Thursday, 16 December 2010 15:44

Antarctic Ice Melts Further as Warmer Water Rises

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For more than a century, much of Earth's warming was buried deep in oceans and a new study reveals it's starting to surface in Antarctica. Global sea temperatures are on the rise, but the largest increase has been measured in the frigid waters off the Western Antarctic Peninsula, according to a report presented at a recent meeting of the American Geophysical Union by physical oceanographer Doug Martinson. The warm water is raising air temperatures, melting glaciers and already impacting penguin colonies. Scientists have estimated that more than 90% of the warming from human-generated greenhouse gases would end up in the oceans. Through the process of upwelling, that heat is now reaching the surface and causing 87% of alpine glaciers in that region to retreat, taking with it the Adele penguins' feeding platform – not to mention threatening their ice-dwelling diet of Antarctic krill and silverfish. Scientists are particularly concerned about the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers, located below the Antarctic Peninsula, which are thinning at a rate of 160 feet a year as warm waters eat away at their underside. "There's the potential that we're locked into long term sea level rise for a long time," Martinson told Discovery News. This finding makes finding solutions to reduce future greenhouse gas emissions even more important as we begin to feel the toll of past emissions.  Find out what you can do to mitigate further warming at is honored to sit on the Leadership Committee for National Wildlife Federation's 2011 National Conservation Achievement Awards Banquet. In addition to supporting this important event will be working with the event's greening committee to ensure that all the travel, hotel stay and premises emissions are carbon neutral. For 2011 National Wildlife Federation celebrates its 75th Anniversary and the start of one of America’s largest and most influential conservation organizations. In 1936, cartoonist J.N. “Ding” Darling called the nation’s first-ever meeting of conservationists to protect America’s vanishing wildlife resources. Out of this meeting, the National Wildlife Federation began. Since 1965, NWF has been honoring conservationists through its National Conservation Achievement Awards (also known as “The Connies”). This annual celebration honors individuals and organizations that have been conservation heroes. In the past this honor has gone to former Vice President Al Gore, author Thomas Friedman, former President Jimmy Carter, Lady Bird Johnson, Ted Turner, the Anheuser-Busch Companies and many other distinguished recipients. This year's event honors First Lady Michelle Obama, Robert Redford, AVEDA, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and Dr. Virginia Burkett. The event is Wednesday, April 13, 2010, 6:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. The evening will include a cocktail reception followed by a seated dinner program featuring Master of Ceremonies actress Gloria Reuben along with NWF Naturalist Dave Mizejewski and some of his animal friends. To learn more, please click here.
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="347" caption="UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses COP16 in Cancun, Mexico. "][/caption] The two-week United Nations climate summit in Cancun (COP16) wrapped up with a plan of action that promised aid for developing countries, technology transfer and the protection of more forests. But the summit was largely a failure and missed opportunity for not seeking greater accountability from countries to reduce emissions or agreeing on a more comprehensive set of solutions to climate change. has called upon countries to take action, at a minimum by extending the term of the Kyoto Protocol or by taking steps to build on the progress of Kyoto and the voluntary carbon markets. There are enough potential carbon buyers in the European Union, Japan, Australia and Canada and enough potential carbon sellers in China, India, Indonesia and Brazil to create a robust carbon reduction pact. “We have the technical capability and market readiness to transform our global economy to one where clean energy costs less than dirty energy and efficient technology costs less than inefficient technology,” said President Eric Carlson. The "Cancun Agreement" received near unanimous support from member states except Bolivia, which stood alone in condemning the document as too weak in its emissions targets and its accountability of industrialized nations. Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa, who presided over the conference, overruled Bolivia's dissent and declared the agreement official, stating "consensus doesn't mean unanimity." Wrangling nearly 200 nations into agreement was viewed as some progress, considering the initial opposition of carbon-emitting powerhouses United States and China. Among China's concerns was that foreign states might find themselves privy to sensitive national data. A compromise on monitoring meant that countries that fund climate mitigation can report their own progress, and nations receiving international support to fund their efforts will be subject to verification through biennial international consultations. American climate envoy Todd Stern told Reuters that China's willingness to take on an emissions commitment and to do so in a transparent manner helps ease concerns in the US about what rapidly developing countries are doing to fight climate change. Meanwhile, the US faces tough odds of meeting its Copenhagen pledge of a 17 percent cut in emissions by 2020 given a divided Congress and continued uncertainty over the steps that EPA will take to regulate emissions. The Cancun Agreement itself is more an action plan than an executable solution. The three main areas outlined in the agreement are: • Green Climate Fund. Rich nations will deliver $30 billion by 2012 to poor countries and follow that up with an annual transfer of $100 billion by 2020 for cleaner energy and to help them adapt to climate change impacts such as drought and sea level rise. The exact source of the funds is undefined. • Forest protection. Financial mechanisms were developed to prevent clear-cutting of tropical forests that serve to store carbon from the atmosphere. Details of how forests will be monitored are to be determined. • Technology Executive Committee. The group will set up rules to transfer clean energy technologies to poor nations. The problem with this plan is it comes much too late, doesn’t go far enough to make a big dent on climate change, and lacks teeth. The international community walked away from Cancun without creating a system to enforce these points, track the dollars or measure progress. Thus it will continue to fall primarily on non-governmental actors including individuals and businesses to fight climate change. The UN’s next step will be moving to action on these points by the next climate summit in Durban, South Africa beginning in November 2011. Also on the table in South Africa is the fate of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, set to expire 2012. The agreement, which included the European Union and industrialized nations but not the US, set reduction standards for greenhouse gas emissions. Renewal is uncertain as Japan and Russia are presently refusing to sign the protocol unless China and India are included.
Tuesday, 14 December 2010 17:58

Three Great Gifts under $35

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It happens every year. Your group gets everyone excited about a Secret Santa or White Elephant gift exchange, then sets a dollar limit that makes it pretty hard to give (or receive) something that's not going to end up at the bottom of a drawer. Or trapped in a spiral of regifting. If you're feeling hard-pressed to find a quality gift under $35, Grounds for Change, a certified carbon neutral product by our CarbonFree® certification program, is serving up three great options this year that you know will be enjoyed. Not only does Grounds for Change brew up rich, full-bodied, Fair Trade Organic coffees, it's a company run with a commitment to social and environmental sustainability that you can be proud supporting. Order before 11:00pm tonight to meet the standard ground shipping deadline to make sure your gift arrives by Christmas. After that they suggest upgrading to a expedited shipping method to have it by December 24th. Chocoholic Gift Box ($33.95) - Satisfy the craving for that perfect combination of coffee and chocolate with this box packed with three bags of organic beans and three different bars of dark chocolate. Femenino Gift Box ($33.95) - Celebrate Fair Trade and women's rights in coffee producing countries with this trio of blends from Mexico and Peru, plus a handmade copper and brass coffee scoop from Chile. Mini Medley Gift Box ($30.95) - A gift to indulge all tastes, this medley includes two bags of coffee, one box of tea and a canister of hot chocolate mix.
Tuesday, 14 December 2010 12:06

Flexible Solar Panels Popping up in Cities

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Building vast fields of solar panels is a clean and efficient way to power a community, but the challenge is in the long-distance transmission. Where are you going to find the space to build solar fields in huge cities like New York or Los Angeles? Developers have been chasing the solution in the form of very thin plastic solar cells that can be attached to anything from windows to car roofs, and one tech company took a leap forward to deliver. Konarka Technologies, Inc., already produces thin organic based photovoltaic (OPV) solar cells like the ones seen on backpacks that can charge your cell phone, but those only produce at a low energy level. Konarka's newest inception of OPV solar cells demonstrated a record-breaking 8.3% efficiency. The possibilities are great, although maybe not quite New York City-block huge. At least not right now anyway. San Francisco took the torch and ran with this innovation in 2009, outfitting bus stop shelters with thin OPV solar cells embedded in wavy red "Power Plastic." California sunshine is absorbed during the day and used to power the intercom, LED lighting and wireless routers for the city-wide WiFi that San Franciscans enjoy.
The 8.3% efficiency rating on flexible cells is about half the energy produced from the rigid, silicon-based solar panels, so it won't be lighting up entire cities just yet. Bus shelters are a small step but at least one in the right direction.
Thursday, 09 December 2010 12:36

Five Ideas for Alternative Gift Wrap

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Each year Americans produce four million tons of garbage from gift wrap and shopping bags alone, according to the waste watchers at Use Less Stuff. Reduce your landfill impact this holiday season by checking out these alternative ways to wrap gifts. 1. Seeded paper: Give two gifts in one by wrapping presents with seeded paper. Bloomin' Flower Cards makes a gift wrap from 100% recycled paper infused with wildflower seeds like Black-Eyed Susans and Forget-Me-Nots. Just take the wrapping outside, dig a shallow hole, drop the paper, cover with soil and water periodically. Flowers will burst from the site in 4-8 weeks. 2. Post-consumer wrapping paper: If sleek and smooth wrapping paper is more your style, there's no reason not to use a recycled brand. EndoPrint makes prints on 100% post-consumer waste paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. All ink is soy-based and non-toxic and, to top it off, completely chlorine-free. The company also supports wind power production. They have some really neat designs like candy cane snowflakes or deco orange pods. 3. Reused materials: Because you go straight to your GPS navigator for directions anyway, use old paper maps to make your gift stand out in intricately designed paper. If there aren't any maps lying around, used bookstores usually have diverse collection of metro, street and world maps. 4. Recycled bows: Some people save and horde gift bows for reuse, but if the bow coffers are low this year you don't have to run to the store to refill. Crafty how-to blog How About Orange takes you through four easy steps to make your own out of glossy magazine pages. 5. Fabric wrapping: Rather than trying to save and smooth out crumpled paper for next year, invest in a set of reusable fabric bags. There are a number of vendors who sell pre-made bags or fabrics cut to match different sized boxes, or you can watch this great video to learn how to use your own fabrics to wrap gifts in the Japanese Furoshiki style. Having trouble viewing the video? Please click here.
[caption id="attachment_6797" align="alignleft" width="275" caption="Bearded seal - the federal government has nominated two species of seals as threatened"][/caption] The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) proposed ringed seals in the Arctic Basin and North Atlantic and bearded seals in the Pacific Ocean be protected under the Endangered Species Act. There would be four subspecies of ringed seals and two of bearded seals listed. Both seals depend on ice, or ice floes, as a hunting platform for fish, as well as a place to give birth to their pups. Yet these floes are melting and are expected to continue to melt. "It's a clear indication that climate change is happening and it's affecting habitat," said NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service's Julie Speegle. Bearded seals eat small prey found along the ocean floor, like squid and clams, so relocating from sea ice to land would endanger their ability to maintain an adequate food supply. Ringed seals are the primary prey for polar bears and dig hiding holes in the ice to escape. The Endangered Species Act had been signed into law in 1973 to shelter species in danger of extinction as a "consequence of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation." NOAA climate models were used to predict future diminishing ice loss conditions. The government agency has a year to finalize its decision on designating the seals as a threatened species, which would require government agencies to take steps to increase the sea mammals' population and ensure that federal and commercial businesses, like gas, oil and shipping, don't further affect their habitat.
Tuesday, 07 December 2010 13:13

Supreme Court to Review Utility Emissions Case

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Can states sue electric companies for failing to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions? The Supreme Court has agreed to hear this case. The high-profile case, American Electric Power v. Connecticut, established in 2004 that coal-burning utilities were liable for lawsuits because of public nuisance for their contribution to global warming. The review by the Supreme Court is seen as a win for the utilities in question—American Electric Power, Duke Energy, Southern Company, Xcel Energy and the Tennessee Valley Authority—as it gives them the opportunity to try reversing the lower court's decision. The power companies assert that this is not a judicial issue but a legislative one that should be handled under the EPA's Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases, essentially that the Clean Air Act trumps common law decisions. However, as explained by UCLA law professor Jonathan Zasloff:
The EPA’s regulation only applies to mobile sources, not stationary sources like power plants.  Thus—and here is the kicker—until the EPA actually starts regulating all sources of carbon dioxide, the Court said that it can’t really determine whether or not displacement has occurred. This holding is potentially significant, because it can put polluters in a real bind.  Their normal strategy is to tie up new regulations in the courts for several years—maybe until they can get a more friendly administration.  But now, the Second Circuit has told them that the only way to get rid of the public nuisance lawsuit is to let those regulations go into effect.  The judges have told the power companies to choose their poison.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the appeal in March 2011.
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