environmental irony wind power

Environmental Irony

environmental irony wind powerI have written before about the changing face of environmentalism. A perfect example of a new form of environmental irony played out in Peru.

Greenpeace activists, looking to make their message loud and clear, desecrated an ancient heritage site called the Nazca Lines. The lines have existed in a pristine state since their origin, sometime between 400 and 650 AD.

The Curse of Environmental Irony

No one treads on these lines. Yet, the activists walked on and placed a banner with their message in the name of their cause. Talk about environmental irony.

If one assumes that true environmentalism involves preservation of the Earth, where does violating an irreplaceable and some would say, sacred site fit in? Greenpeace isn’t alone in this blatant example of environmental irony.

It’s evident, ironically enough, within the very cause they seek to promote, renewable energy. First off, I support use of renewable energy and nuclear power. I think huge logistic problems exist with renewables that compromises their wide spread application.

Unintended Consequences

You can’t escape the reality of rare earth acquisition. You’ll find them in hybrid cars, wind turbines, and even your iPhone. However, obtaining them causes catastrophic environmental destruction. Mining produces toxic waste products that persist in the environment. We’re talking some really nasty stuff, like cyanide, arsenic, and mercury.

The great environmental irony lies in the fact that to “solve” one problem [climate change], you have to create another [toxic waste]. The same can be said of solar and wind power, both which cause loss of wildlife. Wasn’t saving wildlife a part of that earlier definition of environmentalism and saving the Earth?

No One Solution

The complexities of environmental issues and their proposed solutions underscores the need for research, discussion, and a break from biases, like confirmation bias and what I call the silver bullet bias. In the latter, one believes that one and only one solution exists for a problem, a lá silver bullet. Would that it were so!

There is no one solution to solve many of our most challenging environmental issues, including climate change. Just as complex are the problems, so too are the solutions. It’s too simplistic to say that the future is renewable. It’s not.

Think for a moment of all the by-products of fossils fuels. If you use nail polish, deodorant, aspirin, or detergent while blasting fossil fuels, you are a hypocrite. It’s like a vegetarian who dislikes the treatment of livestock wearing leather shoes. It’s the plethora of by-products that makes a solution like renewables uninformed. The last thing that the climate change cause now needs is ignorance.

The solutions is solutions, working together and looking out for all of the stakeholders. No one promised an easy fix. But desecrating sacred lands is not part of the mix.

http://exploring.weborglodge.com/By Chris DR

photo credit: whiteafrican via photopin cc

environmentalism preservation

Why No One Talks about Environmentalism Anymore

environmentalism preservationEnvironmentalism isn’t what it used to be. Its tenets used to be clear. When you said that you were an environmentalist, everyone knew what you meant. Now, it has become more complicated and awash in biases and fallacies that have muddied its principles.

Environmentalism of Old

Back in the day, environmentalism meant saving the planet and protecting it from the ravages of humans. Unless your head is totally in the sand, you must agreed that humans have not always been kind. Hence, the need exists for reining in some actions.

Preservation of the Earth and its resources remained the true cause. But things started to shift. I noticed this when I volunteered at a national park. At the time, I worked with the US Forest Service. While you’d think the two agencies have similar purposes, the line between the two exists like a squiggle drawn by a big fat permanent marker.

The National Park Service is all about preservation. The Forest Service recognizes sustainable use. While the former would keep people out of certain areas for preservation reasons, the latter accepts the fact that forests and logging can exist together.

Realistic Views about Nature

The differences between the two agencies mirror the current struggle that exists today. Environmentalism seeks do define itself in today’s world. Keith Kloor describes the philosophical battle in his piece in Issues.

I grew up in my conservation career following the path of preservation. Later, my philosophy morphed more akin to the view of the US Forest Service, albeit, with a few caveats. I wish preservation were possible, but now I realize that is an idealistic dream of a college freshman.

No one talks about environmentalism anymore because it’s become a world of issues. Environmentalism isn’t environmentalism. It is climate change. It is mass extinction. It is drought and floods and hurricanes. We don’t talk about the environment; we talks about our pet cause(s).

Complications of Environmentalism

And as if that weren’t enough, environmentalism is intertwined with social issues. No matter where you stand on the philosophical debate, environmentalism and conservation include humans whether you want them in the mix or not.

Climate change isn’t just climate change. It’s rising oceans, flooding, loss of coastal wetlands, displacement of people, and more fires that affect more people.

It gets even more complicated when you talk about renewable energy. Wind power produces no greenhouse gas emissions. Yes, but what about the birds and bats the wind turbines kill? Or what about the catastrophic environmental destruction that happens when getting the raw materials to manufacture the equipment?

Or how about solar power plants and their effects on the bird populations? Or even more compelling, why do bans on nuclear energy still exist when it too produces no GHG emissions and is miles more efficient than solar and wind? Or why use precious agricultural land to produce biofuels when they still give off carbon emissions? It’s not the same game anymore.

The main point to understand comes from this quote by Robert Ingersoll.

 “In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments — there are consequences.”

http://exploring.weborglodge.com/By Chris DR
photo credit: http://kahwailin.com/ via photopin cc

carbon dioxide

Extreme Weather in Perspective

carbon dioxideWhen you see a headline like, “Report Misses Link Between California Drought and Human-Caused Climate Change,” you know that it’s time we put extreme weather in perspective. Evidence aside, what we see with this wording is a classic example of confirmation bias and belief bias at work.

Defining Extreme Weather

When you hear the term, “extreme weather,” you’ll likely think about the events that are noticeably different from the norm. Think of tornadoes, hurricanes, massive rainfall, and yes, droughts.

But notice the term, weather. Weather is what you call up on your smartphone app to know if it’ll rain today. Climate, on the other hand, are the trends. None of those events we think of as extreme fall into the latter category.

Severe Weather and Climate Change

I’ll turn to the experts in the field for clarification about weather and climate. Myles R. Allen, a researcher at Oxford, puts extreme weather in perspective for us.

“If we don’t have evidence, I don’t think we should hint darkly all the time that human influence must be to blame somehow.”

This point is important simply because the science is still evolving. The headline I mentioned earlier refers to the report, “Causes and Predictability of the 2011-14 California Drought,” released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The writer took exception to the fact that the report attributed the drought to a high-pressure system that interfered with the temperatures of the Pacific Ocean.

The Body of Evidence

The report never denied the existence of global warming or the ensuing climate change. Rather, its focus was one event. Part of the problem exists because the types of extreme weather mentioned earlier are so varied. And while the science community has a substantial amount of evidence, the story still unfolds.

Remember how the media tried to attribute Sandy to climate change? The fact is that a major hurricane hasn’t hit the United States since 2005. So much for that theory.

It certainly wouldn’t be out-of-line to suggest that global warming helped create the perfect storm for the California drought to occur—pun intended. But to suggest that all weather is under the control of climate change is too simplistic. After all, as climate scientist, Tamsin Edwards, reminds us,

Climate science is not sound bite science.”

I take exception too to a headline that dismisses a finding that the writer doesn’t agree with because it doesn’t fit the rhetoric. Oh, and the report will be submitted to the “Journal of Climate,” for peer review. The journal is published by the American Meteorological Society.

http://exploring.weborglodge.com/By Chris DR

photo credit: Ozyman via photopin cc

GMO corn

Carbon Dioxide and Its Good Side

carbon dioxideBelieve it or not, carbon dioxide has a good side. Researchers from Aalto University in Finland are using a method that combines carbon dioxide and slag from steel production to create Precipitated Calcium Carbonate (PCC).

Better Carbon Dioxide Management Potential

While the name might not be familiar, you’ll find it in plastics, PVC in vinyl siding and fencing as well as in paper products. It even has applications for calcium supplements and multivitamins.

The process offers several advantages. It uses slag to make it a more valuable by-product. Production also acts like a carbon sink, while reducing the costs of PCC. Researchers estimated that if the industry used all the discarded slag in Europe it would sequester about 6 Mt CO2/year.

Get the Whole Story

The PCC story offers a valuable lesson. As I’ve written before, there are few things in this life that are simply black and white, right or wrong. Carbon dioxide is one of them. Yes, carbon dioxide is the major player in climate change. However, it doesn’t need to be eliminated; it needs to be managed.

We have to lift ourselves from the fog of confirmation bias to see the whole story. We can’t talk rationally about climate change if we ignore the facts that we don’t like. We can’t fixate on the problems that carbon dioxide might cause and ignore the potential it has for other applications.

You can say the same about oil. Many condemn fossil fuels, as they step into their cars and drive to work or someplace fun. But oil also has other applications that are valuable in our lives, including:

  • Antiseptics
  • Heart values
  • Insecticides
  • Artificial limbs
  • Anesthetics

It’s important to consider all of the applications to understand the impacts of our decisions. I personally am grateful for heart valves. I wouldn’t have my husband otherwise. But I’m glad for toothpaste, petroleum jelly, deodorant, paint, and ice cube trays too.

Beef also produces a myriad of by-products. Where do you think bone china, camel hair artist brushes, insulin, and drugs like epinephrine come from? Carbon dioxide, oil, and beef all provide great examples of uber-recycling. We have these products and by-products—and let’s be honest, their cost-saving—because of the primary products.

I’m not advocating by any means that we ignore climate change. What I am suggesting is that we discuss solutions with all the impacts on the table. It doesn’t make sense to ignore the unintended consequences if you know they may arise. Let’s use our heads when talking climate change solutions. Our approach needs to consider the by-products as well.

http://exploring.weborglodge.com/By Chris DR

photo credit: deege@fermentarium.com via photopin cc

Grass-Fed Beef Myths

Grass-Fed Beef Myths

Grass-Fed Beef MythsFor a time, I believed that grass-fed beef was the best environmental choice I could make. I learned in painful detail about CAFOs, or concentrated animal feeding operations. I didn’t like what I read.

But then I realized that I only knew one side of the story. As I’ve later learned, fallacies run rampant in eco-zealot causes. I pride myself on following the science. This is what I learned.

Environmental Costs of Grass-Fed Beef

On the surface, one would have to choose grass-fed beef over conventional meat. After all, thinking of cattle grazing in meadows provides a nicer picture than animals in a crowded stockyard.

However, if the environmental costs are your concern, it behooves you to explore them more closely. To raise livestock on grass is more energy intensive. It’s not a huge logical leap to say that animals fed corn for a part of their lives stay on feed for a shorter period of time. That means less resources and energy to sustain them.

A study by Capper et al. (2009) found that grass-fed cattle required four times as much land to produce a pound of beef and nearly three times as much energy versus corn-fed cattle. They also demanded over seven times as much water resources, while producing nearly three times more methane. Methane is one of the four major greenhouse gases. The difference lies with the digestibility of grass versus corn.

Myths about Beef Production

One point needs mention. All cattle feed on grass. Corn-fed beef production switches the food source when finishing the production process. And regardless of the food source, they all end up slaughtered.

The federal government regulates all slaughter, except slaughter done for religious purposes. It is mandated by the 1978 Humane Slaughter Act. Sorry, but eating grass-fed beef doesn’t sugar coat the truth on this course. And, all slaughter is humane not just grass-fed or family-farm raised beef.

Sustainability of Beef Production

Next, there is the issue of food security. Grass-fed beef does not match the production of corn-fed beef. That’s a problem given the growing population and changing diet. How much beef a person should or shouldn’t eat is another matter altogether.

From a dietary perspective, grass-fed beef isn’t as juicy or tender as corn-fed beef. For some people, that’s a big deal. It’s not much better from a health perspective either. One of the talking points about grass-fed beef is its higher omega 3 fatty acid content. Unfortunately, neither is a good source. If you want to increase your intake, you’re better off eating salmon which has 35 times more per serving than either one.

I believe that people who make green choices show how much they care about the environment even if they incur added costs. That’s a good thing. Selling the abstract and intangible is difficult. The fact remains that grass-fed beef is more a feel-good choice than a practical one.

It’s more energy and resource intensive with less output and no change in the ultimate fate of the cattle. The debate between choosing one over the other is just another of the conflicting choices we have to make when considering the environment and sustainability.

exploring.weborglodge/By Chris DR

photo credit: UGA College of Ag & Environmental Sciences – OCCS via photopin cc