Planet Earth Weekly

Climate Change and Renewable Energy: Saving Our Planet for Future Generations


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Irrigation and Water Depletion in the Southwest United States

Water depletion

Irrigation in the Southwest U.S.

“We need to work together to feed the world, but we also need to work together to save and monitor our water resources.”

By Linn Smith

August 26, 2018—- On the farmland of my youth in the Midwest, my brothers and I spent much time baling hay for our cattle, but water was plentiful and plants thrived with no irrigation. Cows were in green pastures in the summertime and in winter months we fed hay when grasses died.

Farming in the Southwest

When traveling to southern New Mexico and southern Arizona, I often see hay and cotton fields in the middle of the desert and semi arid terrain. It seems an unlikely place to grow crops that have high water needs! 

Today the Southwest is water-stressed with many lawsuits taking place, both privately and between states, over water rights. The projection is that reduced precipitation by mid-century will result in reduced runoff into the water basins that feed irrigated fields.

I recently heard a local resident from Arizona say that Saudi Arabia was buying land in Arizona and California’s arid landscape for growing hay and shipping it back to their country. The export of hay (grasses grown for feeding animals) is booming in the U. S., with the amount of hay leaving the west coast ports increasing yearly. In 2017, the total exports of alfalfa and other hay reached 4.2 million metric tons and is continuing to grow.

The fact that hay and cotton are being exported is healthy for our economy, as many U.S. farmers are growing and exporting this commodity, mostly from states that require little irrigation for agriculture. The issue is growing crops in the desert Southwest in what is fast becoming an area where water is not replenishing itself in the rivers and reservoirs.

The Colorado river

Farmers in the Southwest are left little water for irrigation.

Depletion of our Water Resources

What is healthy for our aquifers and rivers when they are not replenishing? Doug Kenny, Director of the Western Water Policy Program at University of Colorado, says about potential water shortage. “Right now, it’s the effort to maintain the levels of water stored in the big reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell. They’re about half full, which is about as low as they can go before mandatory cuts in water deliveries. It’s a math problem—managing water coming in vs. water going out. So far this century, people have pulled more water out than consistently flows in. That has to change.”

Saudi Arabia and the Southwest

 Most crops will only thrive with irrigation in the arid Southwest.  Saudi Arabia is confronting a major depletion in its aquifers which has brought its wheat and hay production to a halt. They have bought 1,000’s of acres in arid parts of the U.S., Arizona and Southern California (and several other countries), allowing them to take advantage of the U.S. water laws. The Laws of the Colorado River are currently under scrutiny by the Upper and Lower Basin states because of continuing depletion of the river and Lake Mead, which supplies water to the lower Colorado river basin states. Most crops will only thrive with irrigation in the arid Southwest.

The drought of Southwest U.S.

Lake Mead depletion

Southern California: Irrigating Crops vs Urban Use

In Southern California the Metropolitan Water District pays landowners to fallow their land, letting it lay without planting crops so that water is freed up for urban areas. Since 2005, over $200 million has been paid to farmers not to grow crops on this program. This allows water to be directed to Los Angeles and other cities in Southern California.

Has this program enabled corruption and profit from drought conditions? A single recipient, Fisher Ranch, owned by a board member of the operation, has received over $27 million a year since 2005 for leaving his land fallow.

Colorado River

Depletion of water for crop irrigation

The Water Crisis

As I continue to study depleting water conditions in the Western U.S., I realize in 20 years, if not sooner, we are going to be facing a water crisis due to climate change and over allotment of water rights and usage. We need to ask ourselves what changes are necessary today to alleviate the impending crisis.

Water shortage is going to be a complex problem in the future requiring many people to make sacrifices. We need to work together to feed the world, but we also need to work together to save and monitor our water resources. Education and awareness is a place to start.

The Southwest Water Crisis

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Pollinator Prairies and Highways: Feeding the Bees!

Pollinators

Pollinator habitats are necessary for our food sources.

“Pollinators, especially bees, are responsible for producing 1/3 of the food we eat.”

By Linn Smith
August 6, 2018—-In May 2018, Interstate 76, which stretches through the high plains farmland east of Denver, Colorado for about 185 miles, was designated a Pollinator Highway. The Pollinator Highway Project will not only be planted with food for pollinator insects, but also maintain the health of pollinator plants already growing along the highway.

I have traveled this stretch of highway many times and have always wondered at the vastness of the landscape in this sparsely populated part of Colorado. With almost 9000 miles of highway corridors in the state, I-76 is the perfect test area for the Pollinator Program. The program was initiated by Denver’s Butterfly Pavilion because it is a highway that is not only frequented by migrating butterflies, but also has enough space to eventually create a positive change in our environment by providing food for all pollinating insects.

Pollinator insects

Maintaining the health of our pollinator insects.

Definition of a Pollinator

What is a pollinator? According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, “A pollinator is any organism that helps with the cross-pollination of plants. They are vital to the survival of most of the world’s ecosystems, with an estimated 70-87% of flowering plants relying on pollinators. Many of these plants are food crops that humans rely upon and most of the others are key members of natural ecosystems. Bottomline: Pollinators are extremely important!”

Pollinators

Pollinator Prairies and highways

Colorado Pollinator Highway

For CDOT, Colorado Dept. of Transportation, this is a great opportunity to begin positive environmental changes using the space along its highways, replenishing and creating habitats for pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, moths, flies, bats, and hummingbirds. This will affect the future food supply of humans, as it’s said that 1 out of 3 bites of food we eat depends on pollinators. CDOT has stated that the pollinator plants along the highway will not affect travel, as the insects will stay in their habitat if it is well maintained.

Colorado will begin this project by planting an 8 mile stretch along I-76 near Julesburg, just over the state line from Nebraska. This test site will allow CDOT to gather data for plans on maintenance and longevity of future pollinator highways in the state. Besides creating habitats for pollinators, the pollinator highways will reduce maintenance in Colorado by reduced mowing. It is a win-win plan for the future.

If the dilemma of pollinator insect die-off is not addressed now, the future of the food we eat and the low prices we pay are in jeopardy. The decline of pollinators is due primarily to land use changes, pesticide use, invasive species, and climate change which can cause insect diseases and loss of habitat. According to CDOT, 30% of the honeybee population dies off yearly (with only a slight increase after die-off each year.) At this rate, the bee population is not sustainable in the long run.

Insect Pollination

Identify Plant Forage for pollinators

Protecting the Pollinator Habitat

The Colorado Department of Transportation will also be working to protect the pollinator habitat as a long-term solution for survival of pollinator insects. CDOT states, “Managing noxious weeds will also be more specialized along the corridor. In fact, we will have a roadside manager for the corridor, who will also oversee the statewide vegetation management program. The pollinator program will promote genetically appropriate plants that support self-sustaining dynamic ecosystems, which are resistant to invasion by non-native or invasive species.”

A variety of plants will be planted that will blossom at different times in the spring, summer and fall, creating food until the insects lie dormant (slow down) for the winter.

Pollinator Prairie

My friend’s well maintained prairie in the Midwest.

Pollinator Prairies

In the Midwest farmers are taking advantage of the CP-42 Pollinator Enhancement (PDF) program which helps and supports farmers that place part of their farmland in pollinator prairie. So far hundreds of thousands of acres have been planted in the CP-42 program.

A friend of mine has planted about 50 acres in pollinator prairie. He maintains it by going through on a regular basis and digging up invasive plants, such as small elm saplings. His land is near the river where the bottom part of the prairie floods several times a year, which hasn’t affected the pollinator plants so far, as they are not underwater for any length of time. He states, ““Once floodplain land is taken out of crop production and returned to natural prairie (pollinator Prairie), it acts as a very good filter in not only cleaning up dirty water ways, but preventing further flooding inland. Our rivers are dirty and prairie grass can act as a filter by allowing the water to run through the grasses.”

pollinator prairie

My friend’s well maintained pollinator prairie grass

Pollinators, especially bees, are responsible for producing 1/3 of the food we eat. What are the foods that need or benefit from pollination? Here are just a few: alfalfa (which can feed our meat and milk sources!), apples, berries, bananas, tomatoes, chocolate (Cocoa Bean trees) and coconut.

Learn how you can help to increase pollinator insects and food sources at: http://www.peopleandpollinators.org. You can also sign up to do volunteer work!”

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Pollinator insects and habitat


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Watering Your Garden with the Olla Clay Pot System

Olla watering

Garden with less water

“The ancient Olla method consists of unglazed, porous clay terracotta pots buried in the ground.”

By Linn Smith

July 24, 2018—–I was sitting in the shade outside a museum in Tucson last winter when a conversation started between my family and another family nearby. The topic? Olla (pronounced “oy-yahs”) pots…a watering system used by the Chinese 2000 years ago!

Why hadn’t I heard of this method? Growing up in the upper Midwest, where the soil is rich and rain plentiful, nothing ever needed watering! Crops thrived in the moist, rich, black soil of our farm and most farmers had never seen an irrigation system.

traditional watering method

Wheel crop irrigation

Irrigation Systems

On my first trip to Colorado, in my early 20’s, we traveled Highway 76 past crops being irrigated by a rolling irrigation system on wheels, which ran over the top of the crops, dispersing water from the above pipes. The Wheel Line system is mobilized through the field by a gasoline engine, spraying water on crops throughout the field. It seemed like an expensive way of farming, both environmentally and economically, depleting the nearby water sources, while battling with ongoing surface water rights.

Olla: Ancient watering system

Olla: use less water

The Olla Watering Method

As complex as the Wheel Line system is, at the other end of the spectrum is the simplest method…Olla pots. The ancient Olla method consists of unglazed, porous clay terracotta pots buried in the ground. The drier the soil the more water is pulled from the pots by roots sucking water through its pores, or by soil moisture tension which is the result of nearby drier soil drawing water out of the pots, allowing for moisture equilibrium between the soil outside and inside the pot.

Olla: make your own

Place putty on inside and outside of pot

Olla watering system

Bury Olla in soil

Making Your Own Olla Pots

You can either buy olla pots or make your own. Here’s one way to make your own:

Put white putty on the inside and outside of an unglazed terracotta pot (the clay pots you usually plant flowers in) to seal the hole in the bottom. Bury the pot all the way up to the rim next to your plants and fill it with water. Put the plant base (which usually comes with the pot) over the top of the pot to prevent evaporation. The roots of the plants nearby will find their way to the pot and attach to it, seeping out the moisture and also, as stated before, equilibrium will allow the drier soil to pull water out through the pot’s pores.

Olla pots

Pour water in the olla pot

The Olla watering system is a great water saver, plus a dependable method of watering the garden if you’re leaving on vacation for a few days!

The Olla Watering System

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Great Barrier Reef


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Climate Change Threatening the Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

Coral bleaching

“The dying of the reefs is attributed to a process known as bleaching.”

By Dr. John J. Hidore

July 19, 2018—–Coral reefs are one of the richest ecosystems on the planet. They differ from land ecosystems in that the major populations making up the system are animals rather than plants. Land ecosystems include forests, grasslands and deserts, for example. Coral reefs essentially consist of animal species. The huge variety of animals includes those with backbones and those without. The most prevalent animals are those without backbones such as sponges, snails, clams, scallops and squid. Better known animals are starfish and sea urchins.

Coral reefs are also home to nearly a fourth of all species of fish. The primary food for the animal species is algae. The algae supply the animals with sugars and oxygen in return for shelter and carbon dioxide. These microscopic algae are responsible for the basic color of reefs.

climate change

Bleaching occurs when the reef is under stress.

Rising sea temperatures are resulting in massive destruction of the reefs. They are dying at an unprecedented rate. Massive bleaching events have been largely an event of the last 40 years. Prior to that, bleaching events occurred an average of every 27 years. The first massive bleaching was recorded in 1982-83. There is no record of large scale bleaching prior to that time. Now severe events are averaging about every six years.

Reefs: Coral Bleaching

Rising ocean temperatures affect coral bleaching of the reefs.

Bleaching of the Reefs

The dying of the reefs is attributed to a process known as bleaching. The bleaching is actually the result of the death of the microscopic algae that both color and feed the coral. When sea water gets too warm for prolonged periods of time, corals become stressed, causing them to expel the algae. This expelling of the micro-organisms leaves the coral appearing bleached or whitened.

Coral can survive for a period of weeks without the algae, but with longer periods of time the algae begins to die. A number of factors can cause the algae to die, but only warmer than average water temperature can cause widespread loss. It can occur with sea temperatures being as little as 1°C (2°F) above normal monthly temperatures.

coral bleaching

The Great Barrier Reef and coral bleaching

The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef lies off the coast of Australia. In 1981, it was listed as a World Heritage Site. It is the earth’s largest system of coral reefs. It is one of the largest heritage sites covering an area of more than 336,000 square kilometers (130,000 square miles). It consists of nearly 3000 individual reefs of varying size and almost 1000 islands, also of varying size.

At the time of this writing a greatly expanded area of coral bleaching has been detected off the east coast of Australia. Almost all of the reefs from the city of Cairns northward show evidence of bleaching. Since Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere, water temperatures are the warmest around the north end of the reef nearest the equator and decrease southward. In all, nearly half of the reef is suffering bleaching.

In the northern reaches, where the water is the warmest, bleaching is affecting some 75 percent of the reefs. Going southward to the region offshore from Cairns the bleaching is affecting an average of 25 to 50 percent of the reef. In recent months water temperatures have been warmer than usual and the area of bleaching is expanding southward.

In 2017, the Great Barrier Reef off Australia experienced its second year in a row of extensive bleaching. At least a third of the reef was affected reducing the variety of species. The risk to the reef is due to both global warming and more frequent episodes of abnormal warming.

Fragments of Hope

Building a healthy coral reef.

The Future of the Reef

In the summer of 2018, the future looks bleak for the reef. Reefs can make a substantial start to recovery from bleaching events in 10 years or longer. The problem is that now the interval between events is getting shorter and there is insufficient time for the corals to recover.

At the current rate of warming, by the middle of the 2030’s, severe bleaching may occur as often as every two years. Within 35 years ocean temperatures may rise enough to essentially prevent reefs from surviving in large areas!

Coral bleaching and the Great Barrier Reef

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Also see similar article on Planet Earth Weekly: https://planetearth5.com/2018/05/13/transplanting-creating-healthier-coral-reefs/


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The USA National Phenology Network: Taking the Pulse of our Planet

Phenology

Climate change affects all life.

“Phenology is nature’s calendar. It’s the study of plant and animal life cycle events.”

By Linn Smith
June 14, 2018—–I learned about Phenology when visiting Biosphere 2 several months ago. Upon entering I asked the question, “But where is Biosphere 1?” “It’s our Planet Earth!” our guide answered. (I knew little before entering!) On the grounds of Biosphere 2 is the Biosphere Village Phenology garden.

Climate Change

Birds depend on insects to feed their young.

What is Phenology?

Phenology is nature’s calendar. It’s the study of plant and animal life cycle events, such as leafing and flowering of plants, emergence of insects, and bird migration. Many of these events are sensitive to climate change. Birds build their nest to coincide with insects coming to life after a long winter. The insects are the necessary food for the baby birds and, as the climate warms and winters shorten, this nesting time period will change.

Phenology

What is it?

Monitoring animal and plant life, or Phenology, can help scientists predict which populations are in danger of extinction. It can also help manage invasive species, help predict human health problems, such as allergies, and predict optimum times to plant and harvest crops.

The Biosphere Phenology Garden

“The garden at the Biosphere is part of a nationwide effort to help scientists track impacts of climatic variation and change on the natural world. We are monitoring the timing and occurrence of seasonal events of this garden and reporting the observations to USA-NPN’s national data base.” (USA National Phenology Network)

Phenology

It helps us understand our changing environment.

How You Can Help!

And this is how you can get involved! Citizen Scientists were developed so all can participate in monitoring nature and recording the data. The USA National Phenology Network brings together citizens, government agencies, educators, students and nonprofit organizations to monitor the impacts of climatic variation and change on plants and animals across the U.S. The network harnesses the power of people and the Internet to share information and provide data to researchers.

USA-NPN invites anyone interested to volunteer as an observer so that they can better understand environmental trends and adaptation to climate change. Your own yard can serve as a phenology garden where you observe plants and report your findings. You can track the phenology of plants and animals through Nature’s Notebook, which is an online monitoring system, contributing to a national database that can be used by scientists and resource managers.

Phenology

It can help us understand why nature is changing.

Citizen Scientists at Work

“Cathie Bird finds being outdoors healing and inspiring. She goes outside nearly every day to see what other species are up to, and after she heard about Nature’s Notebook, she decided to record what she observes for the benefit of science. She feels “being an observer has connected me even more deeply with life in my neighborhood” and has “enriched my lifelong commitment to cultivate a deeper relationship with Earth.

Chris Nielsen started using Nature’s Notebook to observe native plants in the Northwest several years ago. Chris not only monitors plants at his home, but also at the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden in Shoreline, WA. What does Chris recommend for getting started with Nature’s Notebook? Don’t take on too many plants! Start out with just a few then take on more as you get comfortable with the program.”

Now is the time to step up to the plate and help out…..the time was actually yesterday, but as the old saying goes, better late than never! Find out more information at: https://www.usanpn.org/natures_notebook

Phenology, You can help!

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Garden the Sustainable Way

Organic gardening

Gardening sustainably produces healthier food.

Life on earth is incredibly interdependent!

By Linn Smith
May 30, 2018—-Springtime! It’s time to plant the garden and flowerbeds. Here are a few tips for gardening sustainably, without destroying or putting toxic substances into the soil. Instead, sustainable methods provide nourishment to the soil and plants.

Go Organic

In 1987 a United Nations report defined sustainability as, “Practices that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This is what our Planet Earth Weekly site is all about! For years now we have been writing, providing ideas and actions you can take to do just that! Leave a healthy planet for future generations!

Here are a few tips. First, compost. Look around you. Nature naturally decomposes living matter back into the soil, providing humus, decomposing leaves and plant life with microorganisms. Humus helps plants absorb nutrients and combat diseases.

At our house composting means putting otherwise wasted food parts in a steal bowl by the sink, which eventually makes its way to a fenced in compost pile near the garden. Everything organic can be put back into the soil, an environmentally healthier method than putting the waste in a plastic bag, sending it to the dump where it will stays for years. This is a year around endeavor, where the compost eventually makes its way to the flower and garden beds. It is worked into the soil in the springtime. When plants die in the fall, throw them back onto your compost pile—a completed sustainable cycle!

Build Trellises

Another tip, build trellises with fallen branches. Below are a few ideas.

Organic garden

Garden Sustainably

Sustainable gardening

Trellis made from tree branches

Living Sustainably

Be creative

Mulching the Garden

Mulch! It saves on water, and when you mulch sustainably using leaves, grass clippings, wood chips, sawdust or compost, you also enrich the soil. Make sure you weed before you lay down the mulch, and also provide a thick layer of mulch, usually 2-6 inches, depending on whether your garden is in partial shade or full sun. Also, if using sawdust, you may want to fertilize first with blood meal, a high nitrogen product.

rainbarrel

Rain barrel to harvest roof water

Rain Barrel

Next, get a rain barrel. You can save on your water bill by recycling rain from your roof onto your garden. In Colorado rain barrels were illegal until several years ago because of water rights. ( See https://planetearth5.com/2017/06/23/solar-uses-in-the-west-monitoring-the-irrigation-ditch/ for further explanation of water rights). Several states, such as Nevada, still have laws against it, so check your state policies before investing in a rain barrel.

Heirloom Seeds

Last, plant heirloom seeds. They are likely to produce more nutritious and flavorful veges and they are open pollinated so you can save them to plant next year. Seeds from plants that are cross pollinated hybrids don’t do well when the seeds are saved from year to year. When you save heirloom seeds you’re saving from plants that have thrived in your garden the year before, so most likely will do well the next year.

sustainable garden

Create natural arches to your garden

As Jayne Poynter stated after spending two years in Biosphere 2, “On a day to day basis I was very aware that Biosphere 2, with the plants, the algae, were providing me with my oxygen and I was providing them with their carbon dioxide. It was incredibly interdependent. It’s like that on Planet Earth, but it’s so big you don’t realize it, or think about it.” https://planetearth5.com/?s=biosphere+2

Keep the cycle going!


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Belize: Creating Healthy Coral Reefs

coral reef

Flying into Belize

“Coral nurseries use several methods of growing and attaching the newly grown coral to the bleached reef.”

By Linn Smith
May 13, 2018—–My daughter recently returned from Belize where she snorkeled among the fish of the Belize Barrier Reef, which runs along the coast for 190 miles. It’s part of the Mesoamerican Barrier reef, which is continuous from Cancun to Honduras… 560 miles. Belize has passed an ordinance prohibiting snorkelers from wearing sunscreen, but this tiny country is doing so much more to ensure the health of their reef and reefs around the world.

Bleaching of a Coral Reef

Coral reefs help protect our shorelines. They also provide food for many species of fish, which, in turn, provides food for the human population. Fishing is a major part of the economy in Belize, providing jobs, recreation and tourism. 

Coral reefs cover less than 1% of our ocean floor but support more than 25% of marine life. Due to global warming, hurricanes, diseases, overfishing, and the warming and acidification of the seas, coral bleaching is happening 4 times the rate of bleaching 40 years ago. Bleaching of a reef looks just like what the word bleaching implies…the reef turns white!

climate change

Bleaching occurs when the reef is under stress.

According to Wikipedia corals are, “A colony of genetically identical polyps, each polyp being a sac-like animal only a few millimeters in diameter, with a set of tentacles surrounding a central mouth opening.”

Corals get their color from the tiny algae that live on them, providing food for marine life. When it gets too hot or the corals get diseased or stressed, they dispel the algae, which is known as bleaching. Bleached corals are more vulnerable to diseases, which spread to surrounding healthy corals and makes it difficult for the reef to recover.

Fragments of Hope

A nonprofit organization, Fragments of Hope, is restoring the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef through transplanting coral from coral nurseries. Lisa Carne, a Marine Biologist, visited Belize after a devastating hurricane in 2001. She noticed fragments of living coral from the reef floating in the sea and asked herself if these could somehow be transplanted back onto the reef. After moving to Belize, Lisa received a research grant to study coral transplanting, thus the creation of Fragments of Hope.

Fragments of Hope

Building a healthy coral reef.

Fragments of Hope has transplanted almost 100,000, more temperature tolerant, coral fragments along the Mesoamerican Reef. With constant documentation and observation, only 7 of the the original 19 Elkhorn fragments transplanted in 2006 were lost. Not only are 12 of the original still surviving, they have also created satellite colonies! Fragments of Hope has created 28 gene bank nurseries of threatened coral species as of 2018.

Fragments of Hope

Restoring our reefs through attaching healthy coral.

Coral Nurseries

Coral nurseries use several methods of growing and attaching the newly grown coral to the bleached reef. A rope method uses a long strand of rope strung between a steel frame which is buried on the bottom of the sea floor. The rope is twisted slightly apart to insert the corals between the rope strands. When the coral is mature the entire strand of rope is attached to the bleached-out reef.
Several other methods use a cement mixture to attach fragments of coral to the reef or transplant coral plugs into the reef. The average growing time to create a healthy transplant is about a year.

Fragments of Hope has successfully trained 30 women for the diver roles over the past several years, a role that has previously been dominated by males. Women who successfully train can earn 3 times the minimum wage of Belize.

Fragments of Hope

Creating healthy coral reefs

United Nations Lighthouse Awards

Fragments of Hope has also expanded to other countries, including Jamaica, Colombia and St. Barth. Fragments of Hope offers training for others through manuals, videos and a precise curriculum to guide them towards success in saving the world’s coral reefs.

Fragments of Hope is a 2017 winner of the Lighthouse Awards, an award given by the United Nations to people and organizations that, “Shine a light on the activities underway across the globe that are moving the world toward a resilient, innovative and transformative solutions that address climate change, the economy and social and environmental challenges. The winners also address some of the most practical and replicable examples of what people are doing to tackle climate change.” The United Nations has been recognizing winners since 2011. There were 19 winners in 2017.

Anyone leading a results-driven project that is successfully addressing climate change may apply for the Lighthouse Momentum for Change Award. The next applications will be taken between February-April 2019. More information is at http://www.momentum.unfccc.in 

Also the Coral Reef Replenishment Manual can be downloaded from Google

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The Impact of Fossil Fuels on our Planet

“The gases from fossil fuels trap heat in our atmosphere leading to the greenhouse effect.”

By Linn Smith
April 21, 2018—Most people by now know the impact of fossil fuels on our environment. Ten years ago this wasn’t true, but today it’s common knowledge. Even with this knowledge and scientific data to confirm it, there are still some naysayers out there. As I have said many times in my articles, some people won’t believe in global warming until it’s in their own backyard, or as Bill Wilson put it….”Even then he may be like the farmer that looked out from his cellar to find his home ruined, saying, ‘Don’t see anything the matter here, Ma. Ain’t it grand the wind stopped blowin’?’”

Are Fossil Fuels the Cause of Global Warming?

How do we know fossil fuels are causing global warming? According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the molecules of carbon dioxide (the main culprit in global warming) contain information about their source of origin. Carbon in atmospheric molecules have a distinctly different “signature,” so scientists can analyze these variations. Also, when using just the data that would show normal changes in our climate (such as from forces of the sun), our changing climate can’t be explained. When the carbon molecules are factored in, global warming can be explained accurately.

Coal and Its Negative Impact on Our Environment

Burning coal causes the chemical bonds that hold its carbon atoms together to break. This releases the energy from coal, which we use to heat our houses. But breaking down these chemical bonds that make up coal also releases pollutants and heavy metals into our atmosphere. Carbon Dioxide is the main byproduct of burning coal and coal powered plants are the main culprits of CO2 emissions, contributing 24% of all energy related emissions in 2016.

fossil fuels and the environment

One of Colorado’s many oil wells.

Petroleum and its Negative Impact on Our Environment

Petroleum is usually found as small pockets of liquid trapped in layers of rock below the surface of the earth. Burning petroleum products (fuel oil and gasoline) also releases CO2 into our atmosphere. According to http://www.eia.gov, almost 20 pounds of CO2 is produced from burning a gallon of gas that does not contain ethanol. As with coal, many other hazardous byproducts are also released, but the release of CO2 from burning petroleum products is a main contributor to global warming.

Natural Gas and its Impact on Our Environment

Natural gas is a mixture of hydrocarbons, including methane, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. It is often found beneath the earth’s surface near pockets of coal or petroleum and is often extracted at the same time. Even though it burns cleaner than the other fossil fuels (it produces about ½ the CO2 emissions per unit of coal), it still contributes CO2 to our atmosphere. The demand for natural gas has increased greatly in the past decade, requiring drilling for natural gas separately from petroleum. This is called fracking.

Fracking contributes to other environmental hazards besides global warming. Earthquakes, created by disturbing ancient fault lines deep under our earth’s crust, can be a result of drilling for natural gas. As with coal byproducts, the gases from fracking can seep into our water ways, contaminating our drinking water and surrounding soil.

fossil fuels vs renewable energy

House explosion caused by fracking

Hazards of Fracking

In 2017, in Firestone, Colorado, fracking caused a house explosion which killed 2 and seriously injured another. The wells were drilled in the area years before the housing development appeared. The house that exploded was built in 2014. The COGCC (Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission) does not regulate the distance of houses from wells, allowing fracking companies in Colorado to have 129,000 underground oil and gas pipelines within 1000 feet of occupied buildings.

fossil fuels vs clean energy

Gas well showing lines extending out.

Anadarko Petroleum, owners of the nearby well which caused the explosion, allowed toxic gases from an uncapped line to seep into the soil around the house, and to eventually seep into the house. A gas well was 170 feet from the home that exploded, with a gas line 7 feet underground. The gas line, which ran within 10 feet of the house, appeared to be severed at some point, possibly from housing construction. In the past the gas line had run from the well to nearby storage tanks. The tanks had long been removed, but the line that caused the house explosion was still connected to a valve at the well that was left in the “on” position. This allowed a mixture of propane, methane and other gases to seep into the surrounding soil and into the home through drains and a sump pit in the basement. The explosion occurred when the family was trying to light a new hot water heater in the basement. 

Who takes responsibility to prevent these events from happening? In Colorado it’s a constant fight between communities and the owners of wells, such as Anadarko Petroleum.

Eliminating Fossil Fuels

The gases from fossil fuels trap heat in our atmosphere leading to the greenhouse effect—the heating of our earth which causes stronger, more frequent extreme weather patterns, rising and warming seas, and extinction of wildlife and their habitats.

Renewables produce little to no effect on weather patterns. Renewables lead to a healthier planet, healthier waterways, less erosion……the list goes on and on! If we support clean energy, we support a healthy planet!

Support Clean Energy

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 Biophilic Design: Creating a Healthy Environment

biophilic design

Biophilic design accelerates the healing process of patients.

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than one seeks!”

By Linn Smith

February 18, 2018——-Growing up in rural America I was always connected to nature. I knew from an early age that I could find peace somewhere out of doors, sometimes laying back on my saddleless horse pondering the clouds or walking the farm fields with my dog. Peace in nature was always close at hand. John Muir said it best, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than one seeks!” Biophilic design recognizes this.

What is Biophilic Design

Biophilic is derived from the term, “biophilia,” meaning “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life.” 

Biophilic design in architecture creates environmentally friendly, energy-efficient buildings and developments by effectively managing natural resources. It recognizes the human need to be close to nature by replicating it in architectural design. It seeks a healthier, happier way of life through creating sustainable buildings and cities.

“Passive biophilic architecture produces buildings that use less energy to operate because they feature efficient designs, materials and systems. The majority of biophilic architectures have highly competent heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting systems, and appliances. In addition, these biophilic restructures are built of energy-efficient materials. Green building elements contribute to a better microclimate through evaporation, filtering of dust from the air and reducing the temperatures at the rooftop,” as stated in the article “Towards a New Potential of Healthy Architecture”

Examples of Biophilic Design

Biophilic Design

Live oak trees extend through the deck of an internal courtyard. Natural bark lines the back walls

WHR Architects, Inc

Christus St Michael Health Care Center in Texarkana, Texas where nearly every hospital room looks out on trees or other elements of nature.

The impact of these designs? Studies show that Biophilic designs have a positive effect on our health and well being. Also, using sustainable materials in the construction of biophilic designed buildings has a positive effect on our environment. Biiphilic design provides another example of creating a healthier planet for future generations. 

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 Agrivoltaics: Growing Food for the Future

Agrivoltaics

Agrivoltaics: Food and Solar

“Agrivoltaics combines agriculture with energy efficiency while growing plants beneath solar panels.”

By Linn Smith

January 28, 2018—- Co-location means two or more groups, sharing the same place. Agrivoltaics, also known as Agrophotovoltaics, means using the same piece of land for solar power plus agriculture. Agrivoltaics, or solar farming, is a new way of growing plants, combining agriculture with energy efficiency while growing plants beneath solar panels.

Agrivoltaics: Dual Use of Land

In 1981, Adolf Goetzberger and Armin Zastrow developed the idea to improve overall production of crops. Dr. Goetzberger founded the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems in Germany. His work involved making solar an alternative to fossil fuels. In 1981, he published a paper titled, “Potatoes under the Collector,” which proposed a setup for solar energy systems in combination with agricultural land use.

agrivoltaics

Growing food with solar

Dr. Eicke Weber, Director of the Fraunhofer Institute stated, “In view of the dynamic worldwide growth of solar installations of the last decade and the increase in land usage resulting from solar installation systems, innovative concepts, like agrophotovoltaics (agrivoltaics) which facilitates the dual usage of agricultural land, help to further and accelerate the transformation of the global energy system.”

Dr. Goetzberger used the term Agrophotovoltaics or APV, as a method of harvesting the sun for both power and production of crops. APV is currently an ongoing project in Germany which demonstrates that land for both growing crops and solar electricity are compatible. Dual use of the land is resource efficient, reduces competition for land and opens up a new source of income for farmers.

The APV System

The APV system was installed on organic farmland in Germany in 2015. Approximately seven acres were used to produce crops under the ground-mounted solar panels, which were built about 5 yards off the ground. Four different crops were planted. The land in use not only generates electricity from the solar panels but is also growing food. The solar panels provide a uniform light distribution on the crops using reflection. To prove their theory, they also planted a control plot nearby using the same 4 crops, excluding the solar panels. The scientists wanted to determine which crops would grow best. Result: The crops under the APV system produced about 80% of that of the control crop. This experiment is ongoing and data will be analyzed in 2018.

agrivoltaics

Agrivoltaics: Growing food to feed the planet.

Agrivoltaics and Biosphere2

A similar experiment was being conducted at Biosphere2 when I visited several weeks ago. This research, headed by Barron-Gafford, Assistant Professor, revealed that the solar system above the crops created a warmer environment than normal when no plants were beneath , similar to the heat-island effect that happens in cities surrounded by cement and asphalt. He stated, “So think about it, if you get rid of all the plants when you put in renewables energy, you’ve gotten rid of that cooling potential… plants under the panels would allow the air to circulate and would take up carbon for photosynthesis by opening up their pores, or stomata, while letting water escape from their leaves and you get a warmer environment. We wanted to see if you put the cooling effect back into the system by growing plants beneath the solar panels, you can actually cool those panels back down and mitigate that heat island effect.”

When solar panels get too warm they start to lose their efficiency. By growing plants beneath the panels they can cool down and retain that efficiency, which makes for more renewable energy per parcel of land. The panels also shade the plants, reduce evaporation and the crops require less water to grow underneath.

agrivoltaics

Agrivoltaics

In the future, as world population grows, solar and land for food must not be in competition. The world population today is approximately 7.6 billion. Two hundred years ago it was 1 billion. At the close of the 21st century the population will be more than 11 billion. The question remains…will we be able to feed our planet’s population and meet the demand for clean energy?

Agrivoltaics and Clean Energy

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