"An astonishingly fragile film"

Dr. Piers Sellers knows the Earth’s atmosphere. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in ecological science and a doctorate in biometeorology in England, Dr. Sellers studied the interaction between the Earth’s biosphere and atmosphere at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. 

Dr. Sellers then became an astronaut and flew in three shuttle missions to the International Space Station stationed in the rarefied atmospheric layers 180 – 190 miles above Earth. 

With 80% of the atmosphere located within 10 miles of the Earth’s surface, travelling at mere 60 miles an hour, we would drive through this rich layer in 10 minutes. As Dr. Sellers observed in Leonardo DiCaprio’s recent film Before the Flood, “an astonishingly thin layer” nourishes us.

John Oró MD

What does Quay Valley have to do with Hyperloop transportation?

Recently the WSJ published an excellent article on the competition to develop hyperloop transport systems that was stimulated by Elon Musk in his  “Hyperloop Alpha” proposal posted by SpaceX on Aug. 12, 2013. Among the nuggets in the article is a description of a futuristic city planned for a site located in-between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Alexander Chee of the WSJ writes:

"In his Santa Monica conference room, Quay Hays of GROW Holdings is laying out the plan for Quay Valley, the city he hopes will be a model for California’s future. It sounds, at first, like any other affluent California community: retail space, resort hotels, a winery, a spa. Where Quay Valley stands out is its plan to be solar-powered with extremely low water use. With a town of 26,000 networked smart homes and apartments built green from the ground up, Hays hopes to give 75,000 residents the eco-friendly lifestyle that critics of clean energy say is impossible. “There have been advances in green design and smart growth over the years, and the idea was, put all these things together in one place,” says Hays, a former publisher and film executive whose first job was booking punk and new wave acts for the Greek Theatre in the 1980s. His first attempt to launch Quay Valley was thwarted by litigation over water rights and the financial crisis of 2008; the new plan is to break ground on the site, a 7,200-acre expanse halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, sometime in 2016. When that happens, the world will be watching, and not just for the promised sustainability—Quay Valley also plans to feature the world’s first working Hyperloop, built by Hyperloop Transportation Technologies at an estimated cost of $100 million to $150 million."

Learn more at The Race to Create Elon Musk’s Hyperloop Heats Up

Australia’s Richard Di Natale: Transitioning from coal “an economic imperative”

Image: samantha-dunn.blogspot.com

Image: samantha-dunn.blogspot.com

Richard Di Natale, Australian Senator and leader of the Australian Greens caucus, recently announced plans to create RenewAustralia. The new agency is intended “to double Australia's energy efficiency and move the country towards 90 per cent renewable energy by 2030.” 

In addition, a $1 billion Clean Energy Transition Fund would be created “to assist coal workers and communities with the transition to clean energy.”

Speaking with Australia’s ABC, Di Natale emphasized the transition from coal is “an economic imperative”:

There is an economic imperative here in that if we don’t make the transition away from dirty, coal-fired power to clean, renewable power, we’re going to miss out on the jobs that come with that. We’re not going to be setting ourselves up as a nation for the huge economic opportunities that exist in making the transition.

People are going to be looking at coal in the same way as people look at the horse and cart when it comes to transport.

Saving 3.3 million acres in the "heart of the Amazon"

Image credit: Neil Palmer/  CIAT

Image credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT

"For over a decade, Chicago’s Field Museum has been working with the Peruvian government on the creation of a national park 22 times larger than the Windy City itself. Finally, their efforts have paid off: a large portion of the Sierra del Divisor mountain range has just been granted national park status, making the central 3.3 million acres of Amazonian rainforest untouchable to those looking to profit off its resources."

Read more at Peru establishes 3.3 million acre national park in the heart of the Amazon

Exxon: What did they know and when did they know it?

Did Exxon, over 30 years ago, recognize that the burning of fossil fuels would increase atmospheric CO2 and warm the planet? Take a careful look at the graph above from an Exxon research study published in 1981 and recently posted by CleanTechnica. As you can see, Exxon scientist noted the range of global temperatures due to “natural fluctuations” would remain level beyond 2100. However, they discovered that continued release of CO2 into the atmosphere would warm the planet much above the normal historical baseline.

Instead of acting on their results and investigating alternative energy sources, Exxon began denying humans were warming the planet and obstructed corrective measures. As reported by The Guardian:

Exxon channeled about $30m to researchers and activist groups promoting disinformation about global warming over the years, according to a tally kept by the campaign group Greenpeace. But the oil company pledged to stop such funding in 2007, in response to pressure from shareholder activists.

Despite the pledge, ExxonMobile (Exxon & Mobil merged in 1999), continued their obstruction and “gave more than $2.3m to members of Congress and a corporate lobbying group that deny climate change and block efforts to fight climate change – eight years after pledging to stop its funding of climate denial.”

Pope Francis at UN: Harm to the environment is harm to humanity

Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters

Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters

"First, it must be stated that a true “right of the environment” does exist, for two reasons. First, because we human beings are part of the environment. We live in communion with it, since the environment itself entails ethical limits which human activity must acknowledge and respect. Man, for all his remarkable gifts, which “are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology” (Laudato Si’, 81), is at the same time a part of these spheres. He possesses a body shaped by physical, chemical and biological elements, and can only survive and develop if the ecological environment is favorable. Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity."

Source: Full text of Pope Francis’ speech to United Nations

Giant indoor lettuce farm runs on custom LED lighting

"The statistics for this incredibly successful indoor farming endeavor in Japan are staggering: 25,000 square feet producing 10,000 heads of lettuce per day (100 times more per square foot than traditional methods) with 40% less power, 80% less food waste and 99% less water usage than outdoor fields. But the freshest news from the farm: a new facility using the same technologies has been announced and is now under construction in Hong Kong, with Mongolia, Russia and mainland China on the agenda for subsequent near-future builds."

Read more at WebUrbanist

The 2015 Corporate Leaders in Renewable Energy

Corporate interest in utility-scale renewable energy is heating up. According to CleanTechnica, six Fortune 500 companies reached purchase agreements for solar and wind power in 2015. Hopefully we are witnessing a race for renewable energy megawatts. The results so far -

These six companies ordered a total 710 megawatts of renewable energy this year, which by a current average of 164 homes/MW is enough to power approximately 116,000 homes.  Three of the companies are in the technology industry, one in the auto industry, and one in healthcare.  The current leader, Dow Chemical, is in the chemical industry.

Hearty congratulations to these companies for leading the way!

The year is still young. It’s time to hear from other Fortune 500 companies. 

The grandeur of North America’s Great Sand Dunes

Among the Earth’s many fascinating nooks and crannies, Great Sands Dunes National Park & Preserve stands apart for its rugged grandeur. Hugging the eastern edge of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range in southern Colorado, this 330 square-mile dune field contains the tallest sand dunes in North America. Protected as a national monument in 1932, this wondrous landscape became the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve in 2004.

The extensive volume of sand comprising this park is believed to have originated in a vast lake, which was formed from glacial runoff at the end of the last ice age. As this lake dried, forceful winds picked up the sand that was left behind and deposited it along the eastern edge of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, where it accumulated over thousands of years.

These days drivers entering the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve along its southern access are regularly astonished by the vista that greets them. Among its hundreds of dunes, five stand over 700 feet tall and more than thirty tower upwards of 600 feet. Hiking the Great Sand Dunes, either the smaller dunes at the edge of the park or one of the taller dunes, is an activity not to be missed. A round trip hike from the Dunes Parking Lot to the giant High Dune should last no more than two hours. And a 6-mile round trip hike to the colossal Star Dune will generally take around five hours.

Epic, almost surreal in their grandeur, the Great Sand Dunes stand as a testament to the mighty forces of nature, showing us how over time wind and water can build breath-taking mountains from the tiniest of stones. We’re fortunate to possess such a reminder of the power of nature and the fragility of its works, the appreciation of which may reveal to us anew the delicate beauty of this world in which we live.

John Oró, MD

How the Chevy Bolt helps Tesla

The all-electric Chevy Bolt was announced today. With an expected range of 200 miles per charge, the Bolt should be ready for purchase in 2017. While many have called this a "Tesla killer," Business Insider sees it differently:

The greatest obstacle to Tesla’s long-term success is not rival electric cars, but a global transportation infrastructure that is built for gasoline-powered cars rather than battery-electrics. For Tesla to crack the mass market, it needs other major automakers to invest heavily in electric-vehicle technology, including a network of charging stations that would allow for long road trips in battery-powered cars. That’s why the company opened its patents to competitors last year. At this stage in its growth, Tesla wants more rivals, not fewer. So should everyone who believes that burning fossil fuels is bad for the environment.

What does Tesla think about the Bolt - 

We are always supportive of other manufacturers who bring compelling electric vehicles to the market. Tesla applauds Chevrolet for introducing the Bolt, and we are excited to learn more about the product.

Well, maybe change is coming

Within a few decades, large-scale, centralized electricity generation from fossil fuels could be a thing of the past in Europe.

That’s the word from investment bank UBS, which just released a new report anticipating a three pronged assault from solar power, battery technology, and electric vehicles that will render obsolete traditional power generation by large utilities that rely on coal or natural gas. According to Renew Economy, which picked up the report, the tipping point will arrive around 2020. At that point, investing in a home solar system with a 20-year life span, plus some small-scale home battery technology and an electric car, will pay for itself in six to eight years for the average consumer in Germany, Italy, Spain, and much of the rest of Europe. Crucially, this math holds even without any government subsidies for solar power.

Barcelona leading in sustainability

Nativity façade, La Sagrada Família, Barcelona, Spain

Nativity façade, La Sagrada Família, Barcelona, Spain

"Barcelona has one of the lowest per capita greenhouse gas emission levels in the industrialized world, at under 4 metric tons of emissions per person per year (Houston is at 14.1 and Paris is at 5.2). And the city is still moving forward. 'In 2020 Barcelona could be a more environmentally conscious city,' according to Irma Soldevilla i Garcia of the Barcelona Energy Agency, 'in which careful energy consumption will be a regular part of people’s lives.'"

Learn more: Barcelona: Spain’s Ciudad del Sol

Extreme weather blackouts increasing

Image:  David Shankbone . "New York skyline when half the city was in blackout due to a power failure during Hurricane Sandy. Midtown, with the Empire State Building, is in the background with the darkened East Village and other parts of downtown in the foreground." Wikimedia

Image: David Shankbone. "New York skyline when half the city was in blackout due to a power failure during Hurricane Sandy. Midtown, with the Empire State Building, is in the background with the darkened East Village and other parts of downtown in the foreground." Wikimedia

"A tenfold increase in major power outages (those affecting more than 50,000 customer homes or businesses), between the mid-1980s and 2012. Some of the increase was driven by improved reporting. Yet even since 2003, after stricter reporting requirements were widely implemented, the average annual number of weather-related power outages doubled. Non-weather related outages also increased during that time, but weather caused 80 percent of all outages between 2003-2012."

Weather-Related Blackouts Doubled Since 2003: Report

Toyota Introduces I-Road Pod Car

Source: Green Car Reports

Source: Green Car Reports

Toyota’s three-wheeled I-Road is now under limited testing in Japan. The I-Road is designed to be far more mobile in the city (it’s just 33 inches wide) and can park almost anywhere. It’s all electric - using two 2kW motors - which provides only 5 horsepower but enough to push the I-Road around. It’s active suspension system leans into turns, giving the feeling of a motorcycle, but with the safety and reliability of a car. It’s just fun to drive. According to Christopher DeMorro writing for CleanTechnica:

The best part though is that it returns a sense of “driving” to the car experience, as you’re not insulated from the road by a massive machine. Instead, you lean with the i-Road, and you have more control on the overall experience than you’d find in almost any other production car.

"Climate change affects military readiness"

Climate change affects military readiness, strains base resilience, creates missions in new regions of the world and increases the likelihood that our armed forces will be deployed for humanitarian missions. In many cases it also threatens our infrastructure and affects our economy. And our continued reliance on the fossil fuels whose consumption leads to climate change ties our nation’s hands on the world stage and tethers us to nations that do not always have our best interests at heart.
— Rear Adm. David Titley (Ret.)