Paint Color: More Than An Aesthetic Choice

Image: Tyros.andi/Wikimedia Commons

Wind is a formidable renewable energy option, but the impacts on wildlife have long been discussed. It’s heartening that such a simple solution as paint has the potential to so drastically reduce the dangers to birds and bats.

A simple paint job can save birds from wind turbines

A small study in Norway showed that painting one blade of a wind turbine black reduced bird mortality by over 70%.

Wind energy is one of the world’s most popular renewables. It’s also one of the most promising—some calculations suggest that strategically placed wind turbines could conceivably power the entire planet. As more turbines go up worldwide, they’ll help us reduce pollution, water use and carbon emissions, along with the environmental degradation, habitat loss and human health risks that come with fracking and oil extraction.

But there are some who don’t benefit quite as much: flying animals. Each year, turbine blades kill hundreds of thousands of birds and bats. As wind power becomes more prevalent, this number may rise into the millions—although it’s important to remember that other power generation methods likely kill far more birds than wind farms do.

This concern has led to a number of proposed interventions, from turning off wind farms during migrations to installing special whistles only bats can hear. A new study presents a relatively low-cost, set-it-and-forget-it option: just paint one of the turbine blades black.

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New Machines, New Skills, New Hope

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Renewable-energy projects are now finding capital faster than fossil fuels. Photograph by Ken Cedeno / Getty

Since our platform name change, each daily post has been either about coffee or about birds. We have not neglected or forgotten our commitment to all the other important environmental, conservation, culture and related themes this platform has showcased, under whichever name. Today, Bill McKibben, one of our favorite sources of both depressing and heartening environmental news, is our go-to for some good news:

North Dakota Oil Workers Are Learning to Tend Wind Turbines—and That’s a Big Deal

I enjoy big machinery, and it punched all those buttons,” Jay Johnson told me. “They really are big, and, if you like machinery, then there you go.” Johnson has one of the jobs that might, with luck, come to define our era. At Lake Region State College, in Devils Lake, North Dakota, he trains former oil workers for new careers maintaining giant wind turbines. The skills necessary for operating the derricks that frack for crude in the Bakken shale, he says, translate pretty directly into the skills required for operating the machines that convert the stiff winds of the high prairies into electricity. That is good news, not only because it’s going to take lots of people to move the world from oil and gas to solar and wind but because people who work in hydrocarbons are going to need new jobs now that the demand for hydrocarbons is dropping. “It’s impossible to overstate the stillness” in the oil fields now, Johnson says. “Nothing is happening, zero work, and it sure is scary.” Continue reading

Mangroves for the Win

Mangrove restoration in Madagascar. Photograph: Alamy

Our previous posts about the multiple positives of planting trees in response to climate change and toward the goal of economic recovery didn’t take coastal ecosystems into account. These regions tend to be extra vulnerable to the increased pressures of extreme weather, not to mention being the home of many vulnerable populations.

This type of investment seems like a win/win.

Oceans panel presses coastal states to invest in ‘blue recovery’

Report says there are substantial economic benefits to be had from ocean conservation

Investing in the marine environment offers many coastal states the possibility of a “blue recovery” from the coronavirus crisis, according to a report setting out substantial economic benefits from ocean conservation.

Ending overfishing and allowing stocks to recover while ensuring fish farms operate on a sustainable basis would generate benefits of about $6.7tn (£5.3tn) over the next 30 years, according to an assessment of ocean economics by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy.

This would require reforming perverse subsidies that encourage overfishing, and better regulation of fish farming, but the returns on such investment would repay the outlay 10 times over, the report says.

Mangrove restoration on tropical coastlines offers a quick way to generate jobs in seeding and planting, and returns of about $3 for every $1 spent, in the form of more productive fisheries as well as storm protection.

The costs of offshore wind energy generation have plummeted in recent years, making clean energy generation at sea a viable prospect for many countries for the first time. The UK has long been a pioneer in the field, but many other countries have been slow to take it up.

The report found that the technology has matured so quickly that investors can generate returns of up to $17 on each $1 spent, opening up a potential bonanza globally of $3.5tn by 2050 if governments put the right conditions in place.

Ngedikes Olai Uludong, Palau’s ambassador to the UN and one of the panel members, said offshore wind energy could spell an explosion in highly skilled green jobs. “Technologies like offshore wind offer a rate of return that makes more and more sense,” she told the Guardian. “It looks like it is taking off. I’m seeing interest from countries that I’ve never seen interested before.”
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Really, France?

This post was going to link out to one of our favorite sources, celebrating fossil fuel tough times. But at the very end of his post, almost as a throw away, there was this reference to the ad above. It led somewhere more fun–and got us thinking Really?–and a chance to instead shout out again about ebikes and VanMoof:

This e-bike ad has been banned in France – let’s talk about why

by Iain Treloar

E-bikes are the future. That’s what the bike industry thinks, that’s what a bunch of new cyclists think, and that’s what sustainable transportation advocates think.

But not everyone thinks that way, as a spat between e-bike brand VanMoof and the French advertising regulatory body has proven.

At the centre of this stoush is a slick TV commercial by VanMoof, a Dutch urban bicycle brand best known for creating that bike with the top tube that looks like that. In the ad, a glossy black sports car has images of pollution, traffic jams and emergency vehicles projected onto it, before melting into a pile of black goo from which a VanMoof e-bike emerges to the slogan ‘time to ride the future’.

It’s pretty visually striking. It also does a succinct job of boiling down many of the concerns people have about over-reliance on automobiles in light of the, you know, climate emergency that we may or may not* be going through globally (*definitely are).

So it’s a little surprising to learn that the ad has been banned from French television because it “creates a climate of fear” around cars.

So what’s really going on here? Let’s break this down.

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THE PLAYERS

VanMoof: The quirky Dutch brand launched in 2009 with an analogue town bike with integrated lights and lock, and has since had an electric renaissance. Continue reading

No Place Like Home

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Thanks as always to Bill McKibben, in particular this time for disguising a podcast recommendation (click the image above to go to the website of the podcast) as a recommendation for regulating Facebook:

What Facebook and the Oil Industry Have in Common

Why is it so hard to get Facebook to do anything about the hate and deception that fill its pages, even when it’s clear that they are helping to destroy democracy? And why, of all things, did the company recently decide to exempt a climate-denial post from its fact-checking process? The answer is clear: Facebook’s core business is to get as many people as possible to spend as many hours as possible on its site, so that it can sell those people’s attention to advertisers. (A Facebook spokesperson said the company’s policy stipulates that “clear opinion content is not subject to fact-checking on Facebook.”) This notion of core business explains a lot—including why it’s so hard to make rapid gains in the fight against climate change. Continue reading

Wind Win

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) speaks at a news conference on the boardwalk in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., in 2018 before signing a bill banning offshore oil and gas drilling. (Wayne Parry/AP)

Alternative energy sources are the requirement for the future. We can only hope that positive leadership actions such as this aren’t vetoed by an administration that would like to keep progressive plans as a thing of the past.

New Jersey aims to lead nation in offshore wind. So it’s building the biggest turbine port in the country.

Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said his state will build the country’s first port dedicated to assembling the turbines that will go up not just in New Jersey but across the Eastern Seaboard.

New Jersey wants to be known for more than just its shores and casinos.

It aims to be the hub of the nation’s nascent offshore wind energy industry.

On Tuesday, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) is set to announce the construction of what he calls the country’s first port dedicated to constructing the colossal turbines that may one day dot the East Coast horizon as Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states rush to build more renewable energy.

For New Jersey, it is about more than just tackling climate change. Just as Texas is the de facto capital of the U.S. oil and gas industry, New Jersey wants to be an economic engine for offshore wind.

“We have a huge opportunity,” said Tim Sullivan, chief executive of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. “Somebody’s going to get to be the Houston of American offshore wind.”

To make sure New Jersey plays that role, the state government is planning to turn 30 acres along the Eastern Shore of the Delaware River 20 miles south of Wilmington, Del., into a staging area for assembling the massive turbines. Taller than 800 feet, the turbines will tower higher than the Washington Monument.

State leaders are also hoping to coax factories to the rural area, too, and have set aside 25 acres for potential turbine part manufacturers. They aim to start construction next year and launch operations by 2024. Another 160 acres will be available for future development.

“We’ll be able to be the focal point for the industry in this part of the country,” Murphy said in an interview.

The port is part of the state’s broader plan to get all of its electricity from clean energy by the middle of the century. New Jersey, already one of the nation’s fastest-warming places, wants to generate 7,500 megawatts from offshore wind by 2035 — enough to power half of New Jersey’s homes.

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Charismatic Mega-Batteries

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When we started this platform, from a base in south India, we were surrounded by charismatic mega-fauna. Even the squirrels were unusually beautiful and large. The purpose of the platform being to highlight stories of creative, entrepreneurial approaches to conservation as much as to raise awareness of environmental issues more broadly, there is a new form of mega charisma worth noting today. It may make a difference to the issues we have been pointing to since the first post nine years ago:

Climate emission killer: construction begins on world’s biggest liquid air battery

Exclusive: project will store renewable energy and reduce climate-heating emissions

Construction is beginning on the world’s largest liquid air battery, which will store renewable electricity and reduce carbon emissions from fossil-fuel power plants.

The project near Manchester, UK, will use spare green energy to compress air into a liquid and store it. When demand is higher, the liquid air is released back into a gas, powering a turbine that puts the green energy back into the grid.

A big expansion of wind and solar energy is vital to tackle the climate emergency but they are not always available. Storage is therefore key and the new project will be the largest in the world outside of pumped hydro schemes, which require a mountain reservoir to store water. Continue reading

If Not Europe Now, Where & When For A Global Green Recovery?

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A bicyclist on an embankment in front of wind turbines in Norderney, Germany. LINO MIRGELER/GETTY IMAGES

Thanks to David G. Victor for this opinion:

Building Back Better: Why Europe Must Lead a Global Green Recovery

With the global economy reeling from the pandemic, most nations are focusing stimulus programs on reviving employment. But Europe is moving forward with a Green Deal initiative that provides a framework for decarbonizing its economy and spurring the rest of the world to follow. Continue reading

What To Do With Expired Trees

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Dead trees in a California forest in August 2016. U.S. FOREST SERVICE

It sounds like the inverse of rewilding’s restorative approach, when there is a large patch of expired trees; decisions must be made. Thanks to Jane Braxton Little for laying out the questions:

In California, A Push Grows to Turn Dead Trees into Biomass Energy

As forests in California and the Western U.S. are hit by rising numbers of fires and disease outbreaks related to climate change, some experts argue that using dead and diseased trees to produce biomass energy will help to restore forests and reduce CO2 emissions.

Jonathan Kusel owns three pickups and a 45-foot truck for hauling woodchip bins. He operates a woodchip yard and a 35-kilowatt biomass plant that burns dead trees, and he runs a crew marking trees for loggers working in national forests. Those are a lot of blue-collar credentials for a University of California, Berkeley PhD sociologist known for his documentation of how the decline of the timber industry affects rural communities. Continue reading

Wind’s Wins

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A large-scale wind farm in California. The US and China make up almost two-thirds of global growth in wind power. Photograph: Warming Images/Rex/Shutterstock

Every bit of positive news is welcome:

World’s wind power capacity up by fifth after record year

Offshore windfarms and onshore projects in US and China fuel one of strongest years on record

The world’s wind power capacity grew by almost a fifth in 2019 after a year of record growth for offshore windfarms and a boom in onshore projects in the US and China. Continue reading

Cars & Carbon

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A Mini Electric car next to the production line at the BMW plant in Cowley, near Oxford. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images

When the smoke clears, we will need to get back to key environmental issues. Thanks to the Guardian for this news, in that regard:

Electric cars produce less CO2 than petrol vehicles, study confirms

Finding will come as boost to governments seeking to move to net zero carbon emissions

Electric vehicles produce less carbon dioxide than petrol cars across the vast majority of the globe – contrary to the claims of some detractors, who have alleged that the CO2 emitted in the production of electricity and their manufacture outweighs the benefits.

The finding is a boost to governments, including the UK, seeking to move to net zero carbon emissions, which will require a massive expansion of the electric car fleet. A similar benefit was found for electric heat pumps. Continue reading

Coal’s Final Days

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A coal-fired power plant in Neurath, Germany. The country has pledged to phase out coal by 2038. INA FASSBENDER/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Thanks to Fred Pearce, as always for his environmental reporting, and to Yale e360 for this unexpected news that coal is not headed for a renaissance (as some politicians would have us believe):

As Investors and Insurers Back Away, the Economics of Coal Turn Toxic

Coal is declining sharply, as financiers and insurance companies abandon the industry in the face of shrinking demand, pressure from climate campaigners, and competition from cleaner fuels. After years of its predicted demise, the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel may finally be on the way out.

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Demolition of the coal-fired Nelson Dewey Generating Station in Cassville, Wisconsin in December 2017. The power plant closed in 2015. NICKI KOHL/TELEGRAPH HERALD VIA AP

Any day now, New York State will be coal-free. Its last coal-fired power station, at Somerset on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, will shut for good as the winter ends. Remember when Donald Trump promised to bring back coal? Well, three years on, coal’s decline is accelerating — in the United States and worldwide. Continue reading

A Bright Spot On The Horizon

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Some times those bright spots on the horizon are more welcome than they might merit, and today we will take what we can get:

Wind and solar plants will soon be cheaper than coal in all big markets around world, analysis finds

Report raises fresh doubt about viability of Australia’s thermal coal export industry

Building new wind and solar plants will soon be cheaper in every major market across the globe than running existing coal-fired power stations, according to a new report that raises fresh doubt about the medium-term viability of Australia’s $26bn thermal coal export industry. Continue reading

Do Not Count Out The Sun

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1. Collected heat can also be transferred into gas and shot down ducts into manufacturing plants. 2. The 3.5-square-foot receiver takes in 400 kW of light, 1,200 times denser than direct sunlight. 3. Each heliostat gets realigned every few seconds so maximum light hits the receiver all day. PHOTOGRAPH: CINEATRA MEDIA

After nearly nine years of monitoring the mainstream and more scientific news for evidence that harnessing the sun is one of our highest potential solutions to climate change, and considering all the noise that comes from climate change skeptics and deniers, it is easy to lose track of whether solar has what it takes. Laura Mallonee shares this brief in Wired:

Automated Solar Arrays Could Help Incinerate Global Warming

Software-driven systems can produce enough searing heat to power manufacturing processes that now gorge on fossil fuels.

Plenty of days, temperatures in California’s Mojave Desert climb above 120 degrees Fahrenheit. A measly figure. These 400 silvered glass panels, tucked into the western edge of that hot, hot desert, are there to generate heat 15 times that amount. And, ideally, to help cool the planet too. Continue reading

Another Look At Blackrock

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In response to mounting public pressure, Larry Fink, the C.E.O. of BlackRock, announced, in a letter to investors, that the firm will make some modest policy changes related to climate change.
Photograph by Damon Winter / NYT / Redux

One of the authors, also a prolific activist, who we cite most frequently has shared his view on the news we linked to earlier this last week:

Citing Climate Change, BlackRock Will Start Moving Away from Fossil Fuels

By Bill McKibben

If you felt the earth tremble a little bit in Manhattan on Tuesday morning, it was likely caused by the sheer heft of vast amounts of money starting to shift. “Seismic” is the only word to describe the recent decision of the asset-management firm BlackRock to acknowledge the urgency of the climate crisis and begin (emphasis on begin) to start redirecting its investments.

By one estimate, there’s about eighty trillion dollars of money on the planet. If that’s correct, then BlackRock’s holding of seven trillion dollars means that nearly a dime of every dollar rests in its digital files, mostly in the form of stocks it invests in for pension funds and the like. So when BlackRock’s C.E.O., Larry Fink, devoted his annual letter to investors to explaining that climate change has now put us “on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance,” it marked a watershed moment in climate history. Continue reading

Greta’s Generation Says Stop Digging

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Shell said last year that divestment had become a material risk to its business.’ Shell’s Brent Bravo oil rig arrives on Teesside for decommissioning, June 2019. Photograph: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Bill McKibben explains the movement and its best chance of success:

Divestment works – and one huge bank can lead the way

On 15 October, the European Investment Bank meets to decide its policy on fossil fuels. The hand of history is on its shoulder

Millions of people marched against climate crisis over the past two weeks, in some of the largest demonstrations of the millennium. Most people cheered the students who led the rallies – call them the Greta Generation. But now we’ll start to find out if all their earnest protest actually matters.

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Organikos Coffee From The Southern Tier Of Costa Rica

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Two weeks ago we were visiting the southern tip of the Osa Peninsula, one of our long-time favorite places in Costa Rica. This weekend we made a journey to one of the few spots in Costa Rica where we had never been before, the center of the southern tier, bordering this part of Panama. Seth’s visit to Boquete was one made by many visitors to Costa Rica who either for coffee or birding reasons see this cross-border excursion as a must. We made that excursion from San Jose to Boquete 15 years ago as a family, and my recollection of the coffee sampling, including of the geisha varietal before I knew how important that would become, is a highlight.

Hacienda La Amistad

Las Mellizas is a village created decades ago by the owners of Hacienda La Amistad, which is where Organikos sources its single estate organic coffee. The farm uses bananas and other fruits, plenty of including avocado, to shade the coffee and add value to the farm’s cash crop activity.

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I will have more to say when we are back on grid, but for now I share the image at the top, with the widest view I could find on the farm yesterday, sent using a cell phone connection and electricity from the hydro-electric plant that this farm runs on, shown here.

Understanding The Illogic Of Dams

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The Lower Granite Dam on the lower Snake River in southeastern Washington. GREG VAUGHN / ALAMY

Jacques Leslie, a veteran writer whose specialty in one of the most-used sources of alternative energy makes him a natural for our platform, somehow has never appeared in our pages before. Dams and the rivers they change are a special case of our interest in conservation, and stories about dam removal are worth the read every time. Here is a clear explanation of one river’s history and future related to dams, and the prospects for dam removal–if you have not read one of these stories yet to understand the historic case for dams and their present illogical realities, this may be the one you want to read:

On the Northwest’s Snake River, the Case for Dam Removal Grows

As renewable energy becomes cheaper than hydropower and the presence of dams worsens the plight of salmon, pressure is mounting in the Pacific Northwest to take down four key dams on the lower Snake River that critics say have outlived their usefulness.

North America’s largest Pacific watershed, the Columbia River Basin, is in the midst of an environmental and energy crisis so severe that the most obvious, yet hotly contested, antidote — removal of four dams on the Columbia’s longest tributary, the Snake River — is gaining traction.

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The hydropower dams have been controversial since before their completion, between 1962 and 1975, because of their disastrous impact on salmon and the other 137 species that are part of the salmon food chain. Most of the Columbia Basin’s 250-plus dams have played roles in the salmon’s decline, but the four lower Snake River dams are prime targets for removal because their economic value has diminished and their absence would inordinately benefit salmon. Continue reading

When Andeans Dream Of Electric Buses

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An electric bus in service on the streets of Medellín, Colombia. METRO DE MEDELLÍN

Happy to see our neighbors to the south taking the lead in greening public transportation:

An Increasingly Urbanized Latin America Turns to Electric Buses

From Colombia to Argentina, major cities in Latin America are starting to adopt electric bus fleets. In a region with the highest use of buses per person globally, officials believe the transition will help meet climate targets, cut fuel costs, and improve air quality.

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Medellín will have 65 electric buses in service by the end of the year, making it the second-largest electric bus fleet in Latin America. MARIA GALLUCCI/YALE E360

In Medellín, Colombia, passengers cram aboard a battery-powered bus during the morning commute. Inside, the vehicle is a respite from the crush of cars, taxis, and motorcycles winding through traffic outside. The driver, Robinson López Rivera, steers the bus up a steep ramp, revealing views of hillsides covered with rooftops of tile and tin. The bus dashboard indicates that the batteries are mostly charged, with enough power to last through the evening rush hour.

“It’s a little smoother and more comfortable to drive. And there’s hardly any noise,” López Rivera says from behind the wheel. He gently brakes as a street vendor pushes a fruit cart across the dedicated bus lane. At night, the bus will return to a parking lot by the airport, recharging its 360-kilowatt battery pack while the city sleeps.

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An electric bus charging terminal in Santiago, Chile, which draws power primarily from solar panels. ENEL X

The other 77 buses in the city’s bus rapid transit system, called Metroplús, run on natural gas and move about 251,000 passengers daily. Thousands more privately owned coaches and minibuses burn diesel as they traverse the sprawling metropolitan area of 3.7 million people, with older models leaving a trail of sour-smelling smoke. Faced with chronic air pollution and concerns about climate change, Medellín is now trying to move quickly to electrify its entire mass transit network. Continue reading

Resilient Forests & Reduced Fossil Fuel Dependency

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A Rough Terrain Container Handler, or RTCH, moves a shipping container full of about 40,000 pounds of wood chips to a nearby railcar. Ryan Heinsius/KNAU

National Public Radio (USA) shares a story that links forest management techniques in Arizona to fossil fuel use-reduction in Korea:

Chip-And-Ship Forest Clearing May Help Prevent Wildfire Disasters

A huge mechanical claw scoops up several ponderosa pine logs and feeds them into an industrial chipper. Thousands of wood chunks are then blasted into a large shipping container.

“It goes anywhere from one to four to three up to seven small ones can just kind of throw in that little jaws there,” explains Jeff Halbrook, a research associate with Northern Arizona University’s Ecological Restoration Institute. Today he’s overseeing what’s fondly known as the chip-and-ship pilot project about 20 minutes west of Flagstaff.

These trees being fed into the chipper were recently cut from the nearby Coconino National Forest. A crew of six has been working for days to pack the shipping containers as tightly as possible, stuffing each one with about 40,000 pounds of chipped wood. Then another machine hoists the container onto a nearby railcar. In about two weeks, nearly 60 containers will arrive at a port in South Korea. Continue reading