A big obstacle to the more widespread adoption of plant-based biofuel alternatives has been the fact that the plants harvested and used for creating these fuels end up depriving farmers of arable land and, in some cases at least, consumers of access to affordable food.
Now the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium (SRBC) has discovered that desert plants irrigated with sea water can produce biofuels more efficiently than the plant life being studied and used at the moment, notably corn and sugar cane. That discovery has the potential to push biofuels to near the top of the list of alternative fuel sources to focus on as America staggers its way toward a more sustainable energy profile.
The small German town of Feldheim, about 40 miles outside Berlin in what used to be East Germany, has, over the past nearly 20 years become so completely independent of traditional energy resources that it has actually built its own electrical grid when the state power utility balked at a request to buy back excess energy the town was spinning off.
Feldheim, in partnership with a local alternative energy firm, started with wind turbines in 1995, advanced to an extensive solar panel farm in 2008, a biogas plant that converts pig manure and excess corn into a heating system. Renewable fever had caught on.
By 2009, the town was producing more than its total energy needs with these alternative fuels but the big power company that provided their grid refused either to buy the excess output or to lease the town a portion of the grid. So townspeople put up approximately $3,000 each to fund the design and creation of their own power grid.
Obviously this is not a rich community. And it is operating in a more regulated setting than we in the United States can imagine. And yet, this handful of folks proved it is feasible for a local community to go completely to alternative fuels and even profit in the bargain.
This could be a great model for communities throughout the U.S. to look to if they want to help minimize the impact of global climate change in their areas and don’t want to wait for the Feds to get around to doing anything meaningful.
Stanford University Professor Stan Z. Jacobson says that he has developed a computer model that suggests that installing massive wind farms off U.S. coastal areas could “disrupt a hurricane enough to reduce peak wind speeds by up to 92 mph and decrease storm surge by up to 79 percent.”
That is, of course, in addition to their major potential as a source of the cleanest and most renewable energy source of all, including solar.
Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, simulated Hurricanes Sandy, Isaac and Katrina with his model and found in every case that the presence of large working wind farms would have greatly mitigated the damage from those storms both by taming them and by shortening their lives.
It’s not every day you get a win-win like this one. Even though there has been massive resistance in the U.S. to installing these wind farms, maybe the prospect of greatly reducing the death and destruction from the new superstorms will be enough incentive to cause someone to sit up and take notice. Probably not, but I can hope, can’t I?
A team of researchers from the United Kingdom and the U.S. has determined that increasing temperatures might well worsen the effects of malaria in places like South America and Africa.
The finding is actually a side effect of the main purpose of the study, which was to confirm the suspicion that in warmer periods, the mosquitoes that cause malaria migrate to higher elevations. There, they find new victims who don’t have the long history of constant exposure to malaria, so the effects of the disease are significantly worse.
This is just another example of the deep intertwingling that goes on among all of the earth’s ecosystems and the climate. One of the reasons climate change is such an intricate and major problem to address is that it is easy to come to the conclusion that we can blame everything that goes wrong on the climate shifts. That in turn weakens peoples’ ability to focus on the things that are potentially most devastatingly real in their lives. At the same time, too many potential impacts of the crisis can lead to crisis overload and numbness to every new discovery.
But we need to maintain our sensitivity and our compassion if we are going to develop the political will to minimize the massive impact of global climate change on the planet and on humanity.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
At least 28 Democratic members of the United States Senate plan to spend several hours Monday night speaking to one another and for the record about climate change. The intent is to bring greater focus to the problem by members of Congress and to begin to develop some new ideas and plans for dealing with the crisis.
The event is being organized by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) [my own Senator, I’m proud to say!], Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). Whitehouse, in particular, has been a great champion of the cause of global climate change, giving frequent speeches on the subject, often beginning with the observation that, “It’s time to wake up” to climate change.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has been supportive of the efforts of Whitehouse and others who are concerned about global climate change. He and several other senior Senators will join the all-night session.
Of course there won’t be any Republicans in attendance. As a party voting bloc, they are deniers whose big business handlers don’t want to see them advocating any position that might reduce unprecedented corporate profits with anything that sounds socially responsible.