Planet Earth Weekly

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


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Plastics and Bioplastics: What You Need to Know

Bioplastics will put nutrients back into the soil.

Bioplastics will decompose back into the soil quickly.

“Bioplastics are derived from renewable biomass sources that are living, or recently living organisms–mostly plant sources.”

By Linn Smith
April 1, 2015—-There is a great need on our planet to decrease the use of non-degradeable plastics and further the research of bioplastics, replacing the current use of petroleum based plastics with environmentally friendly ones. Bioplastics have been around for decades. Henry Ford made auto parts out of corn and soybean products for his Model T. Interest in Bioplastics have fluctuated over the years with oil prices.

To make petroleum based plastics, which makes up most plastics used today, the petroleum goes through a chemical process that combines smaller molecules into a large chain like molecule, often with other substances added, many being harmful to our health. Plastics use approximately 8% of the yearly global oil production.

Decomposition of Plastics

Plastics may take up to 1,000 years to decompose in our landfills, while leaking pollutants into the soil and water. A plastic fork can stay around for hundreds of years. According to a Columbia University study, at least 34 million tons of plastic waste is discarded each year and less than 7% of this waste is recycled. And by now, most have heard of the giant floating islands of plastic in the ocean, approximately 100 million tons—so far!

Bioplastics are environmentally friendly.

Bioplastics are made from living things such as corn, soy or the shells of shrimp.

Bioplastics from Vegetable Sources

Bioplastics are derived from renewable biomass sources that are living, or recently living organisms–mostly plant sources. Bioplastics can come from agricultural by-products including vegetable oils, corn starch, and pea starch. Researchers have also used rice to make plastic, which is strong and thermal resistant, but in the past the starch based products have decomposed too quickly for broad use.

Bioplastics from Chitin

Harvard’s Wyss Institute has created bioplastics made from chitin found in the shells of shrimp, crabs, lobsters, most of which would be discarded after harvesting the meat. Chitin is the second most abundant organic material on earth and is also the main material in the hard shells of most insects. Bioplastics made from this source are tough, transparent and renewable and can be made into complex shapes for mass production. They are better for the environment and produce fewer greenhouse gases than petroleum-based plastics. When these products are discarded they break down within a few weeks and release nutrients back into the soil for plant growth. The life cycle of this plastic is renewable and environmentally beneficial, whereas plastics made from petroleum, once discarded, may take centuries to decompose.

Petroleum Plastics and Embodied Energy

A study from Columbia University’s Earth Engineering Center in 2011 analyzed the embodied energy of plastics. “The amount of energy contained in the millions of tons of plastic in the U.S. landfills is equivalent to 36.7 million tons of coal, 139 million barrels of oil or 783 billion cubic ft of natural gas. If this plastic was recovered and converted into liquid fuel, it could power all the cars in Los Angeles for a year–and the fact is, there is now technology to do it.”

So, what happens to all that plastic? Most of it is still out there, sitting in landfills or floating somewhere on earth! If we, as consumers refused to use petroleum based plastics, production would stop!

Bioplastics: Saving Our Environment for Future Generations

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Making a Difference in Carbon Dioxide Emissions

Megacities and CO2

Megacities are currently in action to reduce greenhouse gases

Many people are aware of the problems ahead, leading efforts to make a difference in emissions due to burning coal.

By Dr. John J. Hidore

December 18, 2015—Coal is the dirtiest and least expensive of the fossil fuels. Burning coal emits soot, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As a result, coal causes more illness and fatalities than other fossil fuels. The consumption of coal increased 54% in the years from 2000 to 2011. In this 10 year period, China’s coal consumption went up by about 1½ times, oil consumption doubled, and natural gas by 3 times the previous amount. China now burns almost half of all coal consumed each year. In the same time period, India’s coal consumption has more than doubled, oil consumption increase by half and natural gas by 131%. In the summer of 2012, a coal dependent power grid collapsed producing a blackout that affected 640 million people.

Leading Efforts to Make a Difference

It is clear that world consumption of coal as an energy source is increasing in many nations. However, many people are aware of the problems ahead, leading efforts to make a difference in greenhouse gas emissions. One such effort was led by the mayor of London, England. In 2005, the mayor invited representatives of 18 of the world’s largest cities to meet and discuss the need for large cities to take action in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Soon after, with the help of the Clinton Climate Initiative, the group grew to 40. The merger of two groups in 2012 led to the formation of what was designated as the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group.

C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group

There are three levels of membership in this group. The original and core section is that of megacities. Megacities are defined as cities with currently more than three million people or metropolitan areas of over 10 million, either currently or projected by 2025. Cities are also admitted to this class if they are among the top 25 cities in terms of gross domestic product (GDP). The number of megacity members has now grown to more than 60.

There are two other categories of members which allow smaller cities to participate in the program. To date nearly 5000 measurable actions have been initiated that will reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide. Already existing actions taken by these cities are expected to reduce emissions by 248 million tons by 2020 and by one billion tons by 2030.

The Megacities Carbon Project

Controlling Pollution Over Megacities

The City of Los Angeles: Coal Free by by 2025

The city of Los Angeles is one of the megacity members of the C40 group. As part of their action plan, the city has pledged to become coal free of energy sources by 2025. The mayor and Board of Water and Power Commissioners of Los Angeles have announced a plan to be coal free. The city currently gets 39% of its electrical energy from coal driven power plants, located in Utah and Arizona. The city will end its contract with Arizona in 2015, and will convert the Utah plant to natural gas by 2025. Between 2005 and 2013, Los Angeles increased the amount of energy used from renewable sources from three to twenty percent.

Other Notable Events Related to Reducing Carbon Dioxide Emissions

1. A Nevada coal fired plant was shut down due to activist pressure. In May of 2014, NV Energy announced plans to close its four coal fired power units of the Reid-Gardner Generating Station near Moapa, Nevada. The plant has been a point of contention in Nevada for many years. The Moapa Indians attribute a variety of health problems to this plant. The problems include asthma, heart disease, and lung disease due to coal dust.
2. President Obama, along with the EPA, has placed future limits on coal burning plants.
3. Eleven cities have committed to divest from fossil fuel companies.
4. In 2014, Ontario, Canada announced that it will become the first North American industrial region to eliminate coal power.
5. The World Bank has declared it will sharply restrict funding for new coal-fired power plants in developing countries.
6. The US Import-Export Bank has declined to fund a huge new coal plant in Vietnam on environmental grounds.
7. A bureau of land management lease sale for 149 million tons of coal in the Powder River Valley has failed to attract a single bid.

Many people and organizations have recognized the urgency of climate change and are working to make a difference!


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Global Changes of Note in the Early 21st Century

Climate Change

The earth’s overall temperatures are increasing every year.

Greenhouse gases let solar radiation through the atmosphere, but trap outgoing earth radiation

By Dr. John J. Hidore

October 18,2014—Planet Earth is now in a period of rapid change. The first years of the 21st century serve to indicate how fast it is changing. A fundamental driving force in many of these recent changes is the growth of the human population. From the time of its origin until now the population has been growing faster and faster. It took modern humans some 200,000 years to reach a total of one billion individuals. We have added another billion in less than 15 years since the start of the century.

A major element in change is now global warming and its associated changes. The warming is largely due to the accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases let solar radiation through the atmosphere, but trap outgoing earth radiation. Heat thus accumulates in the earth system.

Carbon Dioxide and Methane

The major greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide and methane. Both of these gases have been accumulating for the last several centuries. Since the start of the industrial revolution, the burning of organic fuels has released more than 500 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The concentration in the atmosphere is now the highest it has been in the past 800,000 years. The gases are at their highest levels in historic times and have now passed 400 parts per million.

Four countries contribute most of the carbon dioxide. They are China, India, The United States, and Russia. In the past year, each of these countries increased their emissions of carbon dioxide. The United States, which had been stabilizing emissions, increased its contributions. At a recent conference on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, China, India, and Russia did not attend. Globally an estimated 39.8 billion English tons (36.1 billion metric tons) of carbon dioxide were contributed to the atmosphere in the last year. That is 2.3 % more than the previous year. Almost all carbon dioxide comes from burning fossil fuels. .

Methane levels are also at record levels. It forms in the natural world largely from the decomposition of organic matter. It has begun to accumulate during the past two centuries. Since 1750, the level of methane in our atmosphere has more than doubled, from about 700 to 1800 parts per billion (ppb) in 2013. The current level is the highest in at least the last 650,000 years. About half of the increase has occurred since 1960. Methane comes from a variety of sources including agriculture, mining, and manufacturing, and fracking

Increasing Greenhouse Gases

Global temperatures have increased accompanying the increase in greenhouse gasses. In the months of May and June of this year (2014) the highest average global atmospheric temperatures, since records began, were recorded. In 2012, worldwide land-surface temperatures for the months of June through August were the hottest ever. Australia recorded its warmest year of record in 2013. Not all of the planet experienced unusually warm conditions at this time, but overall, earth’s temperature has increased.

Walruses need Sea ice

Walruses Cling to Melting Sea Ice.

Parts of the arctic region are now the warmest they has been in 44,000 years. The warming is taking place around the North Pole including the Arctic Ocean and the surrounding land masses. Most of the ice shelves in the Canadian Arctic broke away from land during the past 14 years. Every summer, for the last ten years, the area of sea ice has been below the average of the previous 20 years. Sea ice in the Arctic sea reached is lowest level ever on September 16, 2012.

2012: Records Broken in the U.S.

2003-2012 The warmest decade ever recorded in the United States.
2011-2012 The winter (Dec, Jan, Feb) was the fourth warmest since records began in the 1890s. It was about four degrees Fahrenheit above the average and the warmest since the year 2000. Twenty seven states had one of the 10 warmest of record.
2011-2012 Warmest records in U.S. History.
2012 Warmest year ever recorded in the United States. The year averaged 3.2F above the average of the 20th century.
2012 March sets record high temperatures. More than 7700 U.S daily-high temperature records were set.
2012 In March more than 90 cities set record highs for the month.
2012 The six warmest 12 month periods so far in the U.S. ran through 2012.
2012 Global land surface temperatures in the months from June to August were the warmest ever.
2012 September tied for the warmest ever in the United States,
2011-2012 The 12 months from August 2011 to July 2012 were the warmest ever in the United States.
2012 In July of this year all 50 states in the Unites States set record highs. During the summer of 2012, ninety degree temperatures forced the Tennessee Valley Authority to shut down three nuclear power reactors.
2012 Drought affected as much as 65% of the lower 48 states.

In 2012 eleven extreme weather and climate events each cost the U.S. at least one billion dollars!


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Our Rapidly Changing World

Our Food Supply may be Rapidly Reduced with Rises in Temperatures.

“There is nothing permanent except change”

Heraclitus , Circa 500 BC

By Dr. John J. Hidore

August 22, 2014—Change through time is a basic attribute of Earth. Earth has been undergoing constant change since it was formed from a cloud of cosmic dust some 4.6 billion years ago. The changes that have taken place and are taking place vary in form, size, duration and areal extent. Days use to be shorter than now; the planet has been both warmer and colder than it is now and the magnetic poles of Earth have changed end for end. Mountain ranges have grown and then eroded away. Ancient seas no longer exist; and biological species have appeared and disappeared. Even the sun which supports life on the planet is not a constant source of energy.

Our Changing Climate

Earth’s climate has changed through time like all else. Throughout most of the history of Earth, the planet was much warmer than it is now. The initial atmosphere contained high concentrations of carbon dioxide and little oxygen. Eventually, the balance between carbon dioxide and oxygen changed to what we have now with much more oxygen. Scattered through time were ages of extreme cold. The earliest ice age took place two billion years ago. The second glaciation took place between 800 and 600 million years ago. This may have been the most extensive glaciation ever to occur on the planet.

Today Our Climate is Changing Faster than at Any Other Time

The global environment is changing now faster than at any time in recent history. What is most significant perhaps is that not only is it changing at a rapid rate but the rate at which it is changing is itself increasing. Simply put the environment in which all living things exist is changing faster and faster. A few examples of current phenomenon will serve to make the point.

Modern humans or Homo Sapien Sapien evolved in Africa some 200,000 years ago. From Africa the species spread out over the planet. It took the modern human species more than a hundred thousand years to reach a total population of one quarter million. We are now adding a quarter million people to the planet each and every day. Each of these added individuals needs food, clothing, and shelter in order to survive. In addition to meeting the needs for survival, they will want many of the amenities of life that are found in the most prosperous countries.

The Rapid Growth of Human Population

Much of the rapid change taking place now is tied to the phenomenal growth of the human population. One of these rapid changes taking place now is the elimination of animal and plant species. There have been times in the past when a large number of species became extinct due to some natural catastrophe. These times are referred to as mass extinctions. Species of plants and animals are now becoming extinct at an extremely high rate. The rate of extinction of species before human development is estimated to have been about one species every ten years. The current rate is at least 100 each year and possibly as high as 1000 each year. Elephants are one species of animal whose numbers are declining rapidly. One hundred thousand elephants were killed in the two years from 2010 to 2012. Satao, the largest known African Elephant was killed by poachers in Kenya near the end of May 2014.

The Monarch Butterfly has Rapidly Reduced in Numbers.

The Rapidly Disappearing Monarch Butterfly

Another example of how fast species are declining is that of the monarch butterfly. Less than two decades ago as many as a billion monarchs migrated to Mexico for the winter. In the fall of 2013, that number dropped to a tiny fraction (1/30) of previous decades. The primary reason for the drop in numbers is the tremendous application of herbicides to agricultural fields. This rapid drop in butterflies is just one of what is now considered to be the sixth mass extinction.

Record Breaking Temperatures

Earth’s climate is being altered by the human species. The planet is warming up due to human activity. The highest average atmospheric temperatures ever recorded for the months of May and June occurred in 2014. The heating is having a profound impact on almost all parts of the environment including the world ocean.

What the outcome of these rapid changes for the human population and other living species is not known. An even cursory look at what is happening on the planet in 2014 suggests that some drastic changes in the behavior of the human population need to take place now.

The only question is whether the people understand and will demand the changes.


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A Defeat of Arch Coal, A Win for the Environment

Arch Coal must look at the environmental impacts of their coal mines.

In a recent ruling by the court, expansion of a mine by Arch Coal loses, the environment wins!

This decision by Judge Jackson is the first of its kind and could greatly change the current threat that mining and burning fossil fuels have on our environment.

By Linn Smith
August 19, 2014—On June 2014, a judge in Colorado refused to allow expansion of the West Elk coal mine owned by Arch Coal Company. Arch Coal planned to plow a six mile road and expand the mine into a 1700 acre area of wilderness in Colorado. Why did the judge halt the road that had been approved by the BLM and Forest Service? Because Arch Coal Mine could not address the negative impacts that destroying the Colorado wilderness and extracting more coal for burning in power plants would cause. They failed to “adequately consider and disclose the impacts that a mine would have on climate disruption.”

“First of a Kind” Decision for Coal Mines

This decision by Judge Jackson is the first of its kind and could greatly change the current threat that mining and burning fossil fuels have on our environment. It’s the first time a judge told a big coal mine operation that their current way of thinking is no longer acceptable. Coal companies, in the past, have continually made statements that coal mines have no long term effect on our environment and, consequently, climate change. The judge stated that coal mine companies can no longer ignore the cost of destroying our planet for coal.

Arch Coal loses its court battle to environmentalists

Business as usual is no longer the protocol for coal mines.

In 2013, the Sierra Club and several other environmental groups sued the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to block the expansion of the Arch Mine. The Forest Service and the BLM had earlier approved the new expansion ignoring the federal environmental laws that require, “full analysis and disclosure of environmental impacts, including the climate impact of any related carbon emissions.It is arbitrary to offer detailed projections of a project’s upside while omitting a feasible projection of the project’s costs.” This judgement will effect the future, mining companies will no longer be given a free ride for future expansion. Judge Jackson’s ruling holds the coal mines accountable. The BLM’s decisions to lease land to coal mines whenever requested, will now be questioned.

Arch Coal Claims No Harm to the Environment

Arch Coal Mine’s website states, “Arch Coal and our subsidiaries have a leading position in every major U.S. coal basin, with mining complexes in Wyoming, Colorado, Illinois, West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Maryland. As a natural resource company, we take our responsibility to the land seriously. We integrate land reclamation into every phase of mining. Great care is taken to ensure that the land is restored to a natural and productive state once mining is complete. Out west, herds of elk, mule deer and pronghorn antelope thrive on previously mined lands. These herds benefit from more plentiful water sources and vegetative cover. Within a few seasons, these lands become virtually indistinguishable from the surrounding terrain.”

Arch Coal: No longer Business as Usual

Arch does not address the fact that coal mined on federal lands is emitting pollution when burned, causing extreme weather and a warming planet. Judge Jackson’s final statement counteracts the all-is-well attitude of the big coal companies: “BLM’s topsy-turvy approach on climate has brought us a federal coal binge that is indirectly subsidizing the coal industry(Arch Coal) and worsening climate disruption. The economic principles at play are not complicated. Broadly stated: if you reject a lease and take a large portion of a commodity (here coal, but it could have been natural gas, tar sands, etc.) off the market, you decrease the supply, increase the cost, and, over the long term, decrease the use of that commodity. Because switching from coal to cleaner and more affordable energy would result in less coal mined, less coal burned, and less carbon pollution emitted, BLM’s decisions do have a climate impact — and a big one at that.”

To maintain a healthy planet for future generations, business as usual will no longer work. All is not well with the big coal companies and it takes people like Judge Jackson to make it right for the survival of life on our planet!

Creating a Healthy Planet One Decision at a Time


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The Science of 350: How Much CO2 is in Our Atmosphere?

The Science Of 350 and the Growing amount of CO2

Every year data measures a greater amount of CO2 in our atmosphere.

By Lin Smith

The Safe Limit of CO2 for Humanity

January 20, 2014-–The science of 350: Scientists say that 350 parts per million of CO2 in our atmosphere is the safe limit, and unless we rapidly return to below 350 ppm this century, we risk reaching tipping points and irreversible impacts, such as the continued melting of the Greenland ice sheet and major methane releases from increased permafrost melt.

Up until about 200 years ago our atmosphere contained about 275 parts per million of carbon dioxide, which gave human beings the environment necessary to exist. It provided us with just enough warmth on Earth–not too hot, not too cold! Parts per million (ppm) is  a way of measuring the concentration of different gases. It means the ratio of the number of carbon dioxide molecules to all of the molecules in the atmosphere.

Atmospheric CO2 and the Industrial Revolution

Beginning in 18th century, people began to burn coal, gas, and oil to produce energy and goods. This was the Industrial Revolution of Britain, Europe, and the U.S. During this time period, CO2 began to rise in our atmosphere. The production of goods transitioned from hand made to machine made. The transition also included changing from wood and other biofuels to coal.

What is a Biofuel?

A biofuel means a fuel derived directly from living matter, such as wood, corn, ect. The CO2 released from wood and other biofuels has minimal impact on greenhouse gases. When we burn wood and other biofuels, the energy the biofuels took from the sun for photosynthesis, (remember your science classes?) is released back into the atmosphere. It takes and gives back about the same amount, thus maintaining the 275 ppm of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere-just enough for us to exist –comfortably, up until now! When we burn fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, we put more CO2 in the atmosphere than is used by earth’s vegetation. The earth then warms and that warmth is absorbed by the CO2, which does not allow it to escape into space. When CO2 is too high, climate change occurs, as it is doing today.

Reliance on Fossil Fuels

Many activities we do every day, like turning the lights on, cooking food, or heating and cooling our homes, rely on these fossil fuel energy sources that emit carbon dioxide, trapping gasses into the atmosphere. We’re taking millions of years worth of carbon, stored beneath the earth as fossil fuels, and releasing it into the atmosphere. The planet now has above 400 parts per million of CO2, and the number is rising every year. That is more than this planet has seen in its history! Scientists say the highest safe level of CO2 is 350 parts per million. This is the safety zone for planet earth!

Preserving Our Planet

James Hansen, of NASA, says if we wish to preserve a planet similar to that we are inhabiting, we need to reduce the CO2 above 400ppm to, at most, 350ppm. We need to stop taking carbon (coal) out of the ground and putting it in the air. We need to start using solar and wind and other sources of renewable energy. If we do this, then the earth’s soils and forests will slowly cycle some of the extra carbon out of the atmosphere and eventually CO2 concentrations will return to a safe level. By doing this we could go back to the 350 by 2050. But the longer we remain in the danger zone, above 350, the more likely that we will see disastrous and irreversible climate impacts!

Cutting Fossil Fuels

1. Recycle your waste. Many household wastes, including most plastics, are made from fossil fuels. Most prepackaged foods and goods use fossil fuels for their production and disposal. Try to reduce your overall consumption of things you don’t really need, and recycle everything!
2. Drive less, walk, cycle, take public transportation, or drive a hybrid vehicle. I know hybrid vehicles aren’t an economic choice  for many people, but there are a growing number of older hybrids on the market, and if you weigh the cost of purchasing one with the amount you could save in gas, it may be a good choice, for you and the environment. An older Prius may get 60 mpg, and, no, the batteries aren’t wearing out like predicted.
3. Cut your household power consumption, turn off lights when not in use. Most of the electricity in your house is likely to come from coal-fired power stations, not renewables. Insulate your home, use a ceiling fan instead of air conditioning, hang your clothes instead of tumble dry. I know–who has clothes lines anymore?? BUT they can be inexpensively installed in the back yard–just like the old days! Just put ‘em back!
4. Install a solar panel. They are getting less expensive to install and will save you money in the long run.

The Science of 350 states we must lower the CO2 in our atmosphere, even doing something small will be a start towards saving our planet for future generations!

 

 


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Arctic Methane Adds to Global Warming

Methane Leaking through the Cracks

(Photo credit: NASA)   Melting of   permafrost is releasing trapped methane into the atmosphere.

By John J. Hidore

Melting of  the Permafrost  

 December 7, 2013–A characteristic of much of the land surrounding the Arctic Sea is a phenomenon known as permafrost. Permafrost is ground which is frozen in winter. In summer the ground surface melts, but does not melt down far enough to thaw the frozen soil all the way to the bottom. Along the southern boundary of the permafrost, the temperatures within the soil are close to the freeze-thaw temperature. Only a slight increase in temperature can melt permafrost over large areas. Along this boundary, the permafrost is melting downward at a rate of about three feet (1 meter) every ten years. Around the base of Mt. McKinley large areas of arctic meadow have turned into a mix of ponds containing water-loving plants and dry meadows. Much of the melting of the permafrost has taken place in the past several decades. Permafrost is not restricted to North America. Somewhere between 20 and 25% of Earth’s land area contains permafrost. In China, the permafrost is estimated to be melting northward at the rate of about 1.6 km (1 mi) every year. Around the Arctic Sea the permafrost is now completely melting in summer on the southern margins.

Methane (CH4) is a greenhouse gas found in small amounts in the atmosphere under natural conditions. It is a gaseous hydrocarbon that is clear, odorless and flammable. It forms in the natural world largely from the decomposition of organic matter. It has begun to accumulate during the past two centuries. Since 1750, the level of methane has more than doubled from about 700 to 1800 parts per billion (ppb) in 2013. The current level is the highest in at least the last 650,000 years. About half of the increase has occurred since 1960. The additional methane comes from a variety of sources including agriculture, mining, and manufacturing.
Historic Changes in Atmospheric Methane
Date Parts per Billion
By Volume
___________________________________________
100,000 YBP 500
70,000 YBP 650
20,000 YBP 350
1750 700
19th Century 800
1990s 1600
2013 1800 ___________________

Methane: Seeps and Fountains

Permafrost provides a barrier for gases trapped beneath the frozen soil and ice. A large amount of methane is trapped beneath permafrost and ice covered lakes, perhaps trillions of tons. Some of the methane has been trapped under the ice for hundreds of thousands of years. Rapid melting of the permafrost is releasing trapped methane into the atmosphere. The melting of sea ice and decomposition of vegetation at the bottom of ponds and lakes contributes to the methane emissions. Ice capped seeps are mainly found along the boundary of the permafrost. They are also found around the retreating margins of glaciers. Scientists have recently documented 150,000 methane seeps in Alaska and Greenland. In Russia more than 100 methane fountains have been found, some more than one-half mile wide. These fountains send methane directly into the atmosphere. On a global basis, methane is now second to carbon dioxide in volume of emissions. It accounts for about 23 % of greenhouse gases. The combination of CO2 and methane combined account for 93% of greenhouse gas emissions at present.

Water vapor normally is not present in any significant amounts above the troposphere. Methane rises in the atmosphere, passing through the troposphere to the stratosphere. In the stratosphere the sun breaks down methane and hydrogen oxidizes to form molecules of water vapor and ice crystals. The accumulation of water vapor and ice particles forms thin clouds. These clouds reflect Earth radiation back to the surface, compounding global warming. Computer models show that a doubling of methane into the atmosphere could increase water vapor in the stratosphere by approximately 30%.

Perpetuation of Global Warming 

Because global warming is most rapid in sub-Arctic regions, rapid melting of the permafrost is taking place and increasingly releases methane into the atmosphere. The release of methane in sub-polar regions is self perpetuating. If more methane is released into the atmosphere, it will lead to still more warming and more methane release. If only one percent of the methane known to be buried in the ground were emitted to the atmosphere, it would have double the warming effect of all greenhouse gases placed into the atmosphere to date.


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FROM WASTE TO ENERGY

wast managemet sweeden

By Lin Smith

August 11, 2013–Sweden, a country of 9 million people, is one of our planet’s leaders in creating a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Their goal is to achieve a completely oil free economy by 2020, replacing fossil fuels with renewable alternatives before “climate change undermines national economies worldwide and diminishing oil supplies force astronomical price increases.” Their renewable alternative–turning trash into power! Although at the present time Sweden relies on other forms of energy, burning of garbage accounts for an equivalent of 810,000 homes being heated and the electrical equivalent of 250,000 homes being powered. The waste to energy plants are burning garbage faster than Swedes can produce it, so their solution? Import garbage from Norway!

Sweden sends just 1% of its residential solid waste to the landfill, recycling 50% and thermally processing 49% for heat and power generation in their WTE plants (waste to energy). Charlotta Broman, from the Ministry of the Environment in Sweden, states, “Sweden has a waste program that focuses on waste as both a resource and an environmental problem…We believe it is necessary to look at the properties of the waste. Recycling and recovery should be used for toxic-free materials only. Waste containing hazardous substances should be phased out …or be treated in environmentally sound ways. A lack of information on chemicals in products is an obstacle to achieving resource efficiency through recycling.”

Sweden (and all of Europe) has a classification hierarchy for waste management starting with the most favoured option to the least favoured option: 1.prevention of waste, 2.minimization of waste, 3.reuse of waste, 4.recycle, and the very last option, 5.dispose in landfills. A more aggressive approach to this hierarchy was drafted in March 2013 by the Zero Waste International Alliance. This Alliance, in which Europe is a part, contracted the following hierarchy for waste (best to least): 1.Reduce and conserve materials, 2. Shift incentives to stop wasting (by policies and regulations), 3.Manufacturers will design products for sustainability (don’t allow toxic wastes into consumer products or building materials), 4.Reuse, 5.Recycle, and last again, 6.Regulate disposal. Europeans want to “extract the maximum practical benefits from products and generate the minimum amount of waste” by setting standards that allow everyone to take part in the waste management planning, at the national, state, and local levels, spreading the responsibility to all. The Swedish EPA continues to “fine-tune the rules for different types of waste management, as well as produce guidance for management.”

As in Sweden, landfills for the rest of us should be the final step in the heirarchy of getting rid of garbage, as they are toxic to our environment, poisoning our atmosphere and groundwater. Landfills are sealed in the ground to keep out air and water, decomposing slowly by anaerobic bacteria, an organism that doesn’t require oxygen for growth. Once the landfill is full it is sealed. These seals can not only leak but they also release methane gas, which along with wastewater treatment gases, make up about 2.3 percent of our planet’s greenhouse gas emissions. Most landfills are not designed to decompose the garbage, only to bury it. If they were designed to decompose garbage more methane would be released into our atmosphere. According to Wikepedia, “the unclear nature of the contents of the garbage in the landfill makes its gas production difficult to predict and control….due to the continual production of landfill gas, the increase in pressure causes the gases to be released into the atmosphere…which risks fire and explosion if not released.” The gas composition from a landfill is 40-60% methane, the rest consists mostly of carbon dioxide. With more than 6,000 landfills in the U.S., the EPA has estimated garbage in our landfills contributes 650 billion cubic feet of methane per year to our atmosphere which has a large impact on our changing climate. Methane is considered 20 times more toxic to our atmosphere than CO2.

Why haven’t other countries done more to move in the direction of Sweden? We create more than 390 million tons of garbage per year in the U.S.alone. Only .3% of power in the U.S. is generated by recycled garbage, which comes mostly from manufacturers not from households. Americans have had the “not in my back yard” reaction to burning recycled waste. Len Rosen states,”you would think that with all the waste humans produce, that incineration would be a preferred method of managing garbage but that is not the case. Why? Because of concern over release of toxins in the atmosphere from burning. The amount of ash, heavy metals, dioxin, sulphur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, carbon dioide and other trace gases that burning undifferentiated garbage can produce. These byproducts of incineration are linked to climate change, acid rain, and human illness.”

But Sweden remains innovative in solving their problems of waste management. With the support of their population, recycling has become a way of life. Not accepting the haul-everything-to-the-dump attitude, they have adopted a workable solution and the most ecofriendly method on our planet. So how is Sweden handling the byproducts of incineration? “The country’s incinerators have been designed to collect the pollutants that are the byproducts of burning waste. Only the heavy metals are collected and buried in landfills. Gases going up the smokestack are scrubbed to remove dangerous chemicals, and sulphur dioxide gets converted to sulphuric acid for commercial resale. Ash is collected and exported back to Norway, where it gets used for roads and building materials. The goal is to make incineration a green energy source and Sweden is well on its way!” states Rosen.

According to the EPA, “for every ton of garbage processed at a WTE (waste to energy) facility, approximately one ton of emitted carbon-dioxide equivalent in the atmosphere is prevented. This is because the trash burned at the facility doesn’t generate methane, as it would at a landfill.” The electricity generated offsets the greenhouse gases that would be generated from coal and natural gas plants. Some landfills are trying different methods to “trap” methane and turn it in to energy, which can reduce gas emissions, but these trapped gases still generate significant emissions. According to the EPA, these plants are still releasing methane, with approximately 34% of the methane “trapped” for energy, 38% is flared, or burned, and 28% is released into the atmosphere. A 2012 report by the EPA states, ” Most of the existing data that is available to evaluate emission from landfills is based on flux box data. These measurements do not account for the majority of losses found at landfills…there is a need to better quanitify landfill gas collection efficiency.”

Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle and know where your garbage goes!