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Monday, 10 June 2013 12:02

Jellyfish: the Ocean’s Canaries

Some may think jellyfish are simply a pesky problem when we want to take a swim or snorkel, but they are actually a sign of flagging oceanic health.  We think of them as the canary in the coal mine.  The difference is the canary dies when there is a problem, but jellyfish flourish in the conditions that global warming wreaks on our oceans.

Climate change heats and acidifies the planet’s oceans.  Overfishing adds to the first two major problems.  All three contribute to creating an ideal environment for jellyfish to thrive and multiply.  So what’s the big deal if there are too many jellyfish?

The issue is that jellyfish take a bad situation and make it worse.  They have a unique trait where they’re able to eat up the food chain.  This is surprising considering these sea creatures don’t even have brains.  However, they actually can consume animals that are bigger, smarter and faster than they are.  They damage the ecosystem further by competing with large mammals, such as whales, by feeding on the same fish and plankton that these other animals need to survive.

Marine expert Lisa-ann Gershwin wrote the new book Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean.  She points to an example where jellyfish wiped out an entire food chain simply by eating from the bottom up. 

The jellyfish species Mnemiopsis leidyi was accidentally introduced into the Black Sea in the early 1980s.  In just a few short years, these jellyfish comprised “95 per cent of the biomass in the Black Sea”.  This means “ninety-five per cent of every living thing was this one species of jellyfish”.

Jellyfish could rule our planet’s oceans as they once did in the Precambrian era.  A time when biodiversity was low, the jellyfish commanded the oceans, and mammals and reptiles did not exist.  This is a scary eventuality, that our feet are firmly planted on the path towards.  We need to heed the warnings that these gelatinous invertebrates provide and begin seriously reducing our carbon footprints and offsetting the rest of our carbon emissions.

Published in carbonfree blog
Wednesday, 23 January 2013 11:00

Rising Sea Levels and Sustainable Desalination

Depending on where in the world you live, it might be easy to forget that the environment is more than just the air we breathe or the land under our feet.  It’s important to keep in mind that the oceans also are being affected radically by climate change.  The oceanic problems are too numerous to list.  However, this week we are taking a closer look at one issue that people in different parts of the planet face, rising oceans as the polar ice caps melt and more saltwater.

Those of us that live in the United States might not be aware how rich we are in freshwater sources as say countries in the Middle East that are very arid environments.  Obviously those countries have other resources that we lack, but water is essential to life.  Our planet may be covered in a great deal of water, but much of it is unusable to humans in its natural state because of the high salt content. 

Did you know that salt is expelled from seawater when it freezes?  Although some brine is trapped, the overall salinity of sea ice is much lower than seawater.  So the seas are rising as previously permanently frozen parts of the planet melt.  This means that not only is there more water, but it’s becoming salty as it melts.

Desalination is any of several processes that remove some amount of salt and other minerals from saline water.  Unfortunately, it is quite an energy intensive process.  Last week, a new renewable energy desalination project was announced in Masdar, Abu Dhabi, which is in the United Arab Emirates.  The project seeks to transform seawater into useable, freshwater on land by building a commercially viable and renewable energy-powered desalination plant by 2020.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region of the Middle East is comprised of the Arabian Peninsula countries of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and the Sultanate of Oman.  The GCC formed in 1981 and uses about half the world’s desalinated water. 

Of course, accessing renewable energy is not the only impediment to sustainable desalination.  Another effect of global warming is oceanic acidification that contributes to massive algae blooms.  These algae blooms can shut down a desalination plant.  There are other unwanted components that might be present in seawater such as radioactive material from warships and nuclear power plants which would need to be removed before the water could be used safely.

Despite other lingering issues, it is still worth asking the question, “Can these enormous desalination plants powered by renewable energy help mitigate some of the issues we face from rising sea levels?”  The answer is, “Every bit helps.”  But don’t start thinking it’s a magic bullet since none exists.  We still all need to do our parts in reducing our carbon emissions and footprints.  However, it is good news that desalination can be a sustainable and environmentally responsible industrial solution and worth noting that low cost, low impact renewable energy technologies do exist.

Published in carbonfree blog

As part of the US economic recovery, residential housing market values and housing starts are watched closely as a key indicator to economic growth and stability.  Last week, Freddie Mac released its U.S. Economic and Housing Market Outlook for December, showing projections for modest but steady gains in both home value and housing starts in 2013.

These projections are good news for US home owners and for the thousands of businesses that depend upon new home construction, renovations, and an active home buyer/seller market.  CarbonFree® Business Partner Clear Estimates is one of these businesses; one that has maintained a five-year commitment to operating in a carbon emissions-neutral environment.

Clear Estimates, a father-son owned and operated business with three decades of experience, offers a cloud-based construction estimating software that enables contractors and home renovators to manage efficient and cost-effective home building and improvements projects.   Clear Estimates allows contractors to accurately anticipate the labor, materials, and their related costs that will be required for all aspects of a construction project and automatically drafts professional proposals ready for client presentation.

The Clear Estimates website serves as the business storefront, and their products are only distributed digitally. For the past three years Clear Estimates has implemented a “paperless” operational philosophy, limiting its carbon emissions footprint to the electrical energy required to run the computers and servers used for developing the product and supporting customers. To address the impact of their energy consumption emissions, Clear Estimates partnered with Carbonfund.org five years ago to neutralize their remaining operational emissions by supporting renewable energy projects each year.

"We chose Carbonfund.org because of its solid reputation," confirms Nolan Orfield.  "As the leading nonprofit carbon offsetting organization it is clear they are a reliable resource for any business or individual hoping to protect our most important asset, the environment."

Published in carbonfree blog

It seems only fitting that a business that depends entirely on organic and natural herbs, flowers, and medicinal plants would maintain a strong commitment to environmentally responsible business practices.  Carbonfree® Business Partner Mountain Rose Herbs sets a high standard in this regard and has made significant steps in following Carbonfund.org’s motto of “reduce what you can, offset what you can’t™” by lessening its energy consumption prior to neutralizing their remaining annual operational emissions with Carbonfund.org.

Mountain Rose Herbs’ primary facility was constructed with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards and relies heavily on natural lighting.  Energy demand was further reduced by making a complete lighting upgrade to energy-efficient bulbs in their principal facilities and installing Energy-Star rated heating and cooling systems.  In addition, Mountain Rose Herbs upgraded all their computers to those with Gold Star ratings for energy conservation, minimal shipment packaging and elimination of environmentally-harmful materials as well as more energy-efficient flat screen monitors.  Mountain Rose Herbs converted all electrical usage to their local Greenpower program to ensure that a significant portion of their electricity comes from wind and solar sources. 

Despite all of these energy-saving measures and efficiency enhancements, Mountain Rose Herbs still generates a measurable annual carbon emissions footprint from its business operations.  In order to neutralize these annual operational emissions, Mountain Rose Herbs has partnered with Carbonfund.org for the past four years to measure and offset these unavoidable emissions by supporting Carbonfund.org’s clean energy and carbon reduction projects. 

"If we are to move past coal and look forward to a greener future that is full of alternative energy, then we must support the endeavors of Carbonfund.org, who are creating the infrastructure necessary to make it happen," states Shawn Donnille, Vice President of Mountain Rose Herbs. 

We applaud Carbonfree® Partner Mountain Rose Herbs for pursuing a meaningful commitment to environmentally-conscious business operations, measuring and neutralizing their annual carbon emissions, and supporting our clean air technology projects.

Published in carbonfree blog