Hybrids cars: a step in the right direction!

A myth moving around the blogosphere reports that a ‘scientific study’ has shown that GMC Hummers are actually better for the environment than hybrids like the Toyota Prius, because of the cost and pollution involved in manufacturing the battery.  “Bunk”, states this analysis in Slate Magazine, which notes that the so-called study has lots of faulty assumptions, such as assuming the lifespan of the Prius is only 109,000 miles, while that of the Hummer is 379,000 miles. 

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Nuclear waste languishes, and we pay

Despite the upsurge in support for nuclear power as a solution to more carbon intensive fuels, no solution has been found to deal with the waste from nuclear plants. Currently, as this report in the NYT indicates, nuclear waste movement and burial from 100 US reactor sites is more than 20 years behind schedule.  Due to legal agreements and court orders, the federal government has been forced to pay the utilities running these plants over $300 million, and will have to pay from $7-$11 billion (or more) in the coming years to decades.  However, the federal waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, will not be ready to accept waste until 2017-2020 (and perhaps never, given other scientific issues and transport lawsuits). For every year beyond 2020, the federal government will have to pay the utilities keeping waste at the site of the nuclear plants an additional $500 million.

Yellowstone is warming…

An article in last week’s NYT reports evidence that the Yellowstone is warming up, and triggering a cascade of environmental and ecological changes.   One change is the increase in suitable habitat for the Canada thistle, which outcompetes other plants, and is a food source for Grizzly bears, among other foragers.   Climate change, associated with increasing drought within the park, has made previously marshy terrain suitable to the thistle.

Skeptics seize upon cold winter

Climate change skeptics, including the communications director for the Republican minority in the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, have seized upon  the unusually cold winter in North America as evidence that global warming is not really happening.  There is no doubt that this year’s La Niña has led to cooler winter weather over North America than we have seen for the past decade (see figure from NYT: 1980-2008 trend), but even this cooler weather is above the 1960-1990 monthly winter average.

Cold winter, but glacier melt accelerates

The World Glacier Monitoring Service in Zurich, Switzerland reports accelerating glacier melt based on 30 glaciers in 9 mountainous regions.  The biggest worry is loss of glaciers in regions that rely on them for summer drinking water and hydroelectric power, such as those on the western slope of the S. American Andes.  The full technical report is here.  A quote from the final remarks section, regarding melt rate since 1980:  “The melt rate and loss in glacier thickness continues to be extraordinary. This development further confirms the accelerating trend in worldwide glacier disappearance, which has become more and more obvious during the past two decades. “

Reminder Feb. 25 Guest Speaker

Sue Skinner of the EPA will be our guest speaker on Feb. 25, 7:30 p.m. at the Methodist church. Come with questions.

Ethanol sucks!

I hate to say I told you so, but two new science articles have made corn-based ethanol, and even more futuristic cellulosic ethanol, seem much less legitimate as an option to combat global warming.  Appearing in the prestigious journal Science, both new papers suggest that switching to ethanol will actually add to net greenhouse gasses in the near term (i.e., for at least 100 years if not more).  One of the reasons is that clearing more land for biofuels will immediately release a large pulse of carbon into the atmosphere. Moreover, as the pressure to both grow food and fuel mount, more land will be cleared, thereby accelerating such a carbon release.  Here are the abstracts for both articles (lead authors were from Princeton University and the Nature Conservancy) and here is some commentary from Grist.  The authors are careful to note that producing fuel from the waste stream (i.e., used cooking oil and grease, etc) does not have this drawback.