Monday, July 29, 2013 | By EarthShare | No Comments
FSC Protects Forests for Future Generations
Photo: Finch Paper
Guest post by Ian Hanna of EarthShare member Forest Stewardship Council – U.S.
Pause for a moment to imagine a thriving forest. Maybe it’s
a forest from your childhood or a landscape from your travels. Look up and see
the tops of the trees. Take a deep breath to inhale the fresh forest air – the
perfume of pine needles and moss. A stream of cold, clear water rushes past you
as yesterday’s rainfall still drips to the forest floor.
People are a forest species. We come from the forest and
rely on forests for clean water to drink and air to breath. Forests regulate
our planet’s climate, air, soils and water and provide homes to wildlife. Around
the world, forests support 1.6 billion people and provide habitat to 70% of the
world’s terrestrial animals and plants.
No natural system is as diverse or iconic as a forest.
Yet the forests of our childhood memories may be just that,
memories. 30 million acres of forest are lost each year – 36 football fields
every minute. Deforestation is responsible for 18% of all greenhouse gas
emissions – more than the entire transportation sector.
We need to take better care of our forests.
Enter the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a nonprofit
organization that sets standards for responsible management of the world’s
forests. Founded in 1993 by progressive businesses and environmental groups,
FSC is a member-led organization that uses the power of the marketplace to
protect forests for future generations. With groups such as WWF, Sierra Club,
The Nature Conservancy and Rainforest Action Network as members, FSC represents
the gold standard for forest management.
At FSC, we know that forests can be managed
in a way that protects, and even enhances, ecosystem values and benefits to
local communities. FSC standards everywhere in the world are renowned for their
comprehensiveness, including the following key concerns:
the rights of indigenous people
the rights of the local workers
high conservation value forests
habitat for wildlife including rare, threatened and endangered species
water resources, soils and fragile ecosystems
the use of hazardous chemicals and GMO’s
conversion to plantations or non-forest uses
When you see the FSC logo on a product you buy, it means
your purchase is directly supporting healthy forests.
Today, more than 400 million acres of forest (170 million in
the US and Canada) and 26,000 companies are certified to FSC standards. These lands
are protected from deforestation and are maintained as healthy, working
In the US, much of our forestland is private. If landowners
can’t earn a living from these forests, they will inevitably cut them down for
farms, ranches or real estate development. While total acreage of forests in
the US remains relatively stable, certain parts of the country are seeing
declining forest coverage. For example, the Southeastern US is projected to
lose 31 million acres of forest by 2040.
Photo: John Stamets
By creating demand for products from responsibly managed forests, FSC is
helping protect forests for future generations. In fact, today, more than
40,000 American family forest owners are FSC certified. When we purchase
products with the FSC logo, we are saying to the landowner, “thank you for
taking care of your forest.”
Like many nonprofit organizations, FSC relies on support
from donors to do its work.
Current efforts focus on bringing more family forest owners
into the FSC system, to protect forests as they change hands from generation to
generation, especially in the Southeastern US.
FSC is also working to promote wood from FSC certified
forests as a green building material. Unlike concrete or steel, wood sequesters
carbon for the life of the building. And when it comes from a well-managed
forest, it is arguably the most sustainable building material.
Donor support helps FSC grow programs like these, creating
demand for responsibly managed forests. This translates into cleaner air and
water, protected habitat for rare and endangered species, fewer toxic
pesticides used and overall improvement in the health of our forests.
Through Earthshare, you can do your part to help ensure the
health of the world’s forests – through individual donations and by looking for
the FSC logo when purchasing wood and paper products.
To learn more about FSC, visit our website at www.fsc.org.
Monday, July 29, 2013 | By National Geographic News | No Comments
The idea of firing fusion power with lasers has hit major scientific and funding roadblocks. What does it mean for the effort to bring the energy of the stars to Earth?
Monday, July 29, 2013 | By EarthShare | No Comments
Top 10 Benefits of Trees
mestes76 / Flickr
Can you put
a price tag on a tree? Those who sell timber for paper and other products
certainly do, but what about the worth of a living
tree? When you add it all up, a tree’s price is incalculable. That didn’t stop
Portland Parks & Recreation in Oregon from hanging actual price tags on trees in the community to give
people a sense of the benefits they provide. What are those benefits? We picked
ten of the most important:
1. Clean Air. Researchers at the Davey Institute
found that urban trees and forests are saving an average of one life every
year per city
because of the particulates that they remove from the air. A study in the Journal of Preventative Medicine found that people experienced more deaths
from heart disease and respiratory disease when they lived in areas where trees
had disappeared. Trees are often referred to as the “lungs of the planet”
because of the oxygen they provide to other living things.
2. Jobs. According to the U.S. Forest Service, recreation visitor spending in
National Forests amounted to nearly $11 billion in 2012. All that economic
activity sustains about 190,000 full- and part-time jobs. And that’s just in
our National Forests!
3. Clean Water. Forests provide natural filtration and storage systems that process
nearly two-thirds of the water supply
in the United States. When you drink a glass of tap water in a New York City
restaurant, you’re drinking water that was filtered largely by the forests of
upstate New York. The forests do such a good job that the city only needs to do
a minimum of additional filtering.
4. Carbon Sequestration. Burning fossil fuels puts
heat-trapping carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, changing our climate in
dangerous ways. Planting trees can slow down this process. A tree can absorb as much as 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year, and can
sequester one ton of carbon dioxide by the time it reaches 40 years old.
5. Reduced Crime. Neighborhoods with abundant trees have significantly fewer crimes than those without. Researchers
think that this is because green spaces have a calming effect and encourage
people to spend more with their neighbors outdoors, bolstering community trust.
6. Increased Property Values. People are drawn to homes and
businesses near trees. The proof is in the prices: property values are 7 percent to 25 percent higher
for houses surrounded by trees and consumers spend up to 13 percent more at shops near
7. Mental Health. Feeling down? Take a walk in the
woods. Several studies have found that access to nature yields better cognitive functioning, more self-discipline, and greater
mental health overall. One
study even found that hospital patients who can see trees out their windows are
hospitalized 8 percent fewer days than their counterparts.
8. Temperature Control. The shade and wind-breaking
qualities that trees provide benefit everyone from the individual taking
shelter from a hot summer day to entire cities. The annual mean air temperature
of a city with 1 million people or more can be 1.8–5.4°F (1–3°C) warmer than its surroundings. Planting
trees reduces this “heat island effect”. And households with shade trees could
spend 12% less on cooling costs in the summer.
9. Flood Control. Trees can hold vast amounts of water that would otherwise stream down
hills and surge along rivers into towns. That’s why trees are such an important part of stormwater
management for many
10. Wildlife Habitat. Wildlife use trees for food,
shelter, nesting, and mating. These habitats support the incredible variety of
living things on the planet, known as biodiversity. By protecting trees, we
also save all the other plants and animals they shelter.
about the benefits of trees from our member organizations:
The Value of Trees to a Community, Arbor Day Foundation
Why it Matters, American Forests
Trees for Wildlife, National Wildlife Federation
Benefits of Tree Conservation, Scenic America
Monday, July 29, 2013 | By EarthShare | No Comments
Summer Fun To Help The Planet with Carbonfund.org
dotcalm9 / Flickr
It’s summertime and many of us are vacationing – this means
more airline flights and car trips, staying in hotels and resorts, dining out,
boating, and going on motorized tours.
While these activities are a lot of fun and sure to create family
memories, transportation alone accounts for 40 percent of our nation’s
fossil-fuel-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. In fact, just one vacation
can be worse than commuting for an entire year!*
This is why EarthShare member the Carbonfund.org Foundation, a climate solutions nonprofit
organization, has launched its “Environmental
Triple-Play” campaign to support your summer fun AND help you help the
environment. Their tree-planting donation program rewards participants with Restaurant.com
gift certificates – you’ll even get a chance to win a Caribbean trip.
tree-planting programs are tailored to the needs of communities around the
world, primarily in less developed countries. These projects create jobs,
fight the harmful effects of climate change, and move us toward a cleaner
environment and a ZeroCarbon® World. Trees help our planet by absorbing harmful
carbon dioxide, improving local air and water quality by filtering pollutants,
controlling flooding, and preserving biodiversity, among many other benefits.
Carbonfund.org’s tree-planting triple play
program is its most ambitious campaign ever, with a goal of planting 50 million
It’s simple to get involved:
Visit the Carbonfund.org
Facebook page where you can enter their vacation sweepstakes. Then, each
time you make a donation to plant trees, you’ll receive dining rewards; for instance, a $50 donation plants 50 trees and includes a $100 Restaurant.com
gift certificate. With a $100 donation, you’ll plant 100 trees and triple your donation dollars with a $300 Restaurant.com gift certificate.
“This is a
great deal for both people and our planet,” says Eric Carlson, president of
Carbonfund.org. “Carbonfund.org was founded with a mission to make
it simple and affordable for individuals and businesses to help improve the
environment and fight the effects of climate change.”
For more than ten years, the Carbonfund.org Foundation has
created innovative ways to engage and reward its supporters to hasten the
transition to an improved environment and a cleaner energy future. They support tree-planting projects in the
U.S. and worldwide, with the majority of the plantings happening in India,
South America and Haiti. Projects range
from large-scale reforestation not intended for timber or harvest activities,
to the integration of indigenous tree species with agricultural systems.
Learn more about the Carbonfund.org’s projects on
* Want to learn how to
reduce your carbon footprint when travelling? Visit the Union of Concerned
Scientists Getting There Greener Guide.
Monday, July 29, 2013 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
Will the energy future look like the present; in this case, a coal plant in Alma, Wisconsin? Photo: U.S. Geological Survey
The federal government’s latest international energy projections are out, and there’s no question we’re living in a time of enormous change—and perhaps remarkably little progress.
The International Energy Outlook from the U.S. Energy Information Administration tries to identify the big trends and projections affecting the energy world through 2040. Some of the trends include:
- The world is getting hungrier and hungrier for energy, but that’s mostly about China, India and the rest of the developing world. Energy consumption in countries that belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (basically the industrialized world) is expected to go up 17 percent by 2040. Consumption in countries outside the OECD is projected to nearly double. (See related interactive map: The Global Electricity Mix.)
- Renewable energy and nuclear power are projected to be the fastest-growing energy sources, increasing by 2.5 percent per year. Thanks to new sources opened by fracking, natural gas is projected to be the fastest-growing of the fossil fuels, and by 2040 half of all the natural gas produced in the U.S. will be shale gas.
- Because of improving technology, the world will continue to get more efficient in energy use, and that will have an impact on greenhouse gases.
Yet for all that, the EIA projects the world’s overall energy mix won’t change much at all by 2040.
Yes, renewables and nuclear are the fastest-growing sources. But overall, the percent of energy produced by fossil fuels will only drop from 84 percent today to 78 percent in 2040. Renewables only grow from 11 percent to 15 percent, and nuclear rises from 5 percent to 7 percent. Liquid fuels drop by 6 percent, largely because of rising prices. And despite all the debate about the decline of coal and rise of natural gas, the overall percentage of those two fuels barely changes at all. Given that picture, we still be pumping out plenty of greenhouse gases. EIA is predicting a 46 percent increase in global warming emissions during the study’s time frame.
There are important differences in what’s happening in developed nations versus emerging ones. For example, even though the EIA is projecting a small 1 percent drop in the share of coal used by 2040, it expects a dramatic increase in coal consumption between now and 2020, most of it coming from the developing countries that need cheap forms of energy to house and feed their growing populations and to industrialize.
Projections aren’t karmic. They depend on taking current trends and best estimates of what will happen if those trends continue. But it’s a fair question: if there’s so much activity around new energy sources, then why don’t the projections look different? Why don’t the changes have more traction?
The answer may lie in the fact that we haven’t, globally speaking, really reached consensus on the fundamentals: What kind of energy sources should we be using? What economic changes are we willing to make to back up those choices? What are developed nations willing to do to help poorer countries improve their citizens’ lives without depending so heavily on fossil fuels? Those of us living in the developed world have already reaped the benefits of industrialization based on cheap coal. It’s not surprising that developing nations would be tempted to follow the same path—and harder for us to preach to nations that are still building their economies. (See related story: “Desert Storm: Battle Brews Over Obama Renewable Energy Plan.”)
The fact is that the changes we’re making on energy are working on the margins, and that’s why the long-term projections only show marginal shifts. If you want big shifts, you have to start making big changes—and that means persuading the public that those changes are worth making. (See related story: “Climate Change Impact on Energy: Five Proposed Safeguards.”)
Thursday, July 25, 2013 | By National Geographic News | No Comments
Ivanpah, the world’s largest solar thermal plant, is to begin generating power this summer. Challenges included relocating a population of endangered desert tortoises.
Thursday, July 25, 2013 | By National Geographic News | No Comments
President Obama’s renewable energy drive would expand large-scale solar and wind projects on public lands. The plan is colliding with concerns over desert ecosystems.
Thursday, July 25, 2013 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
The electricity industry’s been abuzz recently about the need for a more resilient grid. As a result, microgrids are quickly becoming the industry’s topic du jour—in fact, they’re the theme of the current July/August issue of IEEE’sPower & Energy magazine. However, nobody is talking about what is likely the most compelling reason to invest in microgrids: to prepare for the zombie apocalypse.
Scoff at your own peril, but consider this: Doomsday Preppers—a reality TV show about families who stock up on non-perishable food, ammunition, fuel, and more in preparation for a potential apocalypse, zombie-induced or otherwise—is the most popular series of all time on the National Geographic Channel, pulling in 1.3 million viewers for the season two premiere in November last year. We love to speculate about (and for some of us, prepare for) our own theoretical doomsday. Witness the June release of the Brad Pitt feature film World War Z, not to mention the popularity of The Walking Dead, Night of the Living Dead, Resident Evil… need we go on?
If (or when) such a day arrives, communities with microgrids will stand the best chance for survival. Why? A well-designed microgrid—combining distributed, renewable resources such as solar PV and wind with smart auto-controls and energy storage—would continue to provide reliable power with little human control, keeping the lights on, even under chaotic circumstances. (See related quiz: “What You Don’t Know About Electricity.”)
NO PEOPLE, NO POWER: HUMAN OPERATORS KEEP THE U.S. ELECTRICITY SYSTEM RUNNING
Such apocalyptic scenarios make it illuminating to conduct a “war game” exercise with our national infrastructure, and especially our electricity grid. What would be the first thing to go wrong with our infrastructure if society were thrown into disarray by brains-hungry zombies? Without human beings around to perform certain routine tasks, the electricity system will quickly cease to function. In regions dependent on fossil fuels for electricity generation (i.e., the entire U.S.), power plants will shut down, or “trip,” within 24 hours (or less) without continuous fuel supply. As soon as one plant trips offline, voltage at various points along the transmission system will drop below preset thresholds, spurring a domino effect as automated protection devices kick in and disconnect additional sections of the network. This cascade of trips would bring the system to a standstill, and a blackout would ensue. (See related story: “High-Voltage DC Breakthrough Could Boost Renewable Energy.”)
A ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE ISN’T THE ONLY THREAT TO THE ELECTRICITY SYSTEM
Sure, this whole ‘zombie apocalypse’ thing may sound a bit far-fetched, and it is. (Then again, have you seen the CDC’s zombie apocalypse preparedness 101 information? Or the tropical fungus/parasite that takes over ants’ brains and turns them into real-life ant zombies?)
In all seriousness, while walking dead may never roam our streets, catastrophic events can debilitate localized or even regional populations and leave our energy assets without sufficient operational personnel. However, the loss of operational personnel isn’t the only, and not even the most likely, threat to America’s electricity grids. Coordinated terrorist attacks on the grid (including cyber attacks) keep Department of Defense officials up at night; insurance markets worry about the impact of an intense geomagnetic storm on the electricity system, many communities have already experienced first-hand the havoc that Mother Nature can wreak on an unprepared power system (e.g., blackouts resulting from heat waves, superstorms such as Sandy), and just this week the North American Electric Reliability Corp. and some 110 utilities announced that later this year they’ll conduct a mock exercise to see how our power system could handle a coordinated physical and cyber attack on the high-voltage transmission grid. Zombies or not, it’s a cruel world out there, and our electricity grid is looking mighty frail. (See related story: “As Sun Storms Ramp Up, Electric Grid Braces for Impact.”)
Many critical facilities (e.g., hospitals, military bases) have on-site diesel generators to provide emergency backup power. However, these generators have a 40 percent failure rate, are usually designed to run for 24 hours or less, and require an operator around to babysit them. With no one there to refill the fuel tanks, check the oil, and perform other basic maintenance, most of these generators will not last more than one or two days. Without backup generation, basic services like water and sewage treatment cannot function. During the Southern California Blackout, San Diego’s sewage pumps backed up after less than 12 hours without power, bringing the city dangerously close to a real health crisis.
Dr. Alexandra von Meier, Director of Electric Grid Research at the California Institute for Energy and Environment, points out that sewage may be the least of our problems in a prolonged blackout: “Your mention of sewage pumping is very important. I might say that besides your drains backing up, traffic signals being out (doesn’t matter because gas station pumps aren’t working), and food spoiling, the most immediately life-threatening thing about a widespread blackout is that you find you have no water pressure in your tap. No drinking water, and it’s hasta la vista, baby…”
NO PEOPLE, NO PROBLEM: AUTOMATED, RENEWABLES-FUELED MICROGRIDS ARE A ROBUST SOLUTION
Let’s revisit our zombie apocalypse war game scenario. This time, imagine you’re in a community with a microgrid that integrates renewable energy systems such as solar PV or wind, energy storage (e.g., batteries), and smart grid controls. What happens when people (but hopefully not you or us) start turning into zombies? With the right combination assets, the community’s microgrid could run on its own for days, weeks, or possibly even years … all with technology that is commercially available today! In addition to electricity, if your community were to invest in electric vehicles, as Indianapolis recently has, you’d also have mobility. Combine this with Tesla’s planned network of renewables-powered interstate charging stations, which Elon Musk has claimed could survive the zombie apocalypse, and you’d be good to go, literally. (See related story: “Second Life for Electric-Car Batteries: Guardians of the Electric Grid.”)
ZOMBIES ASIDE, THE MOVE TO MICROGRIDS SHOULD BEGIN NOW
The United States’ electricity grid is fragile, much more so than most people realize. Zombies or not, the reality is that the threats facing our nation’s infrastructure are no joke. As we’ve illustrated, numerous critical services are deeply dependent on our electricity system, and recent events like Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene, and the 2011 Southern California Blackout have made this clear. Should we be scared? Probably a little, but let’s take this as a call to arms: the time to reinvent our electricity system is now! Shifting toward automated microgrids that incorporate distributed, renewable energy sources represents the best opportunity to bring resiliency to our nation’s electricity system for the 21st century and beyond.
Tuesday, July 23, 2013 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
Egypt remains mired in crisis since the military-backed ouster of President Mohammed Mursi July 3. The ongoing political instability will further delay attempts to address one of the country’s thorniest economic issues: long-standing fuel subsidies that account for a fifth of state spending, a reported $17.4 billion over the past year.
Those subsidies played a role in the recent blackouts and fuel shortages that have paralyzed the streets of Cairo. While fuel subsidies have been important to maintaining socio-economic stability in Egypt for years, keeping gas prices under $2 per gallon, they also have created waste, a ballooning debt, and the smuggling of cheap fuel to sell at profit. (See related interactive: “Fossil Fuel Burden on State Coffers.”) Part of the debt includes more than $5 billion in payments to international energy firms producing oil and gas in the country. With its foreign currency reserves down by more than 60 percent in the past two years, amounting to $13.4 billion in March, Egypt is no longer able to afford the subsidies.
But previous attempts to cut subsidies on fuel and basic food items in Egypt have not gone well. In 1977, such an effort led to bloody riots that resulted in 80 deaths before President Anwar Sadat cancelled the reforms. According to a recent World Bank/Gallup’s public opinion poll in the Middle East and North Africa, Egypt and Jordan were most likely to resist subsidy reforms compared to other countries. Six in 10 Egyptians did not point to an item that merited a subsidy cut. But subsidies in this North African country, particularly for fuel, are turning into a macroeconomic nightmare.
Some moves have been made recently to address the problem. Egypt did raise some electricity prices, while energy-intensive industries now reportedly pay more for natural gas use. Last November, the Mursi government announced that it would roll out “smart cards” in July 2013, which would provide limited amounts of subsidized petrol and diesel and help reduce theft. However, on July 2, Egyptian officials lifted the limitation on quantities of subsidized fuel. They aim to use the “smart cards” to stem smuggling, which they believe is behind the current shortages. The state oil company, the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation, said in May that it also would address smuggling by maintaining the price at the global market level before fuel reaches the point of sale in a retail market.
But as the latest crisis leaves the economy in a nosedive with rising budget deficit, depletion of foreign exchange reserves, and investor skepticism, additional subsidy reform efforts may be necessary for Egypt to prevent a fiscal catastrophe. A much-needed loan of $4.8 billion from the IMF appears to be stalled in the wake of the latest political upheaval, but Egypt was already facing pressure to enact subsidy reform in order to secure the funding. And Egypt inevitably faces rising internal pressures as its population grows steadily, with the average gas demand rising about a reported 8 percent per year. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the current population of 85 million will expand by another 15 million in the next decade. Egypt is already a net importer of oil since 2008 and is expected to become a net importer of natural gas as well.
Yet fuel subsidy reform is achievable without causing social instability. Egypt can learn from lessons of other countries that managed to carry out such reforms. Examples of several African countries (Mozambique, Gabon, and Ghana, among others), Turkey, and Iran illustrate that a key to a smooth change is in careful planning combined with a strong public relations campaign and a gradual execution of reforms with targeted social and economic help to the poor. For example, Gabon and Ghana removed secondary education fees for students, boosted healthcare services to the poor, expanded the public transportation network, and provided other social protection services.
Unlike Iran, Egypt cannot afford to provide cash to a large segment of the population in order to compensate for raising fuel prices, but it can learn from Iran’s extensive public relations efforts to inform the public about social and economic harm of subsidies. A key message to the Egyptian people should be that only the upper 20 percent of the population benefit from fuel subsidies. Egypt can also learn from reform mistakes of other countries: Nigeria’s efforts to remove fuel subsidies in 2012 met bitter protests and led to partial abandonment of the reforms. Observers of Nigeria criticized the government’s hastiness to raise prices without measures in place to assist the poor and with little communication about planning or timelines. (See related story: “Nigeria’s Rocky Effort to Wean Itself From Susbsidized Fuel.”)
Tuesday, July 23, 2013 | By National Geographic News | No Comments
A new study shows compressed air storage in porous geologic formations could help the Pacific Northwest manage its surplus of intermittent renewable energy.