Gas-powered Cars Set to be Banned in Europe by 2050

electric car fueling

The European Union (EU) announced on Monday that it will endorse a new long-term transport strategy which could ban cars fueled by gasoline or diesel by the year 2050.  Environmentalists and automakers alike expressed their mixed feelings towards the new plan.

Labeled Transport 2050, the strategy plans to shift the majority of passenger transport to alternatives such as high-speed rail, mandate a 40 percent use of sustainable low carbon fuels in aviation, and require a 40 percent reduction in shipping emissions.

The Vice-President of the European Union, Siim Kallas, said, “Transport 2050 is a roadmap for a competitive transport sector that increases mobility and cuts emissions. We can and we must do both. The widely held belief that you need to cut mobility to fight climate change is simply not true.”

“We can break the transport system’s dependence on oil without sacrificing its efficiency and compromising mobility,” said Kallas. “It can be win-win.”

With the European Union’s 500 million citizens, the commission states that its goal is to create a Single European Transport Area.  This area will benefit from more competition and have a fully integrated transport network which links the different means for travel and allows for a profound shift in transport patterns for both passengers and freight.

In the urban section of transport, this will mean that cleaner cars and alternative fuels will be required.  Transport 2050 calls for a 50 percent shift away from petroleum-fueled cars by 2030, and a complete phase-out by the year 2050.

As for the European high-speed rail network, the goal is to triple the length of its existing tracks by 2030 and maintain a “dense railway network” in all member states.  Ultimately, the majority of medium-distance passenger transport would be by rail as of 2050.

30 percent of road freight, that travels over 300 kilometers, will be shifted to rail or water transport by 2030, and more than 50 percent by the year 2050.  To accommodate the shift, new technology for efficient, green freight will have to be developed.

These strategies, and others outlined in Transport 2050, would ultimately contribute to a 60 percent cut in transport emissions by the middle of the century.

The European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) said automakers support the “holistic” approach to transport, but the pre-defined method “sends the wrong signal on the acknowledged principle of ‘co-modality.'”  The main objection of the automakers is to the mandated shift from road freight transport to other means such as rail or water.

“A simple call for a decrease in the use of motor vehicles will not provide the easy solution it appears to be, because there will not be less demand for the flexible solutions that road transport provides in contrast to other modes,” said ACEA Secretary General Ivan Hodac.

Many environmentalists in the United Kingdom said they support the general goals of Transport 2050, but some disagree with the means for arriving at those goals.

The UK’s Friends of the Earth transport campaigner Richard Dyer said, “Weaning our transport system off its oil addiction is essential to protect people from soaring fuel prices and the planet from climate change. We’re all paying the price for a transport policy that’s been heading in the wrong direction for far too long.”

“Phasing out cars that run on fossil fuels from cities is a good way to kick-start action, but despite these headline grabbing proposals the emission reduction targets in the plan lack ambition,” said Dyer.

“Commercial biofuels are not the answer,” he said. “There’s growing concern that commercial fuel crops imported into Europe are destroying forests, driving people off their land and generating more emissions than they save.”

“Instead we need better public transport, smarter cars that use less fuel and more walking and cycling for shorter journeys,” said Dyer. “And our planning systems must be overhauled to reduce the distances people need to travel for work or essential services.”

The reasons stated for the implication of Transport 2050 are the increasing scarcity and unstable supply of oil, along with the imminent need to limit human-induced climate change.

Photo credit: tva.gov

India’s Tiger Population Increases for the First Time in a Century

Endangered Tiger

For the first time since the beginning of the 20th century, India’s population of tigers has actually increased.  Since 2007, the population of tigers residing in India has increased by 225 according to the results of the latest census released at the International Tiger Conservation Conference underway in New Delhi.

The Indian government estimates the tiger population to be at 1,706, up from 1,411 during the last count taken in 2007.  The only discrepancy with this number is that the new figure includes an additional tiger reserve, called Sundarbans, which contains 70 tigers and was not counted in the 2007 figure.  A considerable increase in the tiger population was found throughout India’s southern states, with Karnataka showing the highest figure of an estimated 320 tigers.

“These numbers give us hope for the future of tigers in the wild, and that India continues to play an integral role in the tiger’s recovery,” said World Wildlife Fund (WWF) International Director General Jim Leape.

Environment Minister of India, Jairam Ramesh, announced the new numbers on Monday at the opening of the conference.  According to him, close to 30 percent of the estimated tiger population is outside of India’s 39 tiger reserves.

India’s National Tiger Conservation Authority conducted the count with help from many key nongovernmental partners in the largest tiger population survey every taken.

At the turn of the 20th century, the worldwide population of tigers was estimated to be at more than 100,000.  Since that time, tiger’s have lost more than 94 percent of their home range and a devastating 97 percent of their total population, leading them to be place on the endangered species list by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in 1969.

Dwindling numbers can be accredited to poaching, illegal trade, and habitat destruction, leading to a total world population of only 3,200 tigers today.  While all of these are still relevant problems, conflict with people has recently emerged as one of the major threats to tiger conservation, especially in India where half of the world’s remaining tigers reside.

Water Resources Minister of India, Salman Khurshid, said, “We came late on industrial revolution of our country, unlike western parts. We have many challenges to ensure that balance is maintained between development and environmental ecology. Tiger has become a national symbol, so we need to save tiger. Development and environment have to go together.”

At India’s invitation, representatives of the 13 tiger range countries met at the conference this week in collaboration with the Global Tiger Forum and the Global Tiger Initiative.  The participants include leaders from all 13 countries, scientist, and conservation organizations including the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Wildlife Trust of India.

Drawing heavily from India’s experience, the Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP) was approved at the Tiger Summit held in St. Petersburg last November.  India’s experience is key due to its growing network of tiger reserves, proven methods for monitoring tiger numbers, and a publicly committed government.

The November summit set goals of doubling the worldwide population of tigers by the year 2022 through efforts funded by a projected $350 million over the next five years.  The GTRP is the first formalized international initiative to save the species from extinction.

“As seen from the results, recovery requires strong protection of core tiger areas and areas that link them, as well as effective management in the surrounding areas,” said Mike Baltzer, who heads WWF’s Tigers Alive Initiative. “With these two vital conservation ingredients, we can not only halt their decline, but ensure tigers make a strong and lasting comeback.”

“The good news is that we can save the tiger,” said Azzedine Downes, executive vice president of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. “To do so, the world community must find new ways of working together and the political will to translate talk into action. The global action plan’s goal to double the wild tiger population by 2022 is a positive step in that direction.”

Wild tigers currently reside in the countries of India, Russia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, and China.

Photo source: www.grotonsd.gov

Oldest Known Bird Survives the Tsunami’s Damage

laysan albatross WisdomMarch 25, 2011 – Brett Leverett

In the wake of an 8.9 magnitude earthquake just outside of Japan, a devastating tsunami swept throughout the Pacific Ocean damaging everything from nuclear power plants to wildlife refuges.  Tsunami warnings ranged as far away as Alaska, but the brunt of the impact was taken much closer.

The oldest free-flying bird was residing on Sand Island, a part of a National Wildlife Refuge between Hawaii and Japan, when the tsunami struck on March 11.  This 60-year old albatross was one of nearly a million Laysan albatross which reside in the refuge.

Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge is composed of three islands within a reef only about 5 miles across. The quake generated four successive waves with the tallest at 1.5 meters.  These waves pounded the refuge, nearly completely immersing one island.

The series of waves killed an estimated 2,000 adult albatrosses and about 110,000 chicks in the refuge.  While these numbers are only a fraction of the total population, nearly 20% of this year’s hatchlings did not survive.

To the surprise of many, federal officials announced on Tuesday that the elderly bird named Wisdom and her recently hatched chick were spotted alive about a week after the tsunami hit.

“It’s a dangerous world out there. There’s lots going on, so I would say she’s very lucky… Although wildlife biologists generally manage at the level of populations, we, too, become entwined in the fates of individual animals. Wisdom is one such special creature,” Barry Stieglitz, project leader for the Hawaiian and Pacific Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex, said in a statement.

Wisdom, a 60 year old Laysan albatross, holds the record as the oldest wild specimen documented during the 90-year history of the U.S. and Canadian bird-banding research program.  She was initially tagged with her aluminum identification band in 1956 and was estimated to be five years of age at that time.

“Because she is the oldest, she’s able to provide us some information that no other albatross can at this point in time, and that’s exactly how long-living are these animals,” Stieglitz said.  Biologists estimate that Wisdom has logged about 3 million flying miles in her lifetime, the equivalent of six round trips to the Moon.

All but two of the 21 species of albatrosses are in danger of extinction, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

The birds commonly drown after diving for bait used for long-line fishing, or die from being hooked on a long-line dyed blue for the night.  According to the United States Geological Survey, chicks’ deaths can be credited to lead poisoning from old paint, and from dehydration caused by being unknowingly fed regurgitated food containing plastic and other trash floating in the ocean.

The Laysan albatross breeds on the Hawaiian islands of Oahu and Kauai and feeds off the western coast of North America, including the Gulf of Alaska. One will spend its first three to five years in constant flight, never touching land, and is believed to even sleep while aloft.

After their first three to five years in flight, they return to their colony but do not mate for their first time until seven or eight years old.  During their return time at the colony they form pair bonds with a mate they will typically keep for life.  Courtship involves a process of elaborate dances with have up to 25 ritualized movements.

Occasionally the birds form homosexual pairs consisting of two females.  This has been observed in colonies where the sex-ratio of male to female is two to three.  Unpaired females pair up among themselves and successfully breed.  These eggs are commonly fathered by already paired males, who “cheat” on their spouse.

Although Wisdom has outlived her spouse, many female Laysan also form permanent bonds amongst themselves to help cooperatively raise their young.

Wisdom’s latest chick, believed to be her 35th, hatched nearly a month ago making her not only the oldest free-flying bird, but also the oldest free-flying mother at the age of 60.

Photo source USGS

Redondo Beach Harbor Was Filled with Dead Fish

Dead fish sardinesEstimates put the number of fish that washed up dead in the harbor area of Redondo Beach, California at approximately a million fish.  Puzzled authorizes have been working on a clean-up effort to eradicate the dead fish which stack over a foot deep on some parts of the marina floor.

The King Harbor Marina, just south of Los Angeles, provides 850 boat slips to private vessels.  Within a closed-off section of its pier, the California Department of Fish and Game has declared that the number of dead fish can be estimated at roughly one million. The majority of these are fish sardines, but a number of local small fish also filled the masses.

According to the California Fish and Game, biologists have tentatively concluded that the fish died from oxygen deprivation after being driven by a storm into a closed-off pier area.  Their spokesman, Andrew Hughan said, “It looks like they just swam in the wrong direction and ended up in a corner of the pier that doesn’t have any free-flowing oxygen in it.”

“There’s nothing that appears to be out of sorts, no oil sheen, no chemicals, no sign of any kind of illegal activity,” Hughan said. “As one fisherman just told me, this is natural selection.”

Local authorities said that incidents such as these were rare but not unheard of.  Nonetheless, the scale was impressive to locals at King Harbor.

Some of the dead fish have been shipped to a Fish and Game laboratory for study, but according to the authorities the cause is likely to be uncomplicated.  “The fish appeared to have come into the marina during the night and probably couldn’t find their way out,” said Hughan.

According to him, there is no safety issue at all but “it’s going to smell bad for quite a while.”

The local fire department, harbor patrol, and other various city workers were helping to scoop the dead fish up in nets and buckets.  From there, a skip loader would carry them into large trash bins.

Cleaning up a million fish is no easy task and city officials estimate the cleanup will cost them $100,000.  The local Fire Chief Dan Madrigal said the fish would be taken to a landfill specializing in organic materials.

While city workers did their part to clean up the mess, nature was doing its own part.

“The seals are gorging themselves,” Hughan said.  The mass of dead fish has led to a feeding frenzy amongst local predators.  Other large groups of fish could be seen nibbling at the floating carcasses.

“The sea’s going to recycle everything. It’s the whole circle-of-life thing,” Hughan said.

The marina’s tenant services coordinator, Trudy Padilla, said the dead fish suddenly began showing up overnight, and that one end of the marina was blocked off as cleanup operations went underway.  The smell of decay had not become overwhelming yet, but she claimed, “It’s going to if they don’t clean up the fish.”

Despite the initial statements by the Fish and Game Department, some of the locals have developed their own stories of what they believe was the cause.

Gabrielli, a marina employee, claimed that the fish must have have moved into the harbor to escape a red tide, and then possibly became trapped due to high winds overnight.

Ed Parnell, a marine ecologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography called Gabrielli’s theory plausible.  Although Parnell said that these types of mass fish deaths are more typically seen in the Gulf of Mexico or the Salton Sea; the enormous desert lake in southeastern California where millions of fish have been known to die overnight.

Redondo Beach police sergeant, Phil Keenan, said he believed that a predator fish probably chased the sardines into the marina where the small area forced them into suffocation.

Raphael Kudela, a professor of ocean sciences at University of California, Santa Cruz, called it “unusual but not uncommon.”  According to him, sardines are not very intelligent fish.

“They are that dumb actually,” he said. “It’s possible they were avoiding a red tide or a predator forced them into shallow water. They get into shallow water and then can’t figure out how to get back out and you’ve got such a concentration in one small area they literally pull the oxygen down until they suffocate.”

Photo source: Flavia Brandi

Emperor Penguin Colony Dissapears

Pair of Emperor PenguinsThe British Antarctic Survey (BAS) has recently noted that a small colony of well documented emperor penguins no longer reside on their island off the West Antarctic Peninsula.  Scientists believe that the loss of the colony is due to a reduction in sea ice, which would normally be an important habitat for the penguins to nest and forage for food.  This report comes from the February edition of the scientific journal.

According to researchers from BAS and the Scott Polar Research Institute, this is the first documented case of an emperor penguin colony disappearing. 

All penguins have a common trait in their ability to fly, but emperor penguins stand above the rest; literally.  They are the largest of all the penguins, reaching heights of nearly 4 feet (1.2 meters) tall and weighing 70 to 90 pounds (30 to 40 kilograms).  Emperors can mate as early as 4 years of age and live to be 20 years old.

Aside from being the largest, these penguins are arguably one of the most biologically interesting.  Emperors do not migrate outside of Antarctica, but actually breed on the sea ice in some of the coldest conditions on Earth. Instead of building nests or defending a fixed territory, they use their warm bodies to incubate and raise their young.  Emperors are the only Antarctic bird that breeds in winter, and this unique breeding habit may have developed to allow chicks to grow to be independent at a time when food is most plentiful and predators are few.

The small colony of these penguins, previously residing on Emperor Island, was discovered in 1948 when a team of scientists recorded seeing 150 pairs gathering to breed.  Unfortunately these numbers have been declining steadily since 1970.  As of 2009, a high resolution survey taken from the sky recorded no remaining trace of the once thriving colony.  The observed decline and loss of this colony has an uncanny correlation with a rise in local air temperature and seasonal changes in the duration of the sea ice.

Regarding the first documented loss of an emperor penguin colony, the lead author from BAS, Dr. Phil Trathan, writes,

“It is not clear whether the colony died out or relocated. Emperor penguins are thought to return each year to the sites where they hatched, but the colonies must sometimes relocate because of changes in the sea ice. It is clear that emperor penguins are vulnerable to changes in sea ice and the one site in Antarctica where we have seen really big changes in ice is the West Antarctic Peninsula. For much of the 20th century, this region has warmed at an unprecedented rate, particularly in recent decades. Continued climate change is likely to impact on future breeding success.”

The paper also looks into alternative hypothesis of why this colony disappeared.  Possibilities include unusual weather conditions, impacts from tourism, disease, and loss of food due to competition with fisheries. According to the authors, competition with fisheries and impacts from tourism can be ruled out, and there is no data to support the hypothesis of disease or unusual weather conditions.

A prolonged warm period in the late 1970’s resulted in an emperor penguin population decline of nearly 50% in the Terre Adélie region.  This warm period caused a reduction in sea-ice coverage and is blamed to be the reason for the increased adult mortality, particularly among males.  The species is unfortunately considered to be highly sensitive to climate changes.  Studies show that even an abnormal increase in sea-ice coverage can also lead to reduced rates of egg hatching success.

Due to the effects of climate change and industrial fisheries, the emperor penguin is on the decline and is up for consideration to be placed on the US Endangered Species list.

photo credit: www.usap.gov

Floating Solar Power Systems

floating solar panelsMarch 12, 2011 – Brett Leverett

Current solar farms are considered an environmentally friendly, renewable form of energy, but they commonly face two major problems.  These energy systems require vast amounts of space and their cost is high due to cell fabrication methods and maintenance.

In the never ending search for more power, Israel and France have teamed up to offer a new way to capture solar energy; floating solar power plants.

Dubbed AQUASUN, this prototype is scheduled to be completed by September 2011.  The tests will take place at Cadarache, in southern France, on a site that is relevant to the French electric grid.  The water surface to be used for the installation of the system is taken from a hydro-electric facility in that area. 

Over a period of nine months, the system’s performances and productivity will be assessed through seasonal changes and variations in water levels.  The researching team believes that after this test period, they will have enough information for their technology to hit the market.

 Even leading photovoltaic companies struggle to find the vast areas needed for their solar energy systems.  While there are millions of acres of unused land that is suitable for these systems, the problem is finding land that is relevant in location to where the power will be used.  This prototype aims to use an untapped surface; water.  By creating a floating solar power system, photovoltaic energy can be harnessed from almost anywhere that has sufficient solar energy.

The intended water basins which could host this new style of system are not on the open ocean or in ecologically-sensitive areas.  Instead, reservoirs already in use for industrial or agriculture purposes can be utilized without causing a disruption to the natural ecosystem.  “It’s a win-win situation,” declares Dr. Kassel, a leading researching on the project, “since there are many water reservoirs with energy, industrial or agricultural uses that are open for energy production use.”

In order to fund this project, the research team had to prove that their floating solar system would also be cost efficient compared to current systems.  The first way they accomplished this was by reducing the number of solar cells needed by the addition of a sun energy concentration system.  Mirrors will be set up around the cells to help redirect some of the sun’s energy that would otherwise be lost, while maintaining a steady amount of power produced.

The second means for reducing cost is found in the cooling system.  Normally, lower efficiency cells are used for solar systems because they do not require a separate cooling source.  By incorporating the water on which the solar panels float as a cooling method, this prototype can use silicon solar cells which are cheaper and more efficient.  Thus saving money in production cost and gaining money through energy output.

These floating solar systems will not be limited to the amount of power they can produce.  It is possible to assemble as many of the 200 kilowatt modules as needed; as they are all identical.  The only limiting factor is the amount of surface area available for use in the water basin.

Even with the intention of these floating solar systems to be used on water basins that are not ecologically sensitive, the team worked on reducing the environmental impact of their technology.  By making the system permeable, a sufficient amount of oxygen can still reach the water and maintain the life of plants and animals living there.  Dr. Kassel adds: “One of the implementation phase’s goals is to closely monitor the possible effects of this new technology on the environment with the help of specialists… a preliminary check shows no detrimental environmental impact on water quality, flora or fauna. Our choices of materials were always made with this concern in mind.”

Photo credit: business.vic.gov

Great Barrier Reef Devastated by Australian Floods

March 1, 2011 – By Brett Leverett

Australians weren’t the only ones impacted by the flooding that occurred in January.  An unexpected victim is the Great Barrier Reef and the marine life that depends on the reef for survival.

The greatest flooding to hit Queensland State in over 50 years has carried mass amounts of sediment from the Fitzroy, Burnett and Burdekin Rivers into waters at the southern end of the reef.

This sediment contains deadly pesticides and fertilizers which have caused a significant amount of damage to the coral.  Based on past research, predictions look grim for the largest reef system in the world.

“Our work has shown that high levels of nutrients and sediments can reduce coral diversity and increase the cover of seaweeds on inshore reefs,” says Katharina Fabricius, a researcher at the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

Furthermore, previous large floods along the Burdekin, one of several rivers that have flooded in Queensland, have led to outbreaks of a starfish that can single-handedly overtake reefs.

The crown-of-thorns starfish has a nasty taste for eating coral and is considered to be the greatest cause of coral mortality in the reef.  This starfish apparently thrives on the conditions created by flooding.  The last 3 major floods to hit the reef are all correlated with the largest outbreaks of the crown-of-thorns.

Scientifically known as acanthaster planci, the crown-of-thorns live and prey on live corals; killing them in the process.  Through this destructive feeding, crown-of-thorns can disrupt an entire reef’s ecosystem.  There are numerous records of these starfish outbreaks, proving the massive amounts of damage they can cause.  Unfortunately, coral reef ecologists have not discovered a good solution to deal with these harmful pests.

For the marine life caught up in the polluted waters, their fates look grim.  Many of the bigger species of fish can swim away from the deluge of fresh water, but smaller coral reef fish may suffer the same fate as the corals they live around.  This temporary loss of fish may be the cause of the crown-of-thorns population explosion.  Many of the fish that typically live in the reef are the only form of predators to this starfish, and in the absence of these predators the crown-of-thorns has the chance to thrive.

Even with the threat of a crown-of-thorns population boom, their effect is not instantaneous and will take some time to fully develop.  But the immediate aftermath of the flooding has lead to a potentially stressed coral system.  The sediment that has affected the beds of sea grass can trigger a series of stressful events; killing off large sections of coral and leaving it vulnerable to further complications.

Michelle Devlin, a researcher at James Cook University in northern Queensland stated, “You get very stressed corals, you get stressed sea grass… So let’s just say that a big cyclone came along, knocked them all out. They might not recover so well because they are already very stressed.”

Unfortunately for the Great Barrier Reef, the cyclone Yasi struck the Queensland coast on February 3rd. 

Typically, cyclones and coastal flooding are actually key components of a reef’s life-cycle.  But the abnormal changes in water quality and the excessive volume of fresh water run-off have caused problems.  Scientists fear that increasing levels of toxicity reaching the reef could start a downward spiral of destruction.

Coral realistically can’t compete with this level of pollution.  Although despite the obvious destruction, the Great Barrier Marine Park Authority is optimistic.  They believe that damaged portions of the reef could make a significant recovery in five to ten years. However, they point out that the full extent of the damage to the reef is still unknown.

Photo Credit: Rob and Stephanie Levy

Solar Panels for Purchase at British Supermarkets

March 1, 2011 – Brett Leverett

Solar panels have hit the supermarket, marking a significant milestone in the solar power industry.

Sainsbury’s, the third largest supermarket chain in the U.K., has partnered with British Gas to bring energy efficiency and groceries together. 

They call it “Sainsbury’s Energy” and it will offer customers access to new energy technologies, energy deals, information, and energy saving advice.  All of this is found within the supermarket and presented by trained energy experts.

Sainsbury’s is now Britain’s one stop shop for gas and electricity, solar panels, insulation, and home energy assessments.  Not surprisingly, you won’t actually see rows of solar panels next to your tomatoes as they are not stocked within the store.  Instead, customers are able to order their efficient devices as they pick up their weekly groceries, while Sainsbury’s Energy delivers and installs the products at the home.

This energy revolution shines light on the British government’s attempt to make its country’s homes more efficient through an energy bill labeled the “Green Deal

Despite having some of the lowest energy prices in Western Europe, British homes have some of the highest bills.  This is due to a lack of energy efficiency measures, such as insulation, and because of a low take-up of new energy technologies like solar panels and ground source heat source pumps. 

A quarter of the UK’s carbon emissions come from the energy used to heat homes.  The “Green Deal” allows a British home owner to install energy saving means without costing them anything up front.  Consumers will pay for the products through monthly installments added to their energy bill.

Sainsbury’s is capitalizing on the government’s incentives towards energy efficiency and making it easy for the public to take advantage of them. 

Knowledge is half the battle, and recent surveys have shown that 87% of British consumers don’t know what microgeneration technologies are, and 80% don’t know where to go to buy them.  The next time they take this survey, these numbers may be drastically changed due in part to Sainsbury’s effort.

Ease of purchasing isn’t the only enticing part of energy needs met at the supermarket.  Sainsbury offers large amount of reward points which in turn can pay for anything from groceries to vacation packages.  Each solar panel installed will give members 10,000 reward points, good for a Sainsbury credit of 50 Euros.  With the variety of energy saving products that the supermarket now offers, you can even use the points you get from solar panels to add insulation to your home.

To help promote their new line of products, a Sainsbury’s Energy roadshow will tour their supermarkets up and down the country all year long.  A fully interactive energy display truck will allow customers to talk to experts and see new home energy generation technologies in action.

Solar power still has a long way to go before it becomes a viable energy solution.  Solar technology is progressing but the reality is that solar panels are expensive and it will take a massive adoption of them before they will get cheaper.  

Governments worldwide need to offer incentives to home and business owners in order to make energy solutions economically viable.  As the price of oil continues to rise, you may find energy solutions similar to Sainsbury’s available for purchase at a store near you.  Even if Sainsbury’s Energy doesn’t sell home energy solutions to all their customers, they offer a free education on current energy trends which can only serve help lower our carbon footprint.

They may be the first, but depending on how successful Sainsbury’s new campaign is, other corporations may follow suit and incorporate new green technologies into their product list.  We are witnessing a change in energy trends, and being green is becoming as easy as satisfying your grocery list.

Photo: Derek Harper

Video: The TVCGroup

Going “Green” on the Green

January 18, 2011- By Brett Leverett

When it comes to going green, golf courses have ironically been going in the wrong direction.  Since the beginning of the 20th Century, traditional links have turned into massive resorts.  Natural water hazards and local plants have been replaced by artificial ponds and invasive species.  The seemingly pristine environment you will find when swinging your clubs has damaged the soil structure, drained precious water resources, and leaked uncontrollable amounts of chemicals into the surrounding ecosystem. 

Doesn’t sound like a way to relieve your stress anymore, does it?  Yet, like with every unplayable lie, we find a solution to our problem.  Some golfers have begun to fight against this stigma, and take tips from the past to create courses which are as green as they look.

El Chocolatal golf course in Bolivia is one course that has completely thrown out the modern rule book for constructing a golf course.  Buying a devastated piece of land that was already heavily logged and used for slash and burn agriculture, the developers of this course have created a sustainable playing ground.  Their secret has been the use of golf literature which predates modern pesticides and fertilizers. 

Without adding any new soil from the outside, they have used the existing soil to the best of its abilities.  The native, sandy soil facilitates internal drainage and allows the grounds to be usable even during prolonged downpours.  “Push up” greens have been built by simply taking soil from other parts of the course and adding it where necessary while their bunkers have been dug out to expose more playable sand.  Hidden compost piles are scattered around the property which are combined with fairways that make good use of a natural nutrient cycling system from mowing, grazing horses, and brush falling from the surrounding forest.

This is a step in the right direction compared to importing premier sand and soil from around the world.  Instead of relying on harmful chemicals, which will leak into the surrounding water system, truly “green” courses use a natural defense.  Local ecosystems have already developed their own unique, sophisticated systems in order to function; so why not take advantage of them?  While infestations that kill the turf are usually dealt with pesticides, patience allows a natural defense to counteract those pests without the harmful chemicals.

However, new technology is not always a negative concept when it comes to going “green” on the greens.  There are current strategies available which can turn a golf course into a certified wildlife refuge.  The Tournament Players Club in Dearborn, Michigan, is a great example of modern techniques and ideologies used for the benefit of the environment.

Jack Nicklaus designed this championship course on a dump site previously used by the Ford Plant.  Sprucing up the suburbs of Detroit, the management of this course uses daily measurements to see if watering is necessary.  But, of course, the land sits on a flood plain and uses a relative small amount of water.  The course has become home to wildlife spread throughout the suburbs which sparsely had a home before.  Like many other courses, the wildlife found here is more concentrated and diverse than its surrounding area.

Even with a few courses setting an example for the rest of the golf world, we still have a long way to go before we can consider golf to be environmentally friendly.  While the average American golf course consumes nearly 50 million gallons of water a year (comparable to the yearly usage of 1,400 people), courses can use “gray water” instead; nonindustrial waste water that is recycled for purposes other than drinking.  Development of the land can be done without heavy machinery, and on top of areas like landfills which would not support a diverse habitat otherwise.  There are even companies which have begun producing solar powered golf carts.  With a combination of strategies from the past and present, golf can officially prove it is worthy of using the name “green”.

Photo by Ulrich Mayring

Zero-Carbon Emission Motorcycles

By: Brett Leverett, January 13, 2011

When you think of a motorcycle, you probably imagine a heart-stopping growl growing louder and louder until chrome straight pipes roar past you at 70 miles per hour.  Don’t let your ears fool you when you experience a new style of motorcycles being perfected in our own backyard.

Electric motorcycles are hitting the streets without making any noise.  As the sale of hybrid and electric cars skyrocket, it’s amazing that this new style of motorcycle has gone seemingly unnoticed.  Providing a nearly silent ride, and with countless more capabilities than a scooter, three American companies are leading us into the future with electric street motorcycles priced for popular consumption.

All starting at under $10,000, The Zero S, Brammo Enertia and Native S were created to completely restructure the way we think about environmentally friendly transportation.  With the computing power of a laptop (yet six times the battery life) and an engine that lacks many of the complex moving parts found in an Internal Combustion Engine motorcycle, mechanical repairs are expected to be reduced.  Battery capabilities will only get better, and this serves to rapidly improve these already impressive bikes.

Your search for an eco-friendly means of local transportation is over, the real question now is, which one do you want?

Zero motorcycles began with electric dirt bikes, and now has come to produce the Zero S which is as much fun as it is green.  The founder of Zero (and former NASA engineer I might add) Neal Saiki developed a 4.0 kWh, landfill-approved lithium-ion battery for his Zero S.  The 20.8 horsepower Zero zooms past the flyweight division with a top speed of 67 mph.  Unfortunately, environmental innovation comes with a price, literally.  Costing $9,995 and only rated to 1,800 charges, you may be sacrificing more cash than you intended to.

After consumer feedback, Zero has added a bracelet which automatically shuts off their bikes when the rider dismounts.  Why you ask?  Because the engine is so quiet that countless people have forgotten that their bike was still running.  An unintended throttle twist then sent their bikes ghost riding away.

The Native S provides the longest riding capacity combined with the most reasonable price.  Starting at only $7,500, the 12.3 horsepower Native is rated at 3,000 charges.  The bike’s 60 mph top speed leaves something to be desired, but when nursed at moderate speeds this electric wonder has been known to go for 50 miles on one charge.  Oddly enough, the Native is the only one of these bikes that offers a passenger seat and foot pegs.  Although, if you intend on carrying a passenger, make sure they qualify for the featherweight class otherwise you’re in for a short ride.

And the winner of motorcycle.com’s first electric motor shootout, Brammo brings you the Enertia.  As the heaviest of the electric bikes, weighing in at 324 pounds, the Enertia has the ability to carry even the largest of riders (up to 276 pounds).  Reasonably priced at $7,995, the measly 13.4 horsepower magically gives the bike a top speed of 63 mph.  You may think that its 20-40 mile range leaves room to question, but when you can go 15,000 miles on only $85 worth of electricity, you might just change your mind.  Rated at 2,000 charges, you may only spend $340 on electricity for the lifespan of the lithium-ion battery.

All three of these vehicles give you the ability to get where you need to go fast, efficiently, and with zero carbon emitted.  With some of these bikes lasting for upwards of 100,000 miles, they can literally pay for themselves in the money you save based on current gas prices.  Electric motorcycles have already set a new standard when it comes to eco-friendly vehicles, and there is only room for improvement.

Photo Credit: Jeff McNeill