Thursday, May 31, 2007

Biofuels Now Part of Climate Change Problem

Once upon a time, the world seemed to have so much hope for biofuels.

Now, ethanol demand is driving corn prices upwards, causing chaos in countries such as Mexico, threatening the ability of many people to afford food.

Biodiesel has turned into a huge threat to Asia's tropical rainforests, critical components of the planet's capacity to absorb CO2, and the only natural habitat of the world's 50,000-60,000 remaining orangutans. Turns out that these rainforests are being razed to plant palm oil plantations for biofuels (and other human products).

As the BBC and famed primate expert, Dr. Richard Leaky detail, a sad result is to push the existence of great apes such as the orangutan to the brink of real trouble.

A possible solution in the case of biodiesel: use sustainably produced palm oil - something already practiced by companies like Cadbury-Schweppes, Unilever, and the Body Shop.

Another suggestion: tell your local car dealer you're really not impressed with the mileage of the vehicles they're offering, and you want better. That's what I've been finding myself doing as I search for a new vehicle. If I could get a plug-in hybrid diesel (which I'd run on recycled vegetable oil), I'd be one happy camper! I mean, whatever happened to the Toyota ES3 - a 4 seat hybrid diesel car that gets 104 mpg, even without the plug-in component (and that was back in 2001!)?

We know they CAN do it (but are just waiting for the market to stop buying gas guzzlers and start demanding high efficiency before they respond - they'll do as the market dictates, automakers say. So for the record, I'm all for government incentives to help make it financially favorable for them to do so).

The result would be to not only dramatically reduce demand for gasoline and biodiesel, pressure on rainforests, and our greenhouse gas emissions, but also to save each of us thousands of dollars a year in gas costs. I know I sure could use that money right about now!

NASA: Dangerous Impacts of Climate Change Just 10 Years Away

ABC News covering Dr. James Hansen's new article in the scientific journal, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics:

The new NASA release emphasizes the danger of "strong amplifying feedbacks" pushing Earth past "dangerous tipping points."

Scientists have been warning for several years that such tipping points are the greatest threat from manmade global warming — and what makes it potentially catastrophic for civilization.

'Potentially Uncontrollable' Feedback Loops

As the tipping points pass, "there is an acceleration, potentially uncontrollable, of emissions of vast natural stores of greenhouse gas," according to Hansen, who reviewed the study for ABC News today.

Hansen explains that dangerous feedback loops are being tracked in various regions of the planet.

Many studies have reported feedback loops already observed in thawing tundra, seabeds and drying forests.

Hansen also points out that dark — and therefore heat-absorbing — forests are now expanding toward the Arctic, replacing lighter-colored areas such as tundra and snow cover.

As a scientist, I follow news of what scientists and local peoples are observing around the globe with regard to climate change, so this really doesn't come as any surprise.

It's also in line with "The Big Thaw" of the world's glaciers documented in the new National Geographic.

The time for action is now - and not just baby steps and talk of gradual changes by 2020. We need cars boosted to 40+ mpg now, or we won't be driving in many areas sooner than later because they'll be under water.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Rising Trend in Gardening/Farming to Live Greener Spreading to Real Estate Market

I just got back inside after checking the crops out in our organic garden, which I water at night to reduce losses of water to evaporation.

The corn is growing nicely, peas (Asian and snow) and beans (black and string) providing fertilizer (nitrogen), and the squash (zucchini) growing between corn stalks has taken hold. (yes, I am giving the famous "Three Sisters" technique a whirl). I've also got some herbs (basil, rosemary, oregano, cilantro, sage, dill, spearmint, peppermint), cucumber, lettuce, hot peppers, eggplant, green onions, and carrots, on top of three apple trees, two peach trees, a pear tree and a fig tree. To attract pollinators, we've planted native California wildflowers (lupines, poppies, clarkia's, tidy tips, bird's eyes, gilia, Chinese houses, and baby blue eyes, among others) around the garden and our property - they are beautiful. Where do we live - out in the country? No - all this in our humble little El Cerrito, California yard. Bay Area suburbia!

Gardening is wonderfully relaxing and satisfying. The crops are tasty and fresh, help cut our food costs, require no use of fossil fuel to get to the store to buy them, and best of all - we grew them! Sure the snails are a pain, and we're still working out how to best keep them from chomping down the young green leaf lettuce (we have a great organic spray that works wonders with the flying insects who'd otherwise feast on our food). But with peak oil in sight, I figure better to start learning how to grow my own food now, before rising oil prices and biofuels demand cause food prices to skyrocket.

The Wall Street Journal's Real Estate Section has a nice article today about this rising trend in living green by growing our own food. Have a good read in the summary provided by our friends at Treehugger, who link to the article. And have a good weekend - be sure to enjoy some time outside!