Planet Earth Weekly

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


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The Science of 350: What You Should Know!

Earth's temperature has risen 0.8 degrees Celsius since the late 1880s

What is the danger level of CO2 in our atmosphere?

By Lin Smith

“A different world cannot be built by indifferent people.”

Nelson Mandela

The Science of 350

May 4, 2014—I wrote an article on January 20, 2014 titled, “The Science of 350: How Much CO2 is in our Atmosphere.” In this article I stated, “Scientists say that 350 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in our atmosphere is a safe limit, and unless we rapidly return to below 350ppm this century, we risk reaching tipping points and irreversible impacts, such as continued melting of the Greenland ice sheet and major methane release from increased permafrost melt.”

Protecting the Future of Our Planet

James Hansen, former NASA employee, is a forerunner in warning the planet of eminent danger. In his article,”Dangerous Climate Change: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissons to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature”, published December 2013, along with his Columbia University colleagues, he again warns that the CO2 we are producing today will remain in our atmosphere for a millenia–yes, 1000 years! The Arctic Sea Ice has decreased, along with a decrease in its thickness, melting several hundred cubic kilometers per year and accelerating yearly. Also, mountain glaciers are growing smaller and subtropical climate belts are expanding, contributing to an increase in wildfires. Mr. Hansen states that we need to rethink what a dangerous level of CO2 is in our atmosphere, that the current level of CO2 is at the danger level, which has caused a rise in temperature of approximately 1 degree Celsius in the past 100 years. Sea levels are rising at the rate of 3.2 mm/ per year and cities are already planning to build flood walls to resist the rising seas.

Hansen predicts the earth will continue to warm at an accelerated rate in the coming years. He states, “The important point is that the uncertainty is not about whether continued rapid CO2 emissions would cause large sea level rise, submerging global coastlines-it is about how soon the large changes would begin…carbon from fossil fuel burning will remain in and affect the climate system for many thousands of years, ensuring over time that sea level will continue rising.”

NASA: Data on Global Warming

In an article, (m.earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/WorldOfChange/decadaltemp.php), NASA states, “According to an ongoing temperature analysis conducted by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for space Studies (GISS), the average global temperature on Earth has increased by about 0.8 degrees Celsius since 1880, with two-thirds of the warming occurring since 1995, at a rate of 0.15-0.20C per decade.”…..this is an average over the entire earth’s surface, even though temperatures in a given year or decade might rise 5 degrees in one area and drop several degrees in another area. This data is gathered by NASA from 6,300 meteorological stations around the world, based on land, ships, and satellite data of sea ice. You can download this data at the GISS website.

Hansen and NASA both state that if a rise of 0.8 degrees Celsius has produced a rise of sea levels and melting of the Arctic sea ice, then a continued rise of 2 degrees Celsius would will be disastrous to our planet and that fossil fuels should be reduced as soon as possible. Now is the time to act. Our governments need continual pressure to stop supporting the burning of fossil fuels. Questions to ask yourself: How is my electricity generated? Will I care about what happens to the future of my planet? What can I do today?

Mandela said it best,

“A different world cannot be built by indifferent people.”


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Keystone XL Pipeline—Why It’s A Bad Idea!

Canadian Oil Fields

The mining and processing of the oil sands has negative environmental impacts, such as greenhouse gas emissions, large strip mines which “strip the land” of all natural flora, and impacts on water quality.

By Linn Smith

Republished February 8, 2015

September 7, 2013—-Producing oil from tar sands is “scraping the bottom of the barrel”, and so it is with the KeystoneXL Pipeline, a pipeline owned by a company named TransCanada, that would double the tar sands currently being transported from the oil fields of Alberta, Canada to the U.S.. The tar sands are under the Boreal Forests of Alberta, home to many species of plants and animals.The Boreal Forest not only cools the earth with its shade, it also plays an important role in preventing global warming, as the trees store and use carbon dioxide (the global warming culprit) in photosynthesis. Under the TransCanada leasing conditions, the company would have the option to lease an area the size of Florida for tar sand production.

Strip Mining for Tar Sands

Tar sand (or oil sand) consists of sand, sandstone, clay, and water, which are saturated with an extremely thick form of petroleum. These fields of tar sands have only recently been mined for their oil deposits, as new technology has made it possible to extract and use the oil. The tar sand oil is often called unconventional oil and is different from the traditional oil of oil wells, having a composition as thick as molasses.The oil sand is so thick it must be extracted from the earth by strip mining or by injecting steam or solvents into the sands. The mining and processing of the oil sands has negative environmental impacts, such as greenhouse gas emissions, large strip mines which “strip the land” of all natural flora, and impacts on water quality (using 2-3 barrels of water for each barrel of oil). In processing the tar sand, the water is contaminated, stored in human-made ponds, known as tailing ponds, and left to seep cyanide and ammonia back into the ground, contaminating our clean water supplies. When transported through a pipeline, the tar sand oil is mixed with lighter hydrocarbons to allow it to flow. Processing the tar sand for household use requires a processing that generates 12% more greenhouse gases per barrel than conventional oil. Currently, oil is not produced from tar sand on a large, commercial basis, but the XL Pipeline would change that, opening the spigot to allow the flow of “dirty oil” around the world. .

Carrying the Sands to the Gulf of Mexico

The pipelines of TransCanada have yet to reach a coastal port–that’s what XL would do–carry the tar sand to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. The company is currently in 56 separate eminent domain actions against landowners in Texas and South Dakota who refuse to give permission to build the Keystone Pipeline on their land. A Texas judge has given permission to TransCanada to seize the land if the owners refuse to sign an agreement with the company. Why not build the pipeline across Canada to their own coastal ports? In June 2013, British Columbia rejected the pipeline across their land. “The British Columbia government said “no” to moving half a million barrels a day across the 600 miles to their ports, stating the risk of spills to the pristine environment would pose a risk to salmon fishery and to human health”. The pipeline has been rejected by the Canadian government and approval by the U.S. is still pending. If rejected by the U.S. government, TransCanada will reportedly seek routes to the Arctic Circle for transportation purposes, shipping the tar sand to China and countries which have no regulations against burning the “dirty oil”– reaping the company enormous profits!

One of the Dirtiest Most Carbon-Infested Fuels

James Hansen, NASA climatologist testified in the U.S.congress that there is still time to save the planet and reduce the global warming villian, CO2, in our atmosphere, “but that means moving expeditiously to clean energies of our future. Moving to tar sands (oil sand), one of the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fuels on the planet, is a step in exactly the opposite direction, indicating either that governments don’t understand the situation or that they just don’t give a damn. People who do care need to draw the line!” Seventeen of Hansen’s fellow climate scientists have signed a letter urging President Obama to reject the pipeline, stating the pipeline is “counter to national and planetary interest.” The U.S. already imports 800,000 barrels of tar sand oil per day. The Keystone XL would import another 830,000 more barrels per day of the dirty oil. The tar sands of Canada have been estimated at 1.63 trillion barrels. If all of it was extracted from the Canadian tar sand fields, it is estimated the temperature would rise .4 degrees C or approximately 14 degrees Fahrenheit. President Obama will ultimately decide the fate of the pipeline.The southern half of the pipeline, Oklahoma to Texas, is currently under construction. The northern half is still in the proposal phase. Obama rejected the first permit for the northern project, but TransCanada resubimitted their application and a decision is expected some time in the fall of 2013.

TransCanada’s oil is a “dirty little secret” to some, called “black gold” by others, depending on a person’s affiliation with personal oil investments or their concern for the environment, but if people care about preserving our planet, it must stay in the ground.

it must stay in the ground!


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Global Warming

Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and m...

Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and mean global temperature during the past 1000 years. Carbon dioxide levels (blue line, left-hand axis) are given in parts per million (volume), temperatures (red line, right-hand axis) in degrees centigrade. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Lin Smith

August 17, 2013–The science of 350: Scientists say that 350 parts per million  of CO2 in the atmosphere is the safe limit for humanity. We are above the safe zone at our current 400ppm, and unless we rapidly return to below 350 ppm this century, we risk reaching irreversible impacts such as the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and major methane releases from increased permafrost melt.

Ppm or parts per million  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. Until  200 years ago our atmosphere contained about 275 parts per million of carbon dioxide, which gave human beings the environment necessary to maintain life. It provided us with just enough warmth on Earth–not too hot, not too cold!

Beginning in the 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.

A biofuel means a fuel derived directly from living matter, such as wood or corn. 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 take 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, in the past,  maintaining the 275 ppm of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere-just enough for us to exist in comfort.

When we burn fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, we put more CO2 in the atmosphere. 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.

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 in 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 about 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!

James Hansen, of NASA, says if we wish to preserve a planet similar to that we are inhabiting, we need to reduce the CO2 from 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, 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  we will see disastrous and irreversible climate impacts!
What we as individuals can do to cut down on fossil fuels:
1. Recycle your waste. Many household wastes, including most plastics, are made from fossil fuels. Most packaging materials 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 or take public transportation, or drive a hybrid vehicle (I know this isn’t an economic choice at this time for many people.)
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 cloths 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. Expensive to install but will save you money in the long run.