Monthly Archives: October 2012

Climate of Doubt

Four years ago, the American presidential candidates agreed that climate change was a critical issue demanding urgent attention. But that national call to action has disappeared and in the past four years public opinion on the climate issue has changed into scepticism.  Both political parties get a lot of money from the oil, coal and gas lobbies and tackling climate change does not come cheap. America seems to lead the world in climate change denial, a phenomenon noted with amazement by Europeans and thinking people around the world. Recent scientific study about a record Artic ice melt hasn’t made an impression on US electral parties. 

This election cycle, the presidential candidates have ignored the issue of climate change all together. The candidates spoke about oil and gas policy in the third debate, but without voicing any concerns about the fact that fossil fuels produce greenhouse-gas emissions. Romney promoted “clean coal,” a product that nobody has ever heard of and doesn’t exist.

And new studies finds that only about half of Americans believe global warming is caused by human activity. 37% of Democrats believe global warming is the result primarily of human action, while only 14% of Republicans believe this. Conversely, 43% of Republicans believe global warming is the result of natural causes, up from 35% in 2010. Self-identified Tea Party members display still more certainty (49%) that global warming is caused by natural events.

Two days ago American tv channel PBS broadcasted Climate of Doubt, a worth while documentary that goes inside the organizations that fought the scientific establishment to shift the direction of the climate debate. Climate of Doubt describes the individuals and groups behind an organized effort to attack science by undermining scientists, and to unseat politicians who say they believe there is current climate change caused by human activity.

Watch the whole documentary here

Via: PBS, Bloomberg, Huffington Post

Plans For Scottish Whisky to Power Cars

A Scottish malt whisky distillery in Perthshire signed an agreement last month to convert its whisky waste into advanced biofuel, capable of powering cars.

The Tullibardine distillery has signed a MoU with Celtic Renewables,  a start-up company lead by professor Martin Tangney from Edinburgh’s Napier University. The professor and his team have developed a technology to produce biobutanol from the by-products  of whisky manufacture.

“Draff”, the spent grains used in the distilling process, and “pot ale”, a residue from the copper stills,  are waste products  both produced in the early stages of making whisky .  Distilleries are left with vast amounts of this.  It is planned that some of Scotland’s draff will be turned into electricity by burning it with woodchips in the Rothes Project: a project between Helius Energy and the Combination of Rothes Distillers (CoRD) that aims to generate enough electricity to supply 9,000 homes. Tullibardine is glad to be rid of some of its whisky-waste, it spends  £250,000 disposing of these by-products every year. Douglas Ross, managing director of Tullibardine says: “We are delighted to be partnering Celtic Renewables in this innovative venture, the obvious benefits of which are environmental”.

Mark Simmers, CEO of the company Celtric Renewables describes biobutanol as an “advanced” biofuel compared to bioethanol. Biobutanol (also called biogasoline) is often claimed to provide a direct replacement for gasoline without modification to the engine or the car. This will produce more energy, plus it is better ,less corrosive and less water soluble than ethanol. A big plus is that no corn or other crops are needed to produce the whisky-waste biobutanol.

The project is supported by a grant from the Scottish government’s Zero Waste Scotland initiative. Scotland is well on its way to realizing it’s potention in renewables: in 2011 already 35% of Scotland’s electricity came from renewables, like wind, wave and tidal power.

Via: www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-19708915 and the Guardian.

Bhutan Wants to Become First 100% Organic Country

The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is aiming to become the first 100% organic nation in the world.  

The minister of Argiculture,  Pema Gyamtsho, announced last week that the country is aiming to phase out chemicals from its farming during the next decade.  “Bhutan has decided to go for a green economy in light of the tremendous pressure we are exerting on the planet, If you go for very intensive agriculture it would imply the use of so many chemicals, which is not in keeping with our belief in Buddhism, which calls for us to live in harmony with nature” according to the minister.

The tiny Buddhist-majority nation wedged between China and India has a population of just over 700,000. It is mostly known for measuring “Gross National Happiness” instead of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). According to the Bhutan governement this is not just a way to size economic factors , but also sustainable developement,  mental wellbeing and cultural identity.

Bhutan is one of the poorest countries in the world.  About 23% of the Bhutanese population live below the national poverty line, according to research done in 2007. It is said that 90 % of the country’s farmers don’t use artificial pesticides or fertilizers anyway, one big reason being that they are too expensive.  Allthough the country is poor, Bhutan’s economy has grown rapidly in recent years, by eight percent in 2005 and 14 percent in 2006. In 2007, Bhutan had the second fastest growing economy in the world. This was mostly down to the commissioning of the gigantic Tala Hydroelectric Project.

Agriculture provides the main livelihood for more than 80 percent of the population. Bhutan exports, among others, herbs, fruits and rice. Since it doesn’t export huge quantities, it wants to be known for quality so that it can get premium organic prices.

Bhutan is the second nation to make the annoucement to go 100% organic. The only other country that has done so is the tiny island of Niue in the South Pacific, with just 1,300 people. It’s target to reach its all-organic status between 2015-2020.

Facts about Bhutan:

  • The country aims to keep out mass tourisme by requiring  foreigners to sign up with a Bhutanese tour operator when visiting the country and paying around US$250 per day that they stay in Bhutan.
  • Only in 1999, the government lifted a ban on television and the Internet, making Bhutan one of the last countries to introduce television.
  • Bhutan is the only country in the world that has a complete public life smoking ban since 2004.
  • In Bhutanese families, inheritance generally passes through the female rather than the male line. Daughters will inherit their parents’ house. A man is expected to make his own way in the world and often moves to his wife’s home.
  • The country recently set up a weekly “pedestrians’ day” on Tuesdays that sees cars banned from town centers.

If you are  becoming increasingly curious about this country, consider reading it’s national newspaper online: The Bhutan Times

Via: Wikipedia, sustainablebusiness.com

Most Biofuels Aren’t Green According to Research

A new study led by Switzerland’s Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA) demonstrates that biofuel’s environmental impact may be greater than previously thought. In fact, according to the research only a few biofuels are overall more environmentally friendly than petrol.

The EMPA test results – click to enlarge

In the recent years interest in biofuels has enormously increased. Since we are all still searching for our holy grail of energy that can take us safely through the 21st century, lots of potential biofuel sources have been reviewed. More recently the impact of biofuel production on food and land has come to our attention. The new study led by EMPA gives an up-to-date picture of the ecobalance of various biofuels and their production processes.  The first worldwide ecobalance study of its kind was also carried out by EMPA in 2007.  The new study came to a similar conclusion as in 2007: while most biofuels can claim to produce fewer greenhouse gases, the cost is  “more growth-related pollution for land used for agriculture”, e.g. too much acid in the soil and polluted (over-fertilised) lakes and rivers.  The “green” alternative often seems to merely replace one set of environmental problems with another.

The results of the research vary a lot from place to place, but much of it has to do with changing land-use patterns, the use of fertilizer, and the clearing of virgin forest to grow crops.  In 2007 the EMPA researchers  underestimated the effects of changes to natural areas on the greenhouse gas balance. The current study now shows that biofuels from deforested areas usually emit more greenhouse gases than fossil fuels. This also applies to indirect land usage changes if existing agricultural land is used for the first time for biofuel production and, as a consequence, forested areas have to be cleared in order to maintain the existing foodstuff or animal feed production.

According to the research only a few biofuels  have an overall better ecobalance than petrol, especially biogas from residues and waste materials, which depending on the source material, impact on the environment as much as 50% as petrol can.  Methane from wood chips made in Switzerland appears a good choice as well as methane  from sludge (also made in Switzerland). And within the biofuel group, ethanol-based fuels tend to have a better ecobalance than those with an oil base; however, the results are very much dependent on the individual method of manufacture and the technology.

Via: news.discovery.com and www.empa.ch