Planet Earth Weekly

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


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Climate Change and Human Population Growth Precipitated the Pleistocene Mass Extinction

climate change and species extinction

Climate change and extinction of species

“Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception!”

By John J. Hidore

May 19, 2018—-Changes in climate can and do result in the elimination of species of plants and animals. Evolutionary adaptation and ecological equilibrium may not take place as rapidly as the climate changes. Adaptation by plant and animal species to environmental change may take years, centuries or thousands of years.

Different species respond at different rates and in different forms to climate change. Plants are always producing hybrids and individuals with mutations. In any plant species, there are those individuals better suited to the extremes of the range of the plant. These individuals may thrive under changing conditions while the majority perish. In this manner, the optimum conditions for the species changes to those of the new environment. Animals may also come under more and more stress with changing environmental condition and some species become extinct.

Mass extinction and climate change

Mass extinction throughout time

The Paleozoic/Mesozoic Mass Extinction

At intervals through geologic time, events have taken place that resulted in the demise of many if not most living species. Extreme cases are called extinctions or mass extinctions. A current definition of a mass extinction is a widespread and unusually rapid decrease in the number of species of plants or animals. There have been at least 13 mass extinctions since life became abundant on the planet. As a result of these mass extinctions 99 percent of all species that have existed on the planet no longer exist.

The most extensive mass extinction of all time happened at the boundary between the Paleozoic and Mesozoic Eras. Ninety percent of all living species died out and very drastic changes took place in the fauna of the planet with a major collapse of marine fauna, especially those living in shallow water on the continental shelves.

Among the organisms that perished were the trilobites. Trilobites were one of the dominant organisms of the seas. They survived the previous two extinctions but couldn’t withstand the changes that mark this period in earth’s history. While many land species disappeared, there was no parallel to the mass extinction of marine animals. The changes were so drastic that the life of the following Mesozoic Era was quite different from that of the Paleozoic Era.

climate change and mass extinction

Survival or mass extinction

The Pleistocene Mass Extinction was a Global Event

In the recent history of the earth there have been two periods of accelerated extinction of biota during which the extinction rates were greater than evolutionary causes would predict. These two periods are the end of the Pleistocene Epoch and the modern period.

The Pleistocene extinction, took place over a period of a few thousand years, at the end of the last glacial advance (l8,000 to 8000 BCE). In a relatively short period of time, whether measured in either geologic time, evolutionary time or in terms of human history on earth, a large number of species of mammals and birds disappeared without being replaced. The period of greatest species loss was from 13,000 to 8000 BCE. During this time there was a rapid warming of the planet. Especially impacted species were the larger animals weighing more than 40 kg (88 lbs)The spacing of the extinctions over several thousand years makes it difficult to ascribe to climate events alone. Furthermore, most of the extinct animals were large enough to be conspicuous and edible.

The rate of extinction varied from place to place and through time. The rate of extinction was lowest in Sub-Saharan Africa where modern humans coexisted with the large animals the longest. The rate of extinction increased as distance from the African region increased. The highest rate of extinction occurred in South America.

mass extinction of species

Climate change and mass extinction

To some extent the rate of extinction paralleled the spread of modern humans. It was long believed that large mammals were too powerful for humans to hunt. Perhaps this was true for the individual hunter with spear or bow and arrow, but when hunters went out in groups, it is quite possible they could have been very successful hunters of large animals, even using only simple tools.

In Africa, pygmies hunted elephants with primitive tools. The Plains Indians of North America demonstrated they could successfully hunt large animals with primitive weapons. Herds of animals were driven off cliffs or into water by the use of fire and were either subsequently destroyed in the fall or drowned, or at least made far more vulnerable to attack. Modern humans became more sophisticated hunters as they spread from their place of origin in Africa. Places that were isolated from human migration for a longer period of time, such as some islands, suffered less species loss.

The Mass Extinction in North America

The largest North American mammals were hardest hit. Seventy percent of existing species became extinct. Horses and camels, which had evolved in the New World, became extinct on this continent, as did mammoths and mastodons, which had migrated into the New World over the once dry land of the Bering Strait. The ground sloth, saber toothed tiger, dire wolf, giant buffalo, antelope, and the giant beaver also disappeared, and yet there was no concomitant loss of small mammals, plants or aquatic organisms.

The spread of the human species and the state of the cultural development at the end of the Pleistocene suggests that humans were a major factor in this accelerated extinction. A surprising number of the fossilized bones of extinct animals and birds were discovered associated with charcoal and stone tools, such as arrowheads or spear points. Some of the sharpened tools were still embedded in the bones. Humans appeared in North America rather suddenly from Asia, occupied the continent, and began hunting animals that had never had a chance to adapt to this special type of predator.

The most recent extinction is that taking place today. How severe it will be is yet to be determined.

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Climate change and mass extinction

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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 Effect of Climate Change on the Saguaros of the Sonoran Desert

saguaro pic by Linn Smith

Saguaro of the Sonoran Desert

“Saguaros have evolved to rely on the summer monsoons and winter rains that prevail here.”

By Linn Smith
March 4, 2018—-Each morning I ride along the dirt paths in southwest Arizona, my dog in tow, and wonder at the giant Saguaros, towering, as if royalty of the desert. What do I know about these gigantic, human like plants? I know I am truly humbled by their presence. The beauty against the mountains, the size, the human like features of arms lifting to a blue sky above, their age and, while the world moves forward, these mammoth cactuses have survived the elements of a dry arid life in the Southwest…all part of my fascination!

But what about the survival of the Saguaros? What is the future of these majestic desert plants? With climate change comes a hotter, drier desert and with a hotter, drier desert comes a greater risk of fires and drought, making it difficult for the Saguaro to propagate according to the narrow margin of time allotted for seed dispersion that coincides with the monsoons.

And also….there’s Buffelgrass!

Saguaros

Buffelgrass competes with Saguaros for nutrients

Buffelgrass: A Giant Threat to a Giant Cactus

Buffelgrass is native to Africa and was transported to the desert of Arizona to prevent erosion and for cattle forage in the 1940’s. Many volunteers work tirelessly digging up the invasive grass, which competes with the Saguaros for food and water. The grass not only competes for the nutrients and water among the Saguaros, it is also fire-resistant, as the roots are able to survive a fire, allowing the Buffelgrass to endure the elements of nature and return healthier than ever.

Buffelgrass is highly flammable and burns very hot, much hotter than the Saguaros can survive. It changes a fire-resistant desert into a flammable grassland and, as climate changes and fires increase, so does the Buffelgrass. A healthy ecosystem is able to resist changes of climate due to global warming, but the buffelgrass creates an unhealthy environment for the Saguaros of the Sonoran Desert. When it fills in the bare areas between the Saguaros, the grass acts like fodder for fire caused by lightning strikes.

Climatecental.org states, “Like many such imports, which seemed like a good idea at the time, this one (Buffelgrass) has gone out of control. Approximately 2,000 acres of Saguaro National Park are currently covered with buffelgrass, and can spread at a rate of up to 35 percent per year. There’s no way for one park or its visitors to hold back global warming, but while park employees attack the fire-loving buffelgrass with herbicides, volunteers show up for communal buffelgrass pulls. It’s a difficult battle, but after great effort and thousands upon thousands of buffelgrass clumps yanked from the ground, mostly by volunteers, some land is declared free of the unwanted grass.”
The staff at Saguaro National Park states it like this, “The math of climate change is simple: Hotter summers mean a greater likelihood of fire. Warmer winters mean less chance for buffelgrass to die back in a hard freeze. It all adds up to long odds for the saguaros. If we start seeing buffelgrass come through and we have larger fires, really you can start calling us Buffelgrass National Park. The cacti are not going to survive that.”

Saguaro

Saguaros of the Southwest

The Saguaros and Monsoon Rains

The Saguaros only habitat on earth are the deserts of the southwest. Andy L. Fisher, chief of interpretation for Saguaro National Park says, “Even — or especially — in the desert, water is life. Saguaros have evolved to rely on the summer monsoons and winter rains that prevail here. Their adaptations to this regional weather cycle are so specific that the species is found in the Sonoran Desert and nowhere else on Earth. The saguaros have got it dialed in. They know exactly when they need to put up the fruit to put out the seeds, to get the seeds carried by the animals, to get seeds deposited just in time for the first monsoon rains.” If the monsoons fail to bring the needed rains within their usual timespan, these cactuses could soon become extinct, along with the many other species of plants throughout our planet dependent on timely conditions for survival.

Saguaro Population Regeneration

A seventy-five year study of the Saguaro cactus by the National Parks Conservation Association titled, “Saguaro Mortality and Population Regeneration in the Cactus Forest of Saguaro National Park: Seventy-Five Years and Counting,” created maps showing the percent of population change of the Saguaros according to sections. The study shows that only 12 of the 64 four-hectare (one hectare equals approximately 2.5 acres} plots had a population increase over the past 75 years in which the Saguaro was studied. The other 52 plots decreased in Saguaro population. Other studies document the same degree of regeneration.

Weiss, Castro, and Overpeck , who headed the study, contrasted the drought of the 2000s with the drought of the 1950s and point out the following. “Temperatures during the drought of the 2000s have been generally higher than during the 1950s drought due to climate change. They note that the higher temperatures increase the evapotranspiration especially in the foresummer prior to the monsoons. Hence, we suspect drought, not reproductive potential, is primarily responsible for the lack of regeneration in this population in the current era.”

The observations made during the past 75 years of this study suggest that the success of the Saguaro’s regeneration in the 21st century will depend on a combination of factors including climate and fire associated with the invasive non-native buffelgrass. Climate change may benefit some species, such as Buffelgrass, and cause extinction of others….the Saguaro, which is at risk of disappearing in the future!

If you are in the Southwest or just visiting and would like to spend a day for a worthy cause….digging Buffelgrass, contact the Desert Museum: https://www.desertmuseum.org/buffelgrass/volunteer.php

One last note, don’t try to poach a Saguaro to sell or relocate to your yard, as many are microchipped!

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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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Living Green: Using Our Resources 

building green

Cities, states and individuals must do their part in preventing climate change.

Remember: Recycle, Reduce, Reuse!

By Linn Smith

October 12, 2017—-People in developed countries are losing the ability to be resourceful! We “run to the store” impulsively on a daily basis. How did folks survive without today’s conveniences? Today nearby stores provide us with our every need, and we too often toss excess and unused products in the garbage, leaving our landfills and oceans overloaded with toxic materials that may never decompose!

Growing up on a farm, we grew most of our own food. Our basement was lined with many shelves containing hundreds of jars filled with colorful, canned foods from our garden. Cows, pigs and chickens provided us with fresh meat, and our dairy cows provided the milk we drank, and it wasn’t pasteurized! My mother strained the milk through a cheesecloth to get the big chunks (of whatever) out…..and my brothers, sisters and I all grew up healthy! Farm life was what we call green living today….but back then it was just life!

Families use to be resourceful. To obtain something they needed, they reused, fixed, mended or created something new from what they already had.  My grandmother created children’s mittens from old sweaters, it saved money and no new items were purchased.

Earth Day: Let's Clean and Green!

Earth Day today and every day!

Eco-friendly Steps to Going Green

What are some eco-friendly steps we can take to conserve today? Here are just a few:

1. Turn some of your yard (or all of it) into a garden and can or freeze the vegetables. Yards were originally for very wealthy families in England, who used sheep to keep the grass trimmed. Lawns weren’t meant to look like  golf courses. They had dandelions and clover. Today our lawns are toxic with chemicals and leave  huge carbon footprints!

2. Buy unpackaged products from local farmers at farmer’s markets.

3. Cook from scratch instead of buying processed food. It tastes better!

4. Make restaurants an occasional option, not a daily trip. (This includes Starbucks!).

5. Buy second-hand from used stores, garage sales, or auctions. Fix, mend or make-do.

6. Don’t buy more than you need. Several years ago we stored most of what we thought was our valuable “stuff” and went RVing. It cost well over $1000 to store. When we returned and assessed our “stuff,” we realized we could live without most of it. We had a garage sale, making several hundred dollars from the sale of our valuables that had cost over a $1000 to store!

7. Recycle and compost.

Earth Day

Clean Energy: Make It a Priority!

Why Not Go Green?

Here are some excuses people make to avoid helping our planet:

1. It’s too expensive…BUT, if you shop around most things are comparable.

2. One person can’t make a difference….YES, you can! Good thing everybody doesn’t feel this way!

3. No one else around me is living eco-friendly…..WELL, THEN….how ’bout you be the first!

4. It’s too late. The planet is already doomed….OK, pull your head out of the sand and look around at what positive people are doing!

5. Global warming is a myth. NO IT’S NOT! (But I won’t waste my time arguing with you on this point!)

6. It takes too much time and effort. It’s like anything else, it becomes routine when done on a regular basis.

Before you buy something, ask yourself if you really need it, or is there something you already have that could be used…or ask, Can I make do with less?

Remember: Recycle, Reduce, Reuse!

Recycle, Reduce, Reuse!

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Gothenburg Sweden: Providing Sustainability through Green Bonds

Gothenburg, Sweden

Build sustainably with green bonds.

“Local governments wield significant influence and authority that can drive environmental sustainability within their jurisdictions.”

By Linn Smith

August 6, 2017—–In the late 19th century Gothenburg developed into an industrial city. In 1987 the Minister of the Environment called parts of the city, “hell’s waiting room” which described the environment for the industrial part of the city, dirty and polluted. Chemicals were escaping into the environment and appearing in animals, fish and mother’s milk, increasing cancer risks and lowering the immune system of infants. This was the Gothenburg of yesterday!

From Industrial City to Climate Leader

Today, Gothenburg has transitioned from industrial city to a world climate leader. In 2013, it became one of the first cities in the world to issue Green Bonds. 

Bonds allow the public to invest sums of money. When a person purchases a bond they lend money to the issuer of the bond, in this case, the city of Gothenburg. In return investors are paid a specific interest rate. 

Green bonds are linked to solving our climate change disaster by providing the money necessary for a community to build sustainably. They are earmarked for environmental projects.

Gothenburg, Sweden

Go Green with Green Bonds

Building Sustainably with Green Bonds

Gothenburg offers Green Bonds to the public, which allows the city to borrow money from investors. With this money the city creates climate change projects that allow a transition from a polluted city to one of low carbon emissions and climate-resilient growth. Without the Green Bonds Gothenburg would have struggled with decisions on funding schools and daycare or moving the city toward sustainability.

Gothenburg, Sweden

Gothenburg goes green with Green Bonds

Projects Funded by Green Bonds

Some of the projects funded by Green Bonds are:

• Large scale production of biogas, providing high efficiency in production and recycling of waste heat for district heating and electricity.
• Electric cars for city and companies, with 100% electric cars in the city fleet.
• Energy efficient traffic lights
• Sustainable housing. These buildings use green electricity. Estimation shows that the sustainable housing built so far will avoid 50-60 tons of Co2
emissions in the atmosphere annually.
• Tree planting. 1710 trees have been planted since the projects funded by Green Bonds started, with a focus on a green cityscape, which effects the
urban air quality and temperatures of nearby buildings.(See https://planetearth5.com/tag/heat-islands/)
• Sustainable transportation. Improvements to the city’s bicycle infrastructure. The city offers 1,000 bikes with 69 stations in the city to leave
your bike. You can pick up a bike, ride it to your destination and drop it off at the nearest station.
• A sustainable airport. All energy at the Gothenburg airport comes from renewable sources. Heat is generated by biomass boilers. There are also
charging stations for electric cars. Take off fees for airplanes are reduced for those with lower emissions of nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons. 75%
of the airport shuttle buses run on RME, a biofuel made from rapeseed (related to canola oil.)
• The city’s SJ trains run entirely on renewable electricity from wind and hydro power.
• A sustainable port. Gothenburg is a coastal city. Ferries and ships which are docked in Gothenburg are encouraged to connect to an onshore power
supply, which is a source of clean energy. “Providing an onshore power supply for vessels at berth can result in significant environmental gains.
Carbon dioxide emission decrease substantially and emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitric oxide are reduced to a minimum. Onshore connections also
provide a quieter environment and cleaner working conditions.”
• The largest ultrafilter built in Scandinavia. City water is treated by ultrafilter to assure the highest quality of drinking water for its citizens.

Linking Investments to Green Projects

Green Bond investing has led to greater interest by citizens in the environment, plus it creates a link between investments and speeding up green projects. 

Other cities are following suit. Toronto issued Green Bonds to finance a heat, power and cooling solar plant. Johannesburg just issued green bonds to finance green projects that will reduce greenhouse emissions and contribute to a sustainable city.

The California Sustainability Alliance said it well. “Local governments wield significant influence and authority that can drive environmental sustainability within their jurisdictions” and further influence the global greening of our planet!

Gothenburg-Green Bonds

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Urban Heat Islands: Their Effects and Solutions

the heat island effect

Heat Island prevent heat from escaping cities.

“As urban areas grow a person’s health will be connected to the build up of heat and pollution in the city…..it will become essential to build green.”

By Linn Smith

April 20, 2017—–If you live in a city you probably have noticed how much cooler it is in the summertime when you take a drive in the country. Drive back toward the city, with its concrete buildings, and you feel the great intensiveness of a hot summer day. There’s a name for this city heat….the urban heat island effect.

What is a Heat Island?

An urban heat island describes a large area of buildings and concrete (cities) that has temperatures which are higher than the countryside surrounding them. According to http://www.epa.gov, “The annual mean air temperature of a city with 1 million people or more can be 1.8–5.4°F (1–3°C) warmer than its surroundings. In the evening, the difference can be as high as 22°F (12°C).” With global warming the temperatures of the heat islands will continue to increase.

Urban heat profile

Urban areas hold heat.

What Causes the Build Up of Heat?

As you enter a city you may notice concrete and asphalt surrounding you—-buildings, parking lots, streets and side walks. The concrete and asphalt absorb the sun’s heat rather than reflecting it, causing surface temperatures to rise. The rise in temperature also causes a depletion of vegetation resulting in less shade and moisture in the air. The resulting heat requires an increase in energy consumption—air conditioning which results in greater electrical use. This  cycle  keeps revolving—a catch 22 in which there is no escape from the merry-go-round of negative conditions from heat build-up.

Smog and Heat Islands

Cities can also cause “hotspots” of pollution. This smog can trap heat over a city, holding in the gases from coal burning facilities and vehicle emissions, not allowing them to escape into the atmosphere (the greenhouse effect). In addition, the closely built structures resist air flow, keeping the air trapped in the city, unlike the countryside which cools off as the air flows more freely.

Health Effects of Heat Islands

Some of the more obvious effects of heat islands are discomfort, breathing problems, heat stroke and exhaustion. But they can also be related to cardiovascular disease, sleep deprivation, depression and many more!

urban heat island

Build Green

Minimizing the Heat Island Effect

New technologies for minimizing heat islands are rapidly being developed. Several techniques currently in use for developing green urban areas are:

*Cut down on heat absorbing materials, such as asphalt and cement, by using more reflective surfaces for paved areas.The pavement can be enhanced by using reflective aggregate, a reflective or clear binder or a reflective surface coating.
*Plant trees that shade streets and paved areas.
*Use white roof membranes instead of black.
*Create a green roof–rooftop gardens.
*Create rooftop decks made from wood.
*Increase shade around buildings.
*Use energy efficient appliances and equipment which cut down on electrical use.

As National Geographic summarized, “Urban heat islands can have worse air and water quality than their rural neighbors. They often have lower air quality because there are more pollutants (waste products from vehicles, industry, and people) being pumped into the air. These pollutants are blocked from scattering and becoming less toxic by the urban landscape: buildings, roads, sidewalks, and parking lots.”

As urban areas grow a person’s health will be connected to the build up of heat and pollution in the city…..it will become essential to build green. The planning stage for this is now!

Urban Heat Islands

building green

build green


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Forecasting Global Change

Elections 3016

Predicting the future


Dr. John J. Hidore

November 16, 2016—–The desire to know the future is deeply ingrained in the human species. The future is extremely important to contemporary society, but it is probably no more so than it was to people at any other time in history. Forecasting is the process of predicting some event or the status of some phenomenon in the future. Forecasts can be useful for planning purposes, humorous, or even dangerous. In the past when a demand for knowledge of the future existed, mystical forms of prophecy came into existence. Priests, witches, prophets, crystal balls, astrology, palmistry, and oracles all played a part.

Climate change

Nothing is Permanent

The Great Pyramid of Cheops

There exist sites and remains of structures which have played important roles in predicting the future in ages past. One of the earliest is the Great Pyramid of Cheops (ca. 2650 B.C.) in Egypt. The size and finesse of construction of this pyramid, more than 4000 years ago, has led to speculation of every kind about its construction and what it means.

The pyramid is a monument to Pharaoh Cheops, founder of the fourth dynasty. Perhaps as many as l00,000 laborers built this monument. They moved more than two million stone blocks from a quarry down the Nile River to near Cairo. The blocks were then transported to the west side of the Nile valley and hoisted onto the escarpment. There they assembled the blocks into the structure which remains today. White limestone pieces were then fitted so as to provide a smooth surface to the structure. Most of the white facing is now gone. Only a few pieces still remain near the top. It was probably pirated over time for other structures.

All change is not growth

Moving Backwards

Inside the structure are a series of passageways which lead to two burial chambers, one for the pharaoh and the other for his wife. In 1864 a Scottish astronomer, Charles Piayyi Smyth, made accurate measurements of the direction and dimensions of the passageways. Based on his measurements he came up with a chronology covering 6000 years. He used one pyramid inch (25.25 mm) to represent one year. Downturns and restrictions in passageways represent hard times and world disasters. Upturns, broad passageways, and the burial chambers themselves represent good times and major advances for the human species.

Some of the structural chronology and significant world events coincide. However, either the human species did not heed the message, or there were mistakes made in construction because the system fails frequently. They built the passageways, as they are, for real reasons. Certainly, a people capable of the design and construction of the monument did not build the interior randomly. However, their reasons are now unknown. The end of the corridors implies a great new world by 2001, an optimistic prediction which unfortunately did not seem to be correct.

The Need for Forecasting

Today, as in the past, there are many questions about the future global system for which we need information. One whole group of question centers around the widespread and varied impact that climate change would have on other aspects of the environment. Among the many things that would change if climate changes are global temperatures, sea level, biological diversity both on land and in the ocean. Some notion of the difficulty of forecasting global environmental change is the complexity of the interaction and feedback between various parts of the global system.

For example, human induced increases in CO2 and other trace gasses are major elements in potential global warming. However, because CO2 is the primary raw material for photosynthesis, increased CO2 concentration is likely to have a direct biological impact on the extent and distribution of Earth’s vegetation.

Forecasting Today

As the human population grows, and the world enters further into a global economy, forecasting future events becomes ever more important. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing the future for certain. There are now forecasts being made from climate change to space travel. Some forecasts are being made out as far as the year 2100, 85 years from now. If we look back 85 years to 1930, it is worth noting what has transpired. Technological developments that have occurred since then include such things as hybrid cars, self-drive cars, drones, television, organ transplants, satellites, travel to the moon, nuclear weapons and artificial intelligence. None of these could have been included in forecasting today’s world.

Today forecasts are being made for conditions as far away as 2050 and 2100. The question is, how can forecasts for conditions this far out be made accurately, when so many technological and cultural changes can be expected to occur during this time. Some cultural elements, such as regional over-population, income imbalance, indigenous uprisings, and resource depletion, are individually and collectively important factors in defining our world in the future. There can be no doubt that in 2016 the rate of change is taking place faster than ever before and how it will change simply is unknown in many, if not most, cases.

The effective life of forecasts may be very short. For instance, climate forecasts by the IPCC have often underestimated the extent of future changes. These forecasts have been revised every seven years. Forecasts of global conditions to 2050 are at least questionable. Those for 2100 even more so. It must be recognized, that for some forecasts that are continually being made, the reliability decreases on almost a daily basis.

As an example of forecasts going bad is the presidential election in the United States in 2016. A seemingly endless number of forecasts predicted Hillary Clinton to win up to the day before the election. Sadly they were all wrong.

As the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus is purported to have stated, “There is nothing permanent except change!”


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Montreal Protocal Is Making a Difference

Montreal Protocol

With and Without Montreal Protocol

Scientists around the world soon realized the amount of damage the chlorofluorocarbons were doing to the environment.

By Dr. John J. Hidore

August 17, 2016—-Ultraviolet radiation is high intensity energy that Earth receives from the Sun. Ozone (O-3), high in the stratosphere, filters out much of this ultraviolet radiation. Part of this high-energy portion of the ultraviolet radiation spectrum is known as ultraviolet-B (UVB). Although the atmosphere blocks most UVB radiation, it does not block all of it. This UVB radiation is very harmful to living organisms.

Any reduction in atmospheric ozone lets more ultraviolet radiation through the atmosphere to reach the surface. Plants did not flourish on Earth until there was enough atmosphere and ozone to block much of the UVB radiation. All plants and animals now existing and living in sunlight have adapted to ultraviolet radiation in some manner. However, they vary widely in their tolerance of UVB. Plants that developed in climates with high-intensity sunlight show a variety of defense mechanisms for UVB. Some produce pigments that absorb UVB radiation.

In arid climates, plants develop thick, shiny leaves. Cacti and olive trees are examples. Most living organisms are subject to damage if UVB radiation increases. Since plants cannot adjust their behavior to changing solar radiation they are vulnerable to increases in UVB radiation. Animals have also adapted to UVB radiation. Nearly 90 percent of marine species living in the surface water surrounding the Antarctic Continent produce some form of chemical sunscreen.

Ozone Depletion

Size of Ozone Depletion

Ultraviolet-B and Human Health

Humans have adapted to UVB radiation by manufacturing melanin in the skin. This is a pigment that blocks ultraviolet radiation. A summer tan results from increased production of melanin. Persons with very fair skin do not readily manufacture melanin and sunburn very easily. Over exposure to ultraviolet radiation results in aged skin, skin cancer, and a weakened immune system. The risk of skin cancer is much greater from overexposure by a sunburn than from steady low doses. A single blistering sunburn in a person 20 to 30 years of age triples the risk of skin cancer.

The risk of getting skin cancer can be reduced with reasonable care. The first rule is to avoid exposure to the midday sun. The most dangerous hours are between 10 A.M. and 2 P.M. There is an old saying: “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun.” If exposure to the sun is necessary, using a sunscreen with a rating of 15, based on Ultraviolet-B radiation, helps reduce skin damage.

03

O3

Chlorofluorocarbons

In 1974, scientists warned there was evidence to suggest that compounds known as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were having a depleting effect on stratospheric ozone layers. These compounds are not natural compounds.

First synthesized in 1928, these compounds promised to have many uses. They are odorless, nonflammable, nontoxic, and chemically inert. They first came into use in refrigerators in the 1930’s. Since World War II, CFCs have been used as propellants in deodorants and hair sprays, in producing plastic foams, and in cleaning electronic parts. They do not react with most products dispersed in spray cans. They are transparent to sunlight in the visible range. They are insoluble in water and are inert to chemical reaction in the lower atmosphere. For these reasons they are valuable compounds.

Antarctic Ozone Hole

Chlorofluorocarbons rise into the upper atmosphere where they break apart under ultraviolet radiation. This breakdown releases chlorine, which interacts with oxygen atoms to reduce the ozone concentration. The most disturbing reduction in atmospheric ozone is that found over the Antarctic Continent and is referred to as the ozone hole.

The ozone hole over Antarctica has occurred in September and October since the late 1970’s. During the Antarctic spring, there is a decrease in ozone north from the pole to nearly 45° south latitude. In August and September 1987, the amount of ozone over the Antarctic reached the lowest level recorded to this date. In the fall the ozone hole covered nearly half of the Antarctic Continent.

The same process takes place elsewhere in the atmosphere, but at higher altitudes and at slower rates. Ozone depletion is less outside the Antarctic, where the difference is significant. There is no Arctic ozone hole like that of the Antarctic. Temperatures are warmer, and there is more variable weather in the Arctic which provide less favorable conditions for the necessary chemical and circulation processes. Ozone depletion contributes to global warming. The additional ultraviolet radiation reaching the earth’s surface adds heat to the lower atmosphere.

International Cooperation has Made a Difference

Scientists around the world soon realized the amount of damage the chlorofluorocarbons were doing to the environment. The U.N. Environment Program called a conference in Montreal, Canada, in September 1987, that drafted a treaty restricting the production of CFC’s. The agreement is officially termed the Montreal Protocol.

International support for the treaty led to a substantial reduction in CFC production. The reduction in CFC’s has led to a decline in the amount of UV radiation getting through the upper atmosphere. The average size peaked in the 1990’s. Evidence now indicates that the average extent of the Antarctic ozone hole is declining. In the Antarctic spring of 2015, (September and October) the extent of the hole was only about ½ of what the previous maximum area had been. Hopefully, the size of the hole will continue to decline. NASA has indicated that it might be gone by 2050. This accord shows that international cooperation can occur with respect the environmental problems.

The Paris Conference on climate change can make a huge difference to global warming and climate change if the signatories follow through on their commitments.

The Paris Conference on Climate Change