2010 Sets Records for Heat, Fires, and Floods

August 6, 2010
If this summer feels like an extra hot one, it isn’t just your mind playing tricks.  Data released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration earlier this year concluded that combined global land and ocean temperatures for January through June of 2010 were warmer on average than any other six-month period since accurate record keeping began.  March, April, May, and June of 2010 each broke new records for high temperatures. 
Though multiple factors no doubt contributed to turn up the heat in 2010, global warming caused by human activities was very likely one of them.  Combine the data on global temperatures with the spate of natural disasters that seems to have accompanied the hottest half-year on record, and the implications are alarming to say the least.
Like yearly temperature fluctuations, no one natural disaster can be pinned down to global warming or a changing climate.  Yet 2010 certainly has seen a large number of heat and storm-related disasters, many of which have broken records of their own.  Russia has been hit by its worst heat wave in decades, which in turn has led to the worst wildfires in recent Russian history and the destruction of ten million acres of potential farmland. 
Meanwhile Pakistan has suffered from the worst flooding that country has experienced in lifetimes – a disaster that has affected more than four million people.  After years of record temperatures, droughts, and bush fires, Australia continues to experience major heat waves.  And meanwhile in the US, California is suffering from yet another summer of large wildfires.  
While it’s impossible to trace any one of these events directly back to global warming, what’s certain is that rising global temperatures will tend to create conditions that make heat waves, droughts and flooding, fires, and intense tropical storms more likely.  Even the heavy snows and cold snaps experienced by eastern US cities at the start of this year are consistent with a planet growing steadily warmer overall.  Climate scientists predict that as global warming disrupts wind currents and weather patterns, areas like the eastern US may actually end up experiencing colder winters.
Major news outlets, however, have been slow to connect 2010’s spate of natural disasters to the record temperatures and a warming global climate.  Bloggers and online writers have expressed frustration over what they see as a failure by the mainstream media to pick up on trend of huge significance.  “In the era of global warming,” writes Jamie Henn of the climate activist group 350.org, “it’s time to start seeing isolated floods, droughts, and fires as part of the larger violence we’re inflicting on our increasingly fragile planet.”
Statistically speaking, what’s more significant than this year’s record-setting temperatures is the fact that the last decade (2000-2009) was the warmest ever recorded.  That’s because global temperatures will always vary somewhat from one year to the next – but over the span of a decade, overall trends become much more apparent. 
Data from the past few decades clearly shows that despite geographic and year-to-year variability, the planet is growing warmer over time.  Since the late nineteenth century, worldwide temperatures have increased by about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit.  While it doesn’t sound like much, that increase is enough to impact the lives of millions of people throughout the world.
Yet despite rising temperatures, public belief in global warming was shaken last year when Internet hackers released a trove of emails between climate scientists, stored at the University of East Anglia.  The hackers claimed language in some of these messages pointed to scientists attempting to fudge evidence that might have discredited global warming. 
After the release of the emails, several universities formed third-body panels to investigate whether researchers had engaged in scientific fraud.  They concluded climate scientists had not in fact attempted to mislead the public, and that nothing in the hacked emails actually undermines the overwhelming scientific evidence for global warming.
Photo credit: Matt and Kim Rudge

Campaign to Repeal California Climate Bill is Funded by Texas Oil Interests

[img_assist|nid=186473|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=272|height=196]August 6 (ForceChange) — California’s clean energy law, Assembly Bill 32, is under attack from Texas oil companies that are orchestrating a campaign to repeal the legislation. AB 32, which was signed into law in 2006, aims to reduce carbon emissions from California to 1990 levels by 2020. An organized group, lead by Texas based oil refining giant Valero, is funding a campaign to repeal AB 32 via Proposition 23.

The anti-clean energy campaign, as ThinkProgress notes, has been given the “Orwellian moniker ‘California Jobs Initiative.'” However, like most corporate funded policy campaigns, the goal here is to protect the companies’ bottom line, which will be squeezed by the clean energy requirements of AB 32. Not surprisingly, the oil companies are not eager to begin paying for the costs of the pollution they spew into the atmosphere.

While none of this is surprising, what is a little more interesting is the large monetary support of the anti-clean energy campaign from a nonprofit group based out of Missouri called the Adam Smith Foundation. This week, California state legislators, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John Pérez have asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to open an investigation into the Adam Smith Foundation. Steinberg and Pérez believe the foundation may be illegally funneling campaign contributions from third parties to the anti-clean energy campaign.

Because of the Adam Smith Foundation legal status, they are not required to disclose who has provided them with the half million dollars in funding they have funneled to the campaign. Some have speculated that these secret donors are oil companies looking to avoid the negative public relations stemming from openly supporting the repeal of the clean energy bill.

BP Finishes the Static Kill Procedure and Continues Work on Relief Well

[img_assist|nid=186469|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=300|height=180]August 6 (EcoWorld) — The “static kill” procedure, which involved filling the leaking well at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico with cement, was finished Friday. Monitoring is ongoing to determine how effective the latest containment effort will be.

Meanwhile, the “bottom kill” procedure will continue, in which more cement will be poured into the well through a relief well.  British oil company BP stated that the static kill procedure complemented the ongoing drilling of relief wells.

US officials had given permission earlier this week to BP to undergo the procedure of pumping mud and cement.

Previously on July 15, BP placed a temporary containment cap over the leak which ended months of oil leakage. Before temporarily capping the well, the government estimates that nearly 5 million barrels had spilled into the Gulf.

Retired U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said the cementing process brings the situation one step closer to a final solution. Allen is the national incident commander for the Deepwater Horizon response.

Allen told reporters, “Let me state, and I have stated this several times, that this is not the end. But it will virtually assure us that there will be no chance of oil leaking into the environment.” He added, “And we have significantly improved our chances to finally kill the well.”

According to the British oil company, “Depending on weather conditions, mid-August is the current estimate of the most likely date by which the first relief well will intercept the Macondo well annulus.”

President Obama rejoiced in “the welcome news.” The president had said, “The long battle to stop the leak and contain the oil is finally close to coming to an end, and we are very pleased with that.”

Is an Apple iBike in the Works?

[img_assist|nid=186374|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=251|height=241]Based on a patent filed by Apple on Thursday, it appears the company has been working on a technology that will allow bikers to track in real time important data such as speed, distance, location, and much much more. The system would hook-up to the user’s bike, which would then communicate directly with an iPod or iPhone the biker would need to carry.

The premise of the product is similar to Apple’s “Nike + iPod” system, except is for bikers instead of runners. Additional metrics the iBike system could measure include, time, altitude, elevation, incline, decline, heart rate, power, derailleur setting, cadence, wind speed, path completed, expected future path, heart rate, power, and pace.

The iBike system (not an official name yet) could also be used with partners, allow fellow cyclists to track and share information about each other within the group. And of course, similar to the Nike + iPod system, the iBike would allow bikers to track on a map where they have been and where they plan to go. There is no official word yet from Apple on when, or even if, this product will be released.

Image credit

Via EcoWorld

BP Disaster Now the Largest Accidental Oil Spill in History

August 5, 2010

New reports indicate the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has broken the world record for a single incident releasing the largest amount of oil accidentally into a marine environment.  At an estimated five million barrels of oil which has now escaped, the spill has eclipsed the size of past oil disasters such as the Exxon Valdez spill in the Arctic, and the Ixtoc I spill that also occurred in the Gulf of Mexico.  At 3.3 million barrels, Ixtoc I was previously considered to be the record-holder before new estimates about the size of the BP disaster came in this week.

The new figures, released by a team of scientists assembled by the Obama administration, make it clear that BP has consistently underestimated the amount of oil gushing into Gulf waters since the explosion on April 20th that started the spill.  According to the most recent estimates, 62,000 barrels of oil were released into the Gulf each day during the early weeks of the disaster.  By the time BP apparently succeeded in capping the well on July 15th, the stream of oil had decreased slightly to 53,000 barrels per day.  These numbers dwarf those cited by BP a few months ago, when the company was still claiming the impact of the spill would be minimal.  The difficulty of accurately measuring the flow of oil no doubt contributed to early underestimations of its size. 
At the same time, BP also had an incentive to report as small a spill size as possible.  The larger the volume of oil in the Gulf, the more penalties the company will be required to pay under the Clean Water Act.  These fines could amount to as much as $5.4 billion or more.  If it is determined that the spill occurred as a result of gross negligence, BP might have to pay fines as high as $21 billion. 
Yet while the spill will cost BP in penalties and contributed to the departure of CEO Tony Hayward, the oil company will most likely suffer no irreparable damage as a result of the disaster – except, perhaps, to its public image.  Meanwhile ecosystems and communities in the Gulf region will likely feel the effects of the spill for decades to come.  Wildlife dangerously affected so far includes dolphins, sea turtles, and countless marine bird species.  The total number of animal casualties is difficult to estimate, as the vast majority almost certainly go unreported.  Shrimp fisheries and other coastal industries dependent on a healthy Gulf will also continue to suffer even if the spill cap turns out to be permanent. 
According to the New York Times, the only release of oil into marine waters larger than the BP spill was the Persian Gulf oil spill of 1991, which does not qualify as an accidental spill because it was started intentionally during armed conflict.  BP’s spill in the Gulf of Mexico is also smaller than the vast amount of oil that has been released into Nigeria’s Niger Delta, mainly by Shell Oil drilling projects.  In the years since oil companies have been operating in Nigeria, an estimated 13 million barrels of oil have been released in the delta region.  Yet unlike the oil gushing from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, that in the Niger Delta stems not from a single gigantic spill but from the cumulative result of around 300 individual spills occurring every year. 
The scaled-up estimates regarding the size of the BP spill were ironically released the same week that US Senate leaders announced they would delay a vote on measures to respond to the disaster and increase oversight for offshore oil drilling projects.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid originally planned to bring the spill response up for a vote this month, but pushed the debate back until September once it became clear Senate Republicans would oppose a crackdown on oil companies near-unanimously.  Senate Democrats, including John Kerry of Massachusetts, expressed strong disappointment that conservative lawmakers seem unwilling to respond to the largest accidental marine oil spill in history. 
Photo credit: Jim Greenhill

Red Bike Scare: Republican Candidate Warns Bicycle Rentals Will Lead to UN Take-Over

[img_assist|nid=186163|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=333|height=219]August 4 — Colorado’s Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes has accused his likely opponent, Democratic Mayor John Hickenlooper, of “converting Denver into a United Nations community” by promoting bike riding and other sustainability issues.

According to Maes, who is a Tea Party favorite, Hickenlooper’s bike plans are “all very well-disguised, but [they] will be exposed.”

Specifically, the plans that Maes is raising the alarm over include the city’s B-Cycle program which makes a network of about 400 red bikes available for rent at locations throughout the city. B-Cycle’s website touts that, “bike sharing makes it economical and convenient to use bikes for trips that are too far to walk but too short to drive…. With your magic red bike, you don’t have to look for a parking space or bring your own bike with you everywhere you go. Plus, riding a B-cycle is good for you and good for the environment. It’s the newest and best way to get around town.”

However, Maes warns that B-Cycle is “bigger than it looks like on the surface, and it could threaten our personal freedoms.”

[img_assist|nid=186164|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=250|height=167]Additionally, Maes, who made these comments during a campaign rally and also to the Denver Post, worries about Denver’s membership in the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI). The ICLEI, which is an international association of local governments dedicated to sustainable development, has over 600 US communities as members.

Maes, however, says he is not being fooled — “At first, I thought, ‘Gosh, public transportation, what’s wrong with that, and what’s wrong with people parking their cars and riding their bikes? And what’s wrong with incentives for green cars?’ But if you do your homework and research, you realize ICLEI is part of a greater strategy to rein in American cities under a United Nations treaty,” adding “some would argue this document that mayors have signed is contradictory to our own Constitution.”

Responding to Maes’ accusations that Mayor Hickenlooper is leading Denver down a path towards UN rule, a spokesman for the mayor noted that Denver’s membership in ICLEI dates back to 1992, while Mr. Hickenlooper was elected mayor in 2003.

More about the “controversial” B-Cycle program:

Ruling Allows Adventurers to Raft the Los Angeles River

LOS ANGELES, August 2 (GreenAnswers Staff) —  Mention the Los Angeles River and maybe the image of Arnold Schwarzenegger being chased through its concrete embankments by a speeding 18-wheeler driven by the Terminator-1000 comes to mind? Or maybe you envision the car race from the movie Grease? Or maybe you didn’t even know that a major river flows through the heart of America’s second biggest city?

Either way, there is a scene on the LA River that is even more unbelievable that just recently took place. That scene is of a group of outdoor enthusiasts partaking on a river rafting adventure right through the heart of the City on the Los Angeles River.

When the EPA recently designated the 51 mile LA River as a “navigable waterway,” a legal grey area emerged. Normally, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the LA County Department of Public Works restrict access to the river. However, after the EPA’s ruling, it became unclear what exactly was allowable on the river. As a result, a group called LA River Expeditions recently took a group of naturalists and reporters, on a four hour guided kayak excursion down the river.

The float trip included three meandering “lush and tranquil” miles through the Sepulveda Basin in the San Fernando Valley and six “sporty” miles of Class-I rapids on the Glendale Narrows near Griffith Park and Dodger Stadium. 

If the EPA and other agencies with jurisdiction allow the trips to continue, LA River Expeditions intends to make these tours a regular occurrence.

Of course, accessing the LA River was not always such an extraordinary act. Like most cities, Los Angeles was built where it is because of the river’s presence. And in 1930, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr, the son of the architect of New York’s Central Park, proposed that the LA River play a similar function for the City of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the Great Depression intervened and the city and its developers did not want to forgo the profits to be made by developing the river’s banks. Then, in 1938 a massive flood killed 85 people along the river in Compton, sealing the river’s fate to be locked inside concrete flood channels and closed to the public.

However, with the EPA’s recent ruling, and the efforts of river activists such as LA River Expeditions and The River Project, there is now hope that this river running through the heart of LA may once again be accessible to the city that it gave birth to.

Photos via LA River Expeditions

Video via LA Times

Largest Wind Farm and First Major Solar Plant to be Constructed in Russia


A windmill in the Russian Murmansk region.

July 30 (GreenAnswers) — Only days after ground was broken on the largest wind farm in the United States, Russia announced its plans to construct the largest wind farm in that country. The plant will be located in Yeisk, a coastal city on the Sea of Azov. The wind farm will initially generate 50 MW, with it’s capacity eventually reaching 100 MW per year. In comparison, the new wind farm in California aims to eventually produce 3 GW of energy.

The Russian wind project, announced by the state-owned news agency RIA-Novosti, is in line with President Medvedev’s recent attempts to diversify the Russian energy industry, which is primarily focused on oil and gas exports. A combination of private and public investors are putting $200 million into the Yeisk project.

The Rostovteploelektroproekt company, which is working on the project, has estimated (with a quintessentially Russian metaphor) that the energy produced by the new wind farm will be enough to “bake 17.6 trillion loaves of bread” per year.

Russia also announced its plans this week to build the country’s first major solar plant. To be located in Kislovodsk, a city in the North Caucasus region, the solar plant will eventually produce 13 MW of energy and will cost $100 million to construct.

These announcements come at the same time that Russia is suffering through one of its worst droughts and related heat waves on record. On Thursday, temperatures in Moscow reached a record 102 degrees, and some have estimated that as much as one-fifth of the country’s wheat crop has already been lost to drought.

More information on the Yeisk wind project.

Photo credit.

Largest Wind Power Project in the United States Breaks Ground

Mojave, CA, July 27 (GreenAnswers) — The largest wind energy project in the country officially breaks ground on Tuesday. The Alta Wind Energy Center, which will span thousands of acres in the notoriously windy Tehachapi Pass in the Mojave Desert foothills, could ultimately generate three gigawatts of energy, making it three times larger than the current largest wind farm in the United States.

Technically, the Alta Wind Energy Center is a collection of a series of wind farms scattered across the Tehachapi Pass wind corridor, about 70 miles north of Los Angeles. The Tehachapi Pass region, along with the San Gorgonio Pass near Palm Springs and Altamont Pass in Northern California, accounts for 95% of the wind power generation in California.

Ground breaking on Tuesday will be for the first cluster of 290 wind turbines which will spread across 9,000 acres of land, much of which has been leased from private owners. The second batch of 300 turbines is set to be commissioned by 2015.

The turbines for the wind farm are being manufactured by Vestas-American Wind Technology, which is fulfilling the largest single order ever for wind turbines in that company’s history. Incredibly, the blades for the largest turbines will span nearly 100 yards in length.

The Alta Wind Energy Center is being developed by New York based renewable energy company, Terra-Gen Power, which recently secured $1.2 billion in funding for the project.

With the Alta project actually breaking ground, there is an excitement in the wind industry that has been absent for years. This excitement stems from not only beginning work on the country’s largest wind farm, but also from the hope that the ground breaking on Alta will bring other wind projects, such as those championed by T. Boone Pickens, back to life.

Photo courtesy of Terra-Gen Power.

Learn More About Wind Power on GreenAnswers:

‘Five Second’ Rule for Dropped Food Unsafe

[img_assist|nid=178633|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=300|height=315]CHICAGO, July 17 (UPI) — The “five second” rule that says quickly retrieved dropped food is all right to eat should be a “zero second” rule because of bacteria, food scientists say.

Clemson University food scientist Paul Dawson found that salmonella and other dangerous bacteria can remain alive up to four weeks on dry surfaces — like floors — and can be instantly transferred to dropped food.

Location, not time, is the critical factor, researchers say.

Brushing off a bagel you dropped on the sidewalk and eating it is probably safe because the pavement is cleaner than a kitchen floor in terms of the kinds of bacteria found there, Dr. Harley Rotbart, a professor of microbiology and pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Colorado, said.

“The kitchen floor, however, is probably a zero-second zone because the bacteria from uncooked meat and chicken juices are more hazardous than the ’soil’ bacteria outside,” said Rotbart.

Bathroom floors are also zero-second zones because they’re “a great potential source of bacteria and shorter-lived viruses that can cause gastrointestinal illness if ingested,” Rotbart said.

Dr. Paul Dawson explains why the Five Second Rule is bologna:

Learn More About Food Safety on GreenAnswers: