Sunday, April 21, 2019

Elk restoring strip mines and Appalachian economies

What do you do after the coal companies have strip mined and flattened mountains? What you’re left with is something that looks like a WalMart building site: flat, denuded of vegetation, and depleted soils.

Some of these sites are turning into solar farms, but some communities are turning these into wetlands and meadows. Reintroducing elk is restoring the soil and attracting tourists. Elk do have a downside, compacting the soil further where they bed down and eroding the slopes which could expose the toxic dirt below. But birds, bugs and amphibians are enjoying the break in the forest. These efforts could help the region transform from an extractive economy to a restorative one.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Humane prison design leads to less violence

Prisons are both a punishment and a place for reformation. In Europe, they tend to view the lack of freedom—just being in prison—as the punishment. What happens while inside shouldn’t be an ongoing hell that twists minds and makes people more violent. Most will return to society at some point. We want them to come out better than when they went in.

How do you design prisons to be a humane place that provides opportunities to improve? Watch this short video. It’s interesting to see how the campus design forces inmates to get exercise in nature and how the tiny guard stations encourages them to mingle with the inmates, a better way to manage violence.

Obviously you don’t want truly twisted people like Charles Manson wandering around in a place like this. But in the US many people are in prison because of a tough upbringing, drug abuse, discriminatory systems and harsh sentencing laws. These facilities are expensive but if we incarcerated fewer people by using restorative justice and drug treatment, we could afford it. Keep in mind the people working inside the prison are also exposed and twisted by the hostile environment.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

New study shows 100% renewables is achievable sooner than we think

Researchers have run the numbers and figured out how virtually all nations on earth can meet their energy needs with renewables, mostly solar+batteries. It means we CAN stay within the 1.5 C sort-of-safe global warming.

The new study by the Energy Watch Group and LUT University is the first of its kind to outline a 1.5°C scenario with a cost-effective, cross-sectoral, technology-rich global 100% renewable energy system that does not build on negative CO2 emission technologies. The scientific modelling study simulates a total global energy transition in the electricity, heat, transport and desalination sectors by 2050. It is based on four and a half years of research and analysis of data collection, as well as technical and financial modelling by 14 scientists. This proves that the transition to 100% renewable energy is economically competitive with the current fossil and nuclear-based system, and could reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the energy system to zero even before 2050

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Amazon employees force climate resolution

Over 4000 Amazon employees signed a letter asking the company to end its reliance on fossil fuels.

This has resulted in a shareholder resolution. Amazon itself has written a position against the resolution. But if you own any Amazon (the stock or through a mutual fund) you’ll be able to vote on the matter in the next shareholder proxy.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Thailand building floatovoltaic power plant

No, that wasn’t a typo. Float photovoltaic solar panels on a hydropower reservoir and you have a new term—floatovoltaics—but also an elegant hybrid energy system. During the day, you run on solar power. If it’s cloudy and you need more, you spill some water through the turbines. At night you use the hydro power. And if you’re really smart, you use any excess solar power to pump water back into the reservoir.

“Basically, what you do is put the solar modules on rafts on the water and then you feed the power into the grid. That’s all it is. It’s like solar panels on a boat,” says Jenny Chase, a solar analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a research firm. “Solar’s so cheap now that you want to put it pretty much everywhere you can.”

Monday, April 15, 2019

Plastic Easter

Sometimes I just shake my head about humans. What a weird species we are! Easter is a great example. It’s a Christian holiday but somehow the Easter Bunny bounded into the ritual with the staying power of the Duracell rabbit, complete with disposable plastic eggs (um, bunnies don’t lay eggs) filled with more surgary junk food than we buy at Halloween. Cheap baskets filled with plastic confetti end up in the trash. And perhaps the worst of all, baby bunnies and chicks are bought and soon secretly abandoned to meet their fate at local parks.

Any attempts at ditching the Easter Egg Hunt are met with horror. So what we’re left with are options for reducing the environmental impact. This article mentions more ecological options for indoor and outdoor hunts.

Using gravity as battery storage

I remember seeing a simple design for people in abject poverty to have lights at night: a rock, rope and simple generator. Pull the rock up to the ceiling and then let it slowly come down, generating electricity for about an hour of light.

Now a company is developing a scalable version of this that can power 3400 homes at night. It uses excess renewable energy during the day to stack recycled concrete bricks which can be dropped down the tower when electricity is needed. This version looks ungainly but it works the same way and maybe soon there will be a more elegant model.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Weather Channel produces climate videos

For decades meteorologists shied away from talking about climate change. Some didn’t trust the science; they knew how hard it was to model weather five days from now so how could you trust the models for climate decades into the future? Some worried about putting off some of their denier viewers.

No more. The Weather Channel is producing short what-life-will-be-like-in-2100 segments. This one looks at Charleston SC. The Weather Channel is a great venue for this message; people all over the country, across the political spectrum, watch it, especially the older folks who seem to be disproportionately deniers. (My parents would watch it for hours on end.) My only complaint is the videos don’t end on a what-you-can-do message.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Lithium ion batteries just got 35% cheaper

Improvements in battery technology are outstripping projections. In less than a year, lithium ion battery costs have dropped by over 1/3.
The lower battery prices have big implications for electric cars, too. There’s a key cost threshold of about $100 per kilowatt hour, the point at which electric vehicles would be cheap enough to quickly supplant gasoline. At this rate, we’ll reach that in less than five years.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Burger King launches meatless burger

Are you old enough to remember the TV ads with a cranky old woman yelling, “Where’s the beef?” It was one burger joint making fun of the little patties at another burger joint. Well, now the joke’s on her. Burger King has launched a meatless patty that they say tasters have trouble distinguishing from the bovine version. But if it becomes popular, it could make a big difference to cattle and the climate.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Small town bike sharing service

I remember Portland, Oregon’s first bike sharing program. They bought a bunch of bikes, painted them the same garish color, and put them out on the streets. Predictably they all disappeared and changed color.

That was before cell phone apps and the technology that locks them down until they are paid for. But till recently, bike and scooter sharing has mostly been a big city offering. Now there’s a company, Koloni, that is offering the service on a much smaller scale.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Mirror, Mirror, Who’s the fairest oil company in the land?

Unless you give up driving and flying, even the most avid environmentalist will still be using fossil fuels for awhile. If you want to buy gas from the most responsible, climate-concerned companies, check out this article.

Friday, April 5, 2019

REBA pressuring utilities for better renewable markets

Over 200 large companies, cities and universities are coming together to pressure electric utilities to develop better systems for companies to source renewable energy. It’s called the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA.)

REBA hopes to flex its purchasing power to support technological innovation and push utilities to offer more green options — calling for changes to public policy where necessary.

It’s really important that cities, representing communities, push to keep the process fair. Otherwise there’s a risk that companies like Wal-Mart could choose the cheapest sources, leaving the rest of us to pay for the more expensive renewable sources.

 Walmart has "a great desire to operate as cleanly and sustainably as possible," he says. "But we also want to operate at the lowest possible cost. With where renewable energy costs have come, we feel that in a number of markets renewable energy is going to be the best cost option.
Citizens, beware.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Foodies: check out these 50 foods that help wildlife

Some foods are harder on the planet than others. But here are 50 foods, some of which you may never have heard of, that are healthy, tasty and support wildlife. So all you foodies out there, experiment with these and then tell us where to get them and what to do with them.

Sometimes you can find the food for free along the road. I was walking with my Thai sister in law and suddenly she leapt into the weeds. “I love these! They’re so expensive in Asia,” she said. Using Google to double check that our variety was also edible, we gathered bags full of what ranchers call pig weed and try to eliminate because eaten raw, it sickens livestock. It’s amaranth. The tender leaves sautéed with a bit of garlic are very tasty, like a mild spinach.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Are you paying extra for coal powered electricity?

Are you paying too much for your electricity and at the same time polluting the planet? If your community gets some of its electricity from a coal fired power plant (you likely do; the percentage has been dropping in the US but it’s still over 25%), check out this series of maps in this article that show whether it would be cheaper to shut them down and replace it with renewables. This is the map for 2018. There’s also a 2025 map if you want to see into the future.