Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Is the Climate Change Issue Getting Too Political?

From cabinet ministers conducting official meetings in odd places to elected global warming deniers getting an ego boost from leaked e-mails purported to reveal global warming as a hoax, is the climate change issue becoming too political?

By: Ringo Bones

Maybe it was the news about The Maldives’ cabinet ministers conducting one of their official meetings 5 meters underwater in scuba gear to highlight the dangers of a sea level rise caused by global warming back in October 16, 2009. Or was it the iconic Nepalese cabinet ministers meeting in the Mount Everest base camp to highlight the dangers of global warming endangering the Himalayan freshwater supply by accelerated glacial melting that lasted just 5 minutes due to hypoxia concerns. Or was it the leaked e-mils purportedly to prove that climate change, global warming, and all that environmental claptrap are nothing more than Marxist-Leninist socialist propaganda out to destroy the White Anglo-Saxon Christian way of life. Whatever it is, it seems like politicians now have the loudest voice when it comes to the climate change issue and its subsequent resolution.

Probably the most damaging to the scientific validity of the overly politically driven climate change debate was those leaked e-mails from the University of East Anglia. Where climate researchers Professor Phil Jones and Professor Kevin Tremberth managed to embroil themselves in a climate change scandal over the use of “value-added data. Not surprisingly, the issue of the leaked e-mails suggesting that climate change is a hoax was enthusiastically embraced by that famous climate change and global warming denier Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma. Boosting the ego of a known climate change denier is probably the last thing everyone on the planet earning less than 25,000 dollars a year of getting a fair deal out of the on-going UN-sponsored Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Given that the coal and crude oil lobbyists of America had managed to fund a “mercenary science” team to deny the existence of global warming for over 30 years due to their almost inexhaustible warchest. Making their demagoguery pass off as legitimate science in the hallowed halls of Capitol Hill. Thus making climate change deniers like the famed Republican Senator of Oklahoma manage to make the consensus of the final agreements reached in the UN Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen tailored more to suit industry. Making the people who live on less than a dollar a day living in climate change prone regions victims of the political demagoguery of Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma and their ilk.

Even though the UN-IPCC still defends that the science done on climate change and global warming during the past 20 years still has a valid data. I just don’t think that is still enough to convince the politicians at Capitol Hill to formulate effective measures to tackle the problem of climate change by the world's leading producer of unnecessary greenhouse gases – the United States of America. Worse still, the crude oil and coal lobbyists of America even successfully achieved to make global warming denial a part of Evangelical Christian canon during the Bush Administration, making the global fight against climate change an uphill battle – both literally and figuratively.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Bhopal’s Toxic Legacy

After becoming synonymous with the corporate world’s callous disregard to environmental and social responsibility, will the victims of the Bhopal tragedy ever get just compensation?

By: Ringo Bones

A quarter of a century has passed since that tragic industrial accident in Bhopal, India back in December 3, 1984, and yet no one has been successfully prosecuted since then. Instead, Union Carbide had managed to conveniently blame the local rank-and-file of their pesticide plant for the tragedy. With the toxic legacy of that tragedy from 25 years ago still posing a health threat to the local inhabitants, will the victims of the Bhopal tragedy ever get the just compensation that they truly deserve?

The Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India has been set up mainly to produce the pesticide Sevin in which India being mainly an agricultural country has a high demand for the product. Unfortunately, the two main chemical precursors of the pesticide Sevin – phosgene gas and methyl isocyanate or MIC – can be very deadly to humans when released in the atmosphere – especially in very large industrial quantities.

As a widely used chemical weapon during World War I that makes people drown in their own mucus on dry land, the safety staff of the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal paid special attention to the safe handling of the phosgene gas during the manufacture of the pesticide Sevin. Though methyl isocyanate can kill humans by interfering with the oxygen-transporting properties of hemoglobin, the safety staff assumed that methyl isocyanate is not as toxic as phosgene gas on a gram-by-gram basis, so they placed a lesser importance on its handling safety in comparison to phosgene. Or is it because phosgene has a more familiar smell akin to a combination of newly mown grass and crushed green tomatoes while no one – prior to the tragedy of Bhopal back in 1984 – knows what methyl isocyanate smells like?

Unfortunately, during the night of that fateful accident, the attending personnel had underestimated the volatility of the methyl isocyanate that are being stored in very large quantities in designated storage tanks. After a mishap with the MIC tanks cooling water system, the volatile chemical created so much pressure that it ruptured the safety valves of their storage tanks. Resulting in the release of 40,000 tons of methyl isocyanate gas windward to the sleeping residents of Bhopal. Thus initiating the most tragic industrial accident in history.

Twenty-five years later, 100,000 inhabitants of Bhopal still experience chronic health problems that resulted from the December 3, 1984 accident. Not to mention a generation of children born with genetic disorders due to their parent’s exposure to methyl isocyanate gas. Even the groundwater of Bhopal has been contaminated with carbon tetrachloride from the abandoned Union Carbide chemical plant at concentrations 1,000 times the allowable limit set by the World Health Organization. Even the cow and breast-milk analysis in Bhopal show carcinogen and teratogen levels higher than that compared to other industrial sites elsewhere in the world. Despite of environmental groups like Greenpeace pressuring the Union Carbide Corporation for just compensation for the industrial accident victims of Bhopal, it seems that the victims of history’s most tragic industrial accident has denied justice yet again. Not to mention the on-going environmental degradation that is still imperceptibly claiming victims.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A (Not So) Brief History of Asbestos

A somewhat rather indispensable and somewhat unhealthy building block of our modern civilization, has our current industry completely weaned itself from asbestos?

By: Ringo Bones

There are probably only a few times in our history where the health risk of asbestos produced a significant outcry to have it banned from everyday use. One was way back in 1973 when researchers at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York established a link between mesothelioma – a rare form of lung cancer – and workers with long-term asbestos exposure. And the other one was the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the World Trade Center towers highlighting the dangers of old buildings built before the ban on asbestos for architectural use was fully embraced. Even the United Nations headquarters in New York are one of the few remaining buildings containing large amounts of asbestos in its structure. Even though we managed to drastically wean ourselves from asbestos (it wasn’t easy by the way) in such a short period of time, looking back to the history of its use, one could conclude that our present almost asbestos-free technological society would certainly never have happened.

Asbestos is - or was - very useful in our long march to achieve our present state of technological prosperity. Asbestos was known in ancient times. Pliny the Elder even wrote about shrouds of woven asbestos used in the cremation of the nobility. Pausanias’ “Tour of Greece” describes a lamp wick not consumed by flame as being made “Carpasian Linen” a cloth of mineral fiber from Carpasius a district in Cyprus. Plutarch also recorded “perpetual lamp wicks” in the temples of the vestal virgins. Charlemagne is fabled to have amazed guests by tossing an asbestos tablecloth into the fire to be cleansed - While Marco Polo reported a working mine and an asbestos cloth manufacturing facility in Central Asia. The modern asbestos industry began with the working of an Italian mine in 1868. And the large-scale industrial production began with the discovery of asbestos in Quebec, Canada. Thanks to our search for a better steam engine.

Unlike other man-made products that were later on found out to be serious carcinogens, asbestos is neither man-made nor derived via the chemical processing of crude oil. It occurs as a natural mineral. Asbestos occurs in the form of veins and lenses within rock bodies as a byproduct of geologic metamorphism. And there are two main types of asbestos minerals, namely: serpentine and amphibole. Quite ironic for a serious environmental pollutant that is 100% natural.

Serpentine asbestos is also known as chrysotile whose chemical makeup is a hydrated form of magnesium silicate. Chrysotile makes up about 95% of the asbestos commercially mined making it the most important variety in terms of extraction and usage. Its fibers are of superior length, flexibility, fineness, and tensile strength. Chrysotile is found in rock as lustrous greenish veins. Its fibers are so fine that a single pound of this mineral provides almost six miles of asbestos thread. The fiber has a tensile strength that equals some grades of steel – i.e. 80,000 to 100,000 lb. per sq. in. Chrysotile asbestos possesses excellent resistance to heat, but turns progressively more brittle as temperature rises to about 400ÂșC.

Amphibole asbestos varieties that are commercially useful are crocidolite, anthophyllite, amosite, tremolite, and actinolite. Crocidolite asbestos is a soda-iron amphibolite and is also known as blue or Cape Blue asbestos because of its dull-blue color. Its fibers are of higher tensile strength (100,000 to 300,000 lb. per sq. in.) than those of chrysotile asbestos but crocidolite asbestos fuses at relatively lower temperatures.

Anthophyllite asbestos has a chemical makeup of magnesium-iron silicate type of asbestos that is composed of long coarse fibers of low tensile strength, while amosite asbestos is an iron-rich variation of the anthophyllite asbestos with a gray to brown color.

Tremolite asbestos, a calcium-containing magnesium silicate variant of chrysotile asbestos, is composed of fine silky fibers with a gray to white color. Tremolite asbestos is also the first form of asbestos that was widely used. While actinolite asbestos is a variant of tremolite asbestos where iron substitutes for as much as 2% of the magnesium in its chemical composition.

Asbestos is both quarried in open pits and mined in tunnels. The asbestos is initially removed manually from large pieces of quarried or mined rock matrix with the aid of a small hammer in an operation called cobbing. In later stages of the mining process, the asbestos fibers are removed from the crushed and screened matrix by air streams.

Crude asbestos is graded according to fiber length, fineness, flexibility, tensile strength, and infusibility. The longer fibers are carded and spun, sometimes with the addition of cotton thread. The spun fiber is woven into asbestos fabrics of varying thickness and densities. The smallest fibers, along with the rock dust from the matrix, are used to make asbestos cement. The amphibolite asbestos varieties all possess excellent resistance to chemical action, and are used to make filter pads and pipe-joint packing in chemical plants. They are also used as fillers in welding rods and plastics.

Asbestos board, a construction or insulating material is made of asbestos and portland cement molded into sheets by pressure. Asbestos paper is composed of thin sheeting of asbestos fibers bonded usually with a solution of sodium silicate. It is white, flexible and fireproof.

Belts of asbestos woven with fine brass wire are used as brake linings and to convey blast furnace slag, cement clinker, and other hot materials. Spun asbestos is made into fireproof ropes. Asbestos threads are woven into fireproof theater curtains and are also made into gloves for workers who must handle hot materials.

Given the myriad uses of asbestos in our modern technological society before it was banned in such a short period of time, it is quite a miracle that we even achieved a ban of over 90% when it comes to asbestos use. But with the looming threat of mesothelioma that first came to light in the early 1970s, the United States was among the first countries to achieve an almost total ban – greater than 90% - in the industrial and architectural use of asbestos. Even the visionary architects of the Sears Tower in Chicago decided not to use any form of asbestos during the start in its construction. After the preliminary reports of a rare form of lung cancer – i.e. mesothelioma – was uncovered by Mount Sinai Medical Center researchers during their study of workers exposed to high levels of asbestos fibers.

Given the health and environmental safety concerns of asbestos, there are even some towns in various isolated parts across the planet that were rendered as no-go areas after they were found out to contain too much free-floating asbestos particles. Such is the long-term legacy of our flirtation with asbestos – not to mention the probable long-term health concerns for workers involved in jobs with high asbestos exposure; Especially ship-breaking and working in old buildings with large amounts of old asbestos insulation.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Copenhagen Climate Conference: An Environmental New Deal?

As the final make-or-break deal on establishing climate change mitigation treaties, will the world dealers finally chose the environment over easy but carbon intensive corporate profits?

By: Ringo Bones

Unlike the end of Communism in Europe and the fall of the Berlin Wall, which inspired Francis Fukuyama to write The End of History. When it comes to curbing our global industry’s output of harmful greenhouse gas emissions, environmentalism seems to have been left by the curbside in comparison to other movements aimed to improve civil liberties around the world. But compared to the excesses of Marxist-Leninist Socialism – where anyone could have just been easily imprisoned if he or she voiced out that this is not what Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels intended socialism to be. Environmentalism seems to have been trampled underfoot for over 30 years or so by that supposed bastion of democracy called Western Capitalism.

While the Barcelona Climate Conference – dubbed both as the precursor and “dress rehearsal” for the upcoming UN Climate conference in Copenhagen in December 16, 2009 – failed to established binding targets when it comes to setting limits on greenhouse gas emissions by newly-industrialized countries like China and India. UN Climate chief Yvo de Boer now has doubts whether the upcoming “bigger” UN Climate conference in Copenhagen will achieve anything substantial in establishing a replacement treaty for the aging and largely ineffective Kyoto Protocol.

As far back as February of 2009, the upcoming Copenhagen Climate Conference was dubbed as the “Now and Forever” agreement. Because it was billed to establish binding treaties on greenhouse gas emissions that would minimize the worse effects of climate change like sea level rise and droughts for the next 50 to 100 years or so. Sadly, the corporate giants that built their edifices via the burning of coal, crude oil, and other fossil fuels had always found the political and economic clout to trump their profit earnings over the needs of our environment. Recession is no longer an excuse in placing our environment in peril.

Will the upcoming UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen in December 16, 2009 offer something different and more substantial in comparison to previous climate conferences? Well, I hope so because a lot has been riding on it. If corporate profits manage to trump environmental needs yet again, we might just kiss the Maldives and Tuvalu goodbye. Because these little pieces of paradise will vanish beneath the waves if global warming continues unmitigated. While former US Vice President Al Gore has been very busy doing his part in convincing everyone to do their part in lowering our carbon footprint in the hopes of convincing the policymakers around the world that our environment still matters. Which I just hope that this would convince the world leaders attending the upcoming climate conference in Copenhagen would favor the needs of our environment and the common people this time around. Lest everyone forgets that climate change caused by global warming is already a global problem. Who knows, this might be the environmental movements “End of History” moment.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ozone and Climate Friendly Air-Conditioning Units Anyone?

Will increased consumer demand of supposedly ozone-friendly HCFC-based air-conditioning unit causes it to become a new threat to our still recovering ozone layer?

By: Ringo Bones

There has been an increasing demand for air-conditioning units, especially in emerging economic powerhouses like China and India during the past few years. Even though HCFC-based air conditioning units which are supposedly twenty times less damaging than the CFC-based units that they replaced become our ozone layer’s latest threat due to the sheer number of units being sold?

HCFC-based refrigerants - like R22 – is the refrigerant currently being used in air conditioning units is less damaging to the ozone layer than its CFC-based predecessors – which were phased out during the late 1980s in compliance with the Montreal Accord. Unfortunately due to its high specific heat rating, R22 is a very potent greenhouse gas – which also made it to be phased out by the latest revision of the Montreal Protocol by either the year 2020 or 2030.

Fortunately, some air conditioning unit manufacturers due have a sense of corporate social responsibility. Like GREE of China whose R&D engineers are busy searching for alternatives to produce a truly environmentally friendly air-conditioning unit.
Under evaluation of GREE’s R&D engineers is the refrigerant R410A which is much less ozone depleting than R22. Unfortunately, R410A is a more potent greenhouse gas than the HCFC-based R22 and is currently used as a stop gap measure before more ozone and climate friendly alternatives can be found.

Another refrigerant evaluated for air conditioning use is R290 – which for all intents and purposes is propane – a cooking range fuel. It is totally ozone layer friendly, but it has some greenhouse effect causing properties like its cousin methane. The primary caveat of R290 is its flammability, but since it is already produced on an industrial scale, it also has an advantage of relative cheapness in comparison to other refrigerants.

Existing / conventional air conditioning unit technology that’s currently being sold on the market still uses refrigerant gases that has a specific heat much higher than that of liquid water to make them work efficiently. All of them have greenhouse effect causing properties, and halogen-based refrigerants – especially those containing chlorine and fluorine in their molecular structure – will certainly deplete our still recovering ozone layer. There are other air conditioning unit technologies that doesn’t use refrigerant gases that has ozone and greenhouse effect potential. Like air conditioning units that cools a room using ultrasonic sound far above the audible range of our hearing. It has been proven to work. If only some major appliance manufacturers start making them to be sold at a keen price.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Of Piracy and Environmental Degradation

Though it is already common knowledge that most of our on-going conflicts have environmental causes, is the scourge of piracy in the Gulf of Aden have their roots in environmental degradation?

By: Ringo Bones

Ever since it became fashionable – or just right – to award worthy eco-activists the Nobel Peace Prize, the world-at-large has now become more aware the strong link between most of our on-going military conflicts and of environmental degradation. Even though at present eco-activists like the 2004 Nobel Peace laureate Wangari Maathai and 2007 Nobel Peace laureate Al Gore are too busy to point out the environmental roots of the on-going scourge of piracy in the waters of the Gulf of Aden. The question now is, is the on-going scourge of piracy in the Gulf of Aden can be traced to environmental degradation?

Even though it was the dramatic rescue of the Maersk Alabama skipper Capt. Richard Phillips by the US Navy SEAL team that grabbed the headlines. The lesser-known environmental scourge off the coast of Somalia – namely the illegally dumped hazardous toxic chemical and radioactive wastes – has been largely ignored for more than a decade.

During the past few years, proof have started to emerge that points out that the waters of the Gulf of Aden had been used as an illegal toxic hazardous waste dump. The United Nations envoy for Somalia Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah said that there is “reliable information” that European and Asian companies are dumping toxic wastes, including nuclear wastes, off the Somali coastline for over 20 years. Which could explain why a majority of the Somali pirates are former fisherman who can no longer eke out a living from their ancestral fishing grounds due to the environmental devastation caused by the illegal dumping of these hazardous toxic chemical and radioactive wastes.

It was primarily the tsunami of December 26, 2004 that literally dumped the evidence of such illegally dumped toxic and radioactive wastes on the beaches of northern Somalia. The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) reported that that the tsunami had washed up rusting containers of illegally dumped toxic wastes in the shores of Puntland.

UNEP spokesman Nick Nuttall states that when the barrels were smashed open by the force of the waves, the containers exposed a “frightening activity” that has been going on for more than a decade. The bad news is that the UNEP cannot simply send scientists to collect evidence and various data of the illegally dumped hazardous wastes on the shores of Puntland in Somalia so that it can be fully vetted and peer approved. Because of the on-going conflict there poses a clear and present danger, which the scientists could be, kidnapped and held for ransom by lawless elements. Worse still, given the UN-style bureaucracy, the peer approval and vetting process of the data proving the existence of the illegally dumped hazardous toxic wastes and radioactive wastes in the Gulf of Aden could take a long while.

Even though there has already been talks in the UN to bolster the effectiveness and legitimacy of the Somali government in order to effectively tackle the scourge of piracy. In the long-term solution would be to tackle the issue of environmental degradation – which is the root cause of the scourge of piracy in this region – should be addressed. And given that the commercial shipping traffic can – and would eventually – just find an alternative route whenever the insurance premiums exceed the fuel expenditure and length of travel time, the environmental problems faced by Somalis could easily be swept under the rug.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Earth Day: Strange Days Through The Years?

Ever since everyone around the world began celebrating Earth Day as a show of concern for the world environment, has it been more rhetoric than action?

By: Ringo Bones

Ever since its start in America back in April 22, 1970, the annual observance of Earth Day – which has since become a global phenomena – was always seen by the skeptical as a prime example of an exercise in futility. After all, what good does it accomplish if citizens recycle and adopt a more environmentally-friendly lifestyle while their elected officials are “beholden” by the highly-polluting conglomerates who are empowered to keep their environmentally destructive industries as long as the government gets some of the profits.

Although the growing environmental awareness since that fateful day back in 1970 eventually prompted then US president Richard M. Nixon to sign the Clean Water Act of 1972. But the clouds of speculation hangs on whether his adoption of a “green conscience” was merely a reflection of his guilt of doing a bad job while serving as the leader of the free world has always been a subject of speculation. But all things considered, is our annual Earth Day celebrations that had came before only serve to highlight the uneasy relationship between those in power and the growing cadre of the environmentally-aware multitude?

Our annual observance of Earth Day did manage to get across the message of environmental awareness through the years. Throughout the 1970s and the 1980s, news about the extent of illegal toxic waste dumps and the resulting groundwater and wetland contamination did manage to get printed on the front page – if not headline status. As opposed to being relegated to an obscure column on page 26. News about finding ways to efficiently harness renewable energy sources and finding alternatives to greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuel-burning energy sources started to be seen as factual progress in science, rather than mere science fiction stories published by the liberal press. So too does the search for less dangerous alternatives to our current nuclear fission power plants.

While the start of the 1990s did hold promise when then US president George H.W. Bush – or President Bush Senior – signed the Executive Ban on crude oil exploration on the continental United States, which provided both incentive and urgency to search for more environmentally friendly alternatives to crude oil - thus proving that the US Government is not “beholden” to the crude oil lobby back then. Add to that the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm which highlighted the high cost of America’s over-dependence on imported crude oil not only in environmental terms, but also politically as well.

But it all went downhill when the Republican Party managed to gain control of US legislature in a 1995 mid-term election. The “Think globally, act locally” mantra of Clinton Administration-era environmentalism was starting to become an object of ridicule of those in the extreme Christian Right. Thus paving the way for President George “Dubya” Bush and his Neo-Conservative Cabal to roll back every progress made with regards to environmental law legislation of the past 30 years. Probably the weirdest thing that the Bush Administration’s Neo-Conservative Cabal managed to do to undermine environmentalism is their success in labeling it as a “heathen ideology” and “not part of Christendom”, while allowing the petroleum / crude oil lobby free reign on Capitol Hill.

But the Bush Administration’s disregard for environmental concerns did eventually create a backlash. It made former US presidential candidate Al Gore’s Myspace-and-personal-You-Tube-site-made-into-a-movie called The Inconvenient Truth a global blockbuster success, and probably the only documentary film that is pirated in Southeast Asia. So does Leonardo DiCaprio’s 11th Hour. All of which made environmentalism fashionable again like it was during the late 1960s Flower Power revolution.

Even though the Bush Administration / Republican Party “stuck to their guns” when it comes to the rhetoric about their take on the environmentalism versus America’s economic security issue, their hackneyed rhetoric literally backfired on them during the height of the 2008 US Presidential Campaign when the Republican Party constituents failed to save Lehman Brothers in spite of giving the oil and coal lobby free reign on Capitol Hill. Thus denying them a “third term” and securing the victory of Barack Obama as America’s next president.

While the positive results of the Obama Administration’s overhaul of the Bush Administration’s profits over the environment policies are yet to be seen, crucial steps are now made to truly tackle the problem of global warming after it has been swept under the rug during the past eight years. And we have also learned something from the eight-year environmental nightmare of the Bush Administration that to save our environment effectively, the almost 40-year mantra of: reduce, reuse, and recycle should also include conscientious choices that should be made in the polling place. Remember that politicians now play a major part in our ability to protect our environment. Setting aside April 22 as Earth Day back in 1970 is a good thing, but everyone should be reminded to protect our planet everyday of the year, especially now where our environmental problems affects us globally.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Hormone-Mimicking Plastic Softeners: Killing Every Living Thing?

Are plastic softeners – a convenience item of our overly industrialized society – inexorably killing every form of life on the surface of the Earth?

By: Ringo Bones

Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund had been calling for a ban on plastic softeners for a number of years, because of their deleterious effects on biological reproduction as a hormone mimic. The two leading environmental groups were concerned of the effects of plastic softeners on developing infants because these chemicals are usually found in babies’ teething rings. And when these plastics break down, they don’t only release hormone mimics, which can lead to future developmental and fertility problems. But also significant levels of dioxins as these plastics age.

Plastic softeners are now so ubiquitous in the industrialized world that incidents of infertility on us humans are on the rise. Plastic softeners can even be found in flexible PVC – i.e. polyvinyl chloride – floor tiles, which release the hormone-mimicking plastic softeners every time they are washed. Over time, these hormone-mimicking plastic softeners wind up in the marine ecosystem. Tests done on marine animals like fish, mollusks, and crustaceans show substantial amounts of these hormone-mimicking plastic softeners. Not only affecting these animals’ reproductive health, but given they form a significant portion of our diet, but also the reproductive health of people as well.

These hormonally potent plastic softeners has a robust enough chemical structure to survive their journey into the Arctic regions. Biologist studying the Arctic wildlife recently discovered male polar bears with multiple penises during the past few years. While infertility of the female polar bear population is on the rise. Given that global warming is already affecting the polar bear’s food supply, the effects of hormone-mimicking plastic softeners only hasten the polar bear’s journey into extinction.

Even though widespread data now document the deleterious effects of hormone-mimicking plastic softeners, policymakers are very reluctant in legislating laws banning these chemicals. Not because they are ignoring the scientifically verifiable data that’s available, but it is because most of them are already “beholden” by these multi-billion dollar multinational petrochemical corporations. Plus, plastic manufacturers say that finding substitutes cost time and vast sums of money, which will have to be eventually passed to us – the consumer as higher-priced goods. But given what’s at stake, it seems like inaction will only do more harm. Not only to our ever-diminishing wildlife, but to our future generations as well.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Earth Hour: Symptoms of Our Bad Energy Policy?

Does a call to suspend our electrical energy use for one hour can mean a vote against the policy maker’s bad and environmentally unsustainable energy policies?

By: Ringo Bones

Saturday, March 28, 2009 has been earmarked as this year’s Earth Hour as the 80 or so countries around the world pledge to make a stand against global warming. Whatever time zone your country belongs to, when it hits 8:30 in the evening, you have the option to show your solidarity to protest against our policymaker’s bad and environmentally unsustainable energy generation policies. By switching off your domestic lighting – or other high-powered electrical appliance – by one hour, you can vote in favor of our environment and the adoption of alternative energy programs. But is this all in the end just an exercise in futility?

During the 2008 US Presidential Elections, the American people voted for Barack Obama and the Democratic Party due to their more environmentally friendly energy policies. Americans probably got fed-up with the strong-arm lobbying tactics of the coal and crude oil / petroleum industry in Capitol Hill that the voting results of the 2008 US Presidential Election’s showed a “green theme”. Politicians who promised environmentally sustainable energy policies won over those who favored profits and short-term gains. If this trend continues, then this year’s Earth Hour could be an overwhelming success.

Even though I have a 10,000 watt-capable solar photovoltaic / rechargeable lead-acid battery power generating system. It only serves as an energy bill saving measure. Since our local mains electricity is still unfortunately 100% coal-fired – or other forms of greenhouse gas generating fossil fuels. Even though it is – according to the utility company – clean coal technology, it doesn’t produce acid rain anymore (?). There are still concerns that it produces billions of tons of carbon dioxide annually that our local electricity consumption’s contribution to global warming and climate change can’t simply be overlooked.

As the energy conservation side of curbing our civilization’s greenhouse gas generation, Earth Hour could serve to remind us about the inconvenient truth behind our strives for an ever more convenient lifestyle using our current carbon dioxide emitting infrastructure is not doing our planet any good at all. Even the hype behind carbon capture and sequestration now looks suspect if we won’t take steps now in outgrowing our greenhouse gas emitting technological infrastructure.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Cloud-Seeding: A Geo-Engineering Tool?

Since its first field-test in 1946 to it’s most recent press exposure during the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics as a means of pollution control, can cloud-seeding be used to curb global warming?

By: Ringo Bones

As of late, the on-going drought that plagued farmers of Northern and Central china have the Beijing Government yet again resigned their fate to the “somewhat unreliable” technology of cloud-seeding – i.e. artificial rain. The Chinese military – under the unblinking gaze of extensive press coverage – are now using all available means at their disposal to make it rain so that their farmers can have water to irrigate their crops.

Every conceivable method was used from silver iodide / potassium iodide laden anti-aircraft artillery projectiles being fired at rain-bearing clouds to surface-to-air missiles carrying silver iodide / potassium iodide dispensers being flown into rain-bearing clouds in the hopes of creating enough rain for viable farming. Despite of its relative unreliability, can cloud-seeding still be a viable geo-engineering tool to lessen the impact of global warming?

The Bergeron-Findeisen Theory of Rain or the ice-crystal theory of rain has led to our most hopeful attempts to influence the behavior of clouds since primitive man danced his first rain dance. The artificial seeding of rain-clouds – or cloud-seeding – was first developed in 1946 by General Electric’s Vincent J. Schaefer and Irving Langmuir. The principle behind it seems to be a model of logic and simplicity: to introduce into a cloud formation of super-cooled droplets a substance or agent that promotes the formation of ice crystals in which it can fall back to the ground as precipitation or rain.

Two substances proved promising. One was silver iodide (as of late was frequently substituted with the much-cheaper potassium iodide), whose crystalline structure is similar to that of natural ice crystals and therefore provide a hospitable nuclei on which ice crystals can readily form. The other one is solid carbon dioxide - or dry ice – which is so cold that it causes atmospheric water vapor to solidify into enormous numbers of tiny ice crystals. Tiny pellets of dry ice are usually sown into a cloud from airplanes, while silver iodide or potassium iodide is released as smoke, sometimes from an airplane and sometimes from the ground. In both cases, precipitation should follow according to the Bergeron-Findeisen Theory.

Even though our present cloud-seeding efforts either via aircraft dispensing very fine particles of silver iodide / potassium iodide or solid carbon dioxide (dry ice) doesn’t always result in precipitation or rain. Cloud-seeding also has a very promising geo-engineering and weather control potential in slowing down the catastrophic impact of global warming.

The process can help the formation of clouds that can help reflect the incoming infrared spectrum of the solar radiation back out into space. These clouds can be induced to form by seeding cool, moist but cloudless air with very fine silver iodide crystals via dispenser-bearing aircraft. Manufactured clouds like these could also be used to help farmers by preventing the formation of frost over acres of farmland by trapping heat that would otherwise be radiated back out into space. Given these potential benefits, why aren’t cloud-seeding efforts being done more often?

The problem is flying large fleet of aircraft to create the necessary cloud formation needed to lessen the incoming infrared radiation from the Sun also creates a very large carbon footprint in the form of carbon dioxide. The very greenhouse gas we are also minimizing in order to lessen the catastrophic impact of global warming. Though solar-powered / photovoltaic unmanned aircraft are already being tested, these are carbon neutral enough to do the job in the future because there are still too few of them at the present. But who knows what tomorrow might bring even though we are racing against time in lessening the catastrophic impact of global warming and climate change via our yet untested methods of geo-engineering.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Hidden Dangers of Carbon Dioxide Sequestration

In an effort to stave-off global warming due to the excessive carbon dioxide by-product of coal-fired power plants, is carbon dioxide capture and sequestration really a sensible environmental solution?

By: Ringo Bones

The relative abundance and cheapness of coal means we’ll be using this fossil fuel for a few centuries more given our current use for electric power generation. But they do have one serious drawback: excessive carbon dioxide output. Given that carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas generated by our industrial processes – namely electricity production. Science has recently devised a scheme to allow us to generate cheap electricity from burning coal while “supposedly” avoiding the harmful consequences of the global warming effects of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide via carbon dioxide capture and sequestration.

The concept is by no means an ideal solution even though most coal-fired power plants built after the year 2000 are already doing it, but is carbon dioxide capture and sequestration – usually shortened in the mainstream press as “carbon capture and sequestration”. Especially when injecting the gas underground or deep into the ocean floor for long-term storage (hopefully forever) really good for our environment?
Though global warming is primarily caused by excessive carbon dioxide being dumped into our atmosphere as a by-product of our current industrial activity. The gas can only do harm when it is in our atmosphere. Devise a method to capture it from the flue gases of the coal-fired power plant’s chimney and store it somewhere away from our atmosphere is one brilliant solution to minimize our contribution to global warming. Power loss aside, is carbon dioxide capture and sequestration absolutely safe for our environment?

A reminder of what can possibly go wrong in carbon capture and sequestration schemes is the Lake Nyos tragedy that occurred in Cameroon back in August 21, 1986. A Limnic eruption of the crater-lake of Lake Nyos resulted in the sudden release of a large cloud of carbon dioxide gas. The incident caused the suffocation of 1,700 people inhabiting on several nearby villages’ downhill from the lake and also resulted in the death of 3,500 head of cattle and other livestock. Though not completely unprecedented, it was the first known large-scale asphyxiation caused by a natural event.

Even though the capture of the carbon dioxide gas by-product from the coal-fired power plant’s flue gases via amine-based separation solvent is a proven technology. Regenerating the solvent for the next cycle after extracting the carbon dioxide gas and its transport and storage into a supposedly safe long-term storage area requires energy. The solvent separation and regeneration part usually from the coal-fired power plant itself, so it is an energy intensive process resulting in the generation of extra amounts of carbon dioxide gas.

Then there’s the problem of where to store the sequestered carbon dioxide. The site selected for long-term storage should be geologically stable or there will be a repeat of the Lake Nyos incident to those people living downwind and downhill from the storage facility – given that carbon dioxide is 1.5 times denser than air. Plus detectors that trigger alarm bells when carbon dioxide gas levels in the atmosphere rises to lethal levels are not exactly cheap – nor are they commonly available.
Given our future energy demands are likely to increase, using carbon capture and sequestration to offset the carbon dioxide being thrown into our atmosphere by the new coal-fired power plants is an exercise in futility. Geologically stable sites for long-term carbon dioxide storage are not exactly dime a dozen and the increasing output of carbon dioxide by coal-fired power plants are only going to increase in the future if the coal lobbyists get their way.

For our long-term future, carbon dioxide capture and sequestration from coal-fired power plants should only be seen as a stop gap measure. Before we can develop energy sources and electricity generation schemes that doesn’t generate excessive amounts of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide that will surely exacerbate the effects of global warming.