Biofuels Next for Aviation Industry?

Today, a new report is confirming that aviation biofuels are a viable option for Australia and New Zealand and can be produced in commercially viable quantities.  These new options could cut down the emissions from greenhouse gasses by 17 percent.

The report, “Flight Path to Sustainable Aviation”, which is commissioned by numerous companies including Boeing, Qantas, Virgin Australia, and Air New Zealand,  also claims that over the next 20 years a change to aviation biofuels could generate over 12,000 jobs.

Australia’s national science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), compiled the report and estimated that Australia’s reliance on aviation fuel imports would be reduced by $2.1 billion a year with a change to using biofuels made from non-food crops. 

“Through the uptake of sustainable bio-derived jet fuel, together with next generation aircraft and engines, the industry can reduce both its emissions and its reliance on imported fossil fuel” said Paul Graham, project leader and a CSIRO economist.

“This study highlights promising options for the aviation industry”.

Biofuels have been controversial and criticized for using vital food crops, land and water resources, but the scenario presented by the CSIRO deals with sources with non-food biomass such as forestry residues, municipal waste and algae. 

Several airlines, including Continental Airlines, Air New Zealand, And KLM have already tested biofuels. 

By 2050, the IEA (International Energy Agency) estimates that 30 percent of the global aviation fuel supplies will be made up of biofuels. 

Photo Credit:

Climate Change Not Linked to Tornadoes

Though the United States may be enduring through the deadliest year for tornadoes in nearly 60 years, there is no link between the twisters and climate change, according to a top US weather expert.

However, the spiking death toll from the tornadoes are more likely to be from the rise in mobile homes and chance paths of tornadoes that have hit populated areas.

Harold Brooks, a research meteorologist at the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) commented on this year’s twisters, calling it an “extraordinary outlier”. 

A massive tornado hit Joplin, Missouri this weekend, killing over 89 people. This month has seen dozens of storms strike across seven states and kill 354 people, in one of the deadlier years for tornadoes. 

But after consulting the U.S. records on tornado reports, “we see no correlation between global or US national temperature and tornado occurrence,” Brooks said.

“The biggest single demographic change that probably affects things is that the fraction of mobile homes in the United States has increased over the years,” he said.

Things that can be tossed into the air, like mobile homes and cars, can be deadly in a twister, and people are urged to find shelter underground. 

Also, the storms themselves have not been getting bigger, the evidence shows, though it may seem that way after learning about the storms that cut a six-mile long, half-mile deep stretch of land in Missouri. 

Since 1950, when modern records of tornadoes began, the deadliest outbreak recorded was on April 3, 1974, when the “Super Outbreak”, a series of 148 tornadoes swept across 13 states in a 24-hour period, claiming 310 lives. 

Photo Credit:

Study Shows Sea Level to Rise by 1 Meter

On Monday, a new Australian study showed that sea levels could rise by up to a meter by the end of the century.  The study also showed that “once-a-century” flooding could happen almost yearly due to the climate change.

In the government’s first Climate Commission report, the study showed that the warming of Earth’s surface was “beyond doubt”, and that data from the most up-to-date climate science around the world showed that greenhouse gas emissions from human activities were the most probable cause of rising temperatures, warmer oceans, and rising sea levels. 

Though the study has been reviewed by climate scientists from the CSIRO, an Australian science body, and the Bureau of Meteorology and academics, some judgements, like the amount of sea level rising, were the assessment of the author Will Steffen.

“I expect the magnitude of global average sea-level rise in 2100 compared to 1990 to be in the range of 0.5 to 1.0 meter,” Steffen said in his study.

The report said that a rise of 0.5 meters in sea level would have a large impact on the country, such as flooding of large coastal areas around major cities like Sydney and Melbourne. 

Also, the climate change is affecting Australia’s risk for natural disasters.  With the rise in sea level, there has also been a decline in rain, as well as a doubling of the number of record hot days that has led to increased risk of bush fires and heat waves. 

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who is trying to introduce a carbon tax to curb greenhouse gas emissions, seized on the report.

“We don’t have time for false claims in this debate. The science is in, climate change is real,” she said.

Photo Credit:

Species Loss Not As Severe

The rate at which species were once thought to be speeding towards extinction is grossly overrated, a new study shows.

Extinction rates could be at least two times slower than previously thought.  Co-author of the study, Stephen Hubbell, notes that the accelerated rates of species extinction can still be attributed to humans.  However, initial studies on species extinction done by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the 2005 UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment are based on “fundamentally flawed methods” that may highly overstate the rate of extinction, new researchers report.

Hubbell points out, “This is welcome news in that we have bought a little time for saving species. But it is unwelcome news because we have to redo a whole lot of research that was done incorrectly.”

For nearly three decades, scientists have been measuring the rate of extinction using incorrect concepts.  When forecasts proved extremely far off the mark, scientists added on a new theory of “extinction debt” to explain the discrepancy.  Extinction debt is the idea that species already in decline are fated to become extinct even if it takes many, many years for the last individuals of the species to die out.  However, new researchers refute the existence of extinction debt.

Although the perceived rate of extinction now appears to be slower than previously thought, human activity remains the dominant driver of species extinction.  Only one-fifth of the earth’s forests are still considered wild, and agriculture now takes up nearly 40 percent of ice-free land.

Photo Credit:

Toxic Toys Being Sold in Hong Kong, China

On Wednesday, Greenpeace said it urged government officials to ban certain children’s toys containing toxins that were being sold in mainland China and Hong Kong.

The environmental group said it hired an independent group to test the toys, and found that 21 of 30 toy samples bought from four different Chinese cities had phthalates, which are used to soften plastics but can also cause hormone malfunctions and reproductive problems.  All the toys tested were manufactured from mainland Chinese companies.

In the United States and the European Union, six types of phthalates have already banned in children’s products and toys.  

“Governments in the EU and North America have all recognized the serious health concerns of phthalates for children, yet in China and Hong Kong, kids are unprotected from these harmful toxins,” said Vivian Yau, a Greenpeace campaigner.  

Greenpeace is urging Hong Kong to adopt the same policies that the United States and the European Union have implemented against phthalates in children’s products.  

“Children are one of the most vulnerable groups to hormone disruptor’s — they like to put things in their mouths, and their reproductive, immune and endocrine systems are still developing,” Yau added in a statement.  

They are also pushing for a regulatory system to be formed to eliminate the dangers posed to health and the environment from the use of these chemicals in toys and other products.  

Chinese-made toys have been called into question through a series of scandals in the last couple of years, including the recall of millions of “Aqua dots” in the United States and “Bindeez” in Australia.  

Photo Credit:

Illegal E-Waste Dumping in Ghana

An investigation by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has revealed that tons of e-waste from the United Kingdom has been shipped illegally in underground trade to developing countries in Africa for disposal.  

Environment Waste Controls (EWC), which runs the waste and recycling for the public and private sector, has admitted that electronic equipment from one of their sites has ended up in West Africa after being exported by a third party company.

As part of their investigation, EIA staff visited waste collection sites run by EWC and learned that some of the electronic waste was being collected and shipped to Nigeria and Ghana.  According to the Waste Electrical and Electronic Resources Regulations 2006, as long as the e-waste being exported were tested and deemed properly working it would be permissible to be shipped.

However, investigators hid tracking devices in television sets that were broken beyond repair and left them at the waste collection site.  After a couple of weeks, GPS signals showed that one set had been exported to Nigeria, while another had been shipped to Ghana.

The EIA believes that this is not an isolated incident, and that proper checks were not always carried out.  They say that the broken television sets should have been disposed of in the UK or shipped to a developed country instead of Africa.  

The EWC has fully cooperated with the investigation and has given a statement saying, ”This is unacceptable and EWC has put in place measures to prevent a reoccurrence of this practice and to undertake a full investigation in cooperation with the regulator and relevant authorities. We have instructed all our sub contractors that no electronic equipment deposited at designated collection facilities operated by EWC should leave the UK until further notice.”

Photo Credit:

Lights in Kenya Bring Hopes of Brighter Future

In Nairobi, Kenya, solar-powered floodlights have been installed at a local football stadium to allow youngsters to play into the night, keeping them out of trouble.

Located in one of Kenya’s toughest slums, the Mathare Football for Hope Center is run by the Mathare Youth Sports Association, which promotes sports with leadership training, environmental clean-ups, the prevention of aids, and many other causes.  

The lights, donated by Yingli Green Energy, a Chinese energy company, allow the center to operate for an additional three hours into the night.  

The Mathare Youth Sports Association was selected by the FIFA “20 Centers for 2010” program, which selected 20 African groups to host a “Football for Hope Center” in a disadvantaged community to promote education, public health, and football.  

The goal of the Mathare Association was to help a community that struggles with unemployment, illiteracy, crime, and HIV/AIDS.  Besides football, the center also exists as a social hub for younger people, offering access to to libraries and computers, as well as workshops to learn life skills.  They also provide the only voluntary counseling and testing center for HIV in the area.  

“The center has given community members an opportunity to get counseling and also at the same time to get to know their status on HIV,” explained Stephen Muchoki, manager of the Mathare Football for Hope Center.  

Robert Chege, a local 21-year-old footballer also remarked that “Being around the center is cool and fun because it’s a learning place as well as a sporting environment.”

The association has already benefited about 20,000 young people since 1987, with FIFA expecting around 50,000 to use the Mathare Football for Hope Center this year.

Photo Credit: user ensign_beedrill

EU Nuclear Tests Subject of Controversy

On Thursday, Guenther Oettinger, the European Union energy chief, and European nuclear regulators plan to meet and draft up parameters for safety tests of the 143 reactors in Europe in the wake of the Fukushima atomic crisis in Japan.  

However, there is controversy in the scope and parameters of the actual test.  Regulators from Europe’s nuclear stations are pushing for the test to be limited to just natural disasters while Oettinger and other officials are pushing for the tests to include man-made scenarios, such as cyber-terrorism, terror attacks, and plane crashes.  

Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission President, also feels that “these tests should be comprehensive and include the widest range of scenarios, natural and man-made, focusing on their possible impact on the plants’ functioning systems.”  Though he made no direct reference to plane crashes of terrorism, his office reported that he had the same position as Oettinger.  

European nuclear regulators insist that conducting extensive, comprehensive tests on terror risks is not a possible scenario in the time they will be given.  Andre-Claude Lacoste, the head of the French nuclear safety regulator, said that it was “not possible to conduct serious tests on the terror risk in such a short delay.”  Yet Barroso and Oettinger have told the European Parliament that they will refuse to settle for “softer stress tests.”  

Even while there is controversy on the subject, Barroso remains optimistic and is hopeful that they can come to an agreement by tomorrow.

Arctic Council Meets, Discusses Opportunities and Challenges From Receding Ice

On Thursday, leaders from seven nations will convene in Greenland to discuss the opportunities and challenges presented by the receding ice and snow in the Arctic region.  

The council includes the United States, Canada, Russia, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Denmark, as well as representatives of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic.  

“There are very core interests that are at stake in the Arctic, but it is an opportunity to find new patterns of cooperation,” said James Steinberg, the U.S. Secretary Deputy of State, citing the race for oil, minerals, fishing, and shipping opportunities being explored in the Arctic.

There has been evidence for climate change in the Arctic, as temperatures are at the highest in the previous 2,000 years and are increasing faster than anywhere else in the world.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the Arctic may hold around 25 percent of the world’s untapped oil and natural gas reserves, catching the attention of major companies like Exxon, ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell Plc and others.

Global shipping is also adapting to the changing Arctic, as ships can now navigate shorter, faster and more cost efficient routes through the melted ice.  

Environmental activists are pushing for more aggressive action on international standards for oil and gas development as well as fishing quotas in the Arctic.  

“There’s a short window of opportunity to get out in front of it and protect important and vulnerable ecosystems before industries get entrenched,” said Lisa Speer, director of the international ocean’s program of the NRDC (National Resources Defense Council).  

Photo Credit:

China To Improve Nuclear Standards

State media in China has reported that the government will improve safety standards and construction standards at all of its nuclear power plants.  

This happened nearly two months after the Fukushima incident in Japan that triggered an atomic crisis, after a tsunami and an earthquake damaged the reactors and cut power to the plants which led to dangerous overheating of the nuclear rods, and led to China ordering safety inspections on all of it nuclear plants and halting plans of new projects.  

“We have to raise our standards to deal with complicated situations, like what happened in Japan,” said Lin Hua, a nuclear safety official in the environmental protection ministry.

Officials are considering installing power generators inside the plants, as well as reconsidering the standards for flood control measures and construction of the walls of the reactor.   
Lin and the environmental protection ministry hope to finish evaluating and inspecting the nuclear plants by August, and to be able to provide and issue a safety plan following that.  

China currently owns and operates 13 nuclear reactors, and has plans to construct at least two dozen more, which is estimated at 40% of the reactors being built across the globe.  

As China’s economy and population continues to soar, energy demand is also rising.  Even after the Japanese atomic crisis, China insists that atomic energy is still a big part of their energy plan for the future.

Photo Credit: