the glaciers would be retreating even if humans never once burned a fossil fuel or cleared a forest.

“It seems to be so obvious that when it is getting warmer — and it is getting warmer because of human activity — the glaciers are melting because of human activity, but that actually hasn’t been shown before,” Ben Marzeion, a climate scientist at the University of Innsbruck in Austria, told NBC News.

Now it has.

Giant Waves Pose New Risk for Ships in Ice-Diminished Arctic

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 11, 2014   View Article

Monster waves should be added to the list of hazards faced by ship captains as they plot a course through the waters of the Arctic Ocean, according to a new study that reports observations of house-sized swells in seas that until recently were covered in ice year-round.

“Waves always pose a risk to working at sea,” study author Jim Thomson, an oceanographer at the University of Washington in Seattle, said via email to NBC News from off the coast of northern Alaska. “The unique thing about the Arctic is that it is changing so rapidly that we cannot apply past measurements to understand future risk.”

Collapse of Civilizations Seen Through Key Beer Ingredient: Study

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 11, 2014   View Article

Beer, scientists have long argued, helped give rise to civilization in an arc of land that sweeps from modern-day Egypt to the border between Iraq and Iran. Today, chemical analysis of barley grains, one of beer’s key ingredients, is bolstering research into climate change’s role in the collapse of ancient societies.

“There has been a longtime debate about the relationship between climate and its changes and the development and in some cases demise of cultures,” Frank Hole, an emeritus professor of anthropology at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., and a study co-author, explained to NBC News. “The research that we did is attempting to pinpoint this more directly.”

To do this, he and colleagues collected samples of modern and ancient barley grains throughout the Near East and analyzed them to tease out the impact on agriculture of so-called mega-droughts over the past 10,000 years. The existence of these droughts has been inferred from sources such as pollen and microscopic animals in cores of soil pulled from lake and ocean bottoms.

Big Batteries Are Starting to Boost the Electric Grid

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 5, 2014   View Article

Long hailed as a game changer that will allow unlimited amounts of wind and solar energy onto the electric power grid, big rechargeable batteries are beginning to move out of research labs and find a home amid the real-world tangle of smokestacks, turbines and power lines. Today, the reality falls short of the hype about fossil-fuel-free electricity — but experts say that future could be in store.

For the foreseeable future, electric utilities will rely on coal, gas and nuclear power plants to provide a steady base of power, according to Paul Denholm, a senior analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. But batteries can help balance the flow of electricity as demand ramps up and down throughout the day.

“That is where the hot applications are right now for energy storage,” he told NBC News.

Toxic Algae Blooms to Persist on Lake Erie, Experts Say

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 4, 2014   View Article

Toledo’s drinking water is once again safe, Mayor Michael Collins announced as he took a sip from a glass at a Monday morning news conference — but scientists say the harmful algal blooms at the heart of the water crisis are likely to persist well into the future given a confluence of shifting agricultural practices, invasive mussels, and global climate change.

“Here’s to you, Toledo,” Collins said at the conference, smiling for cameras before taking a sip of water drawn, presumably, from a nearby tap.

Home Solar Panels Make Gains in America, Even in Rainy Seattle

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 4, 2014   View Article

Going solar is expensive, but a confluence of plummeting equipment prices, rising utility bills, new financing schemes and a raft of federal, state, and local incentives are encouraging homeowners across America to take the plunge and put photovoltaic panels on their roofs, even in rainy Seattle.

In 2013, 792 megawatts of solar capacity was installed on homes. That figure is expected to increase 61 percent in 2014 and another 53 percent in 2015, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a Washington-based trade group. A megawatt of solar capacity is typically enough to power 200 average U.S. homes, though the number varies depending on factors such as available sunlight and panel orientation.

On a recent drizzly July morning here, homeowner Brian Palmer gestured out the window to the falling rain. There, workers in slickers from a local solar energy company prepared to put photovoltaic panels on his roof, one of the hundreds of such installations that occur daily across the country.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach