“The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind; The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”
A new study is helping to shed some light on a point of contention with respect to wind turbines. Although most people are keen to support wind energy—one study showed 76 percent of Americans want wind energy to contribute to the grid—NIMBYism (i.e. “Not In My Back Yard”) has also played a large part in the discussion. So called Wind Turbine Syndrome which has yet to have objective evidence that living near large scale wind turbines leads to true physiologic harm resulting from infrasound has been one complaint heard in some circles with particularly vocal groups in Australia and my province of Ontario.
But another big complaint is that wind turbines hurt property values. There are anecdotes galore as well as some small samples that suggest people lose property value by living near wind turbines, although previous studies have demonstrated that neither the announcement of upcoming wind turbine development nor their actual construction has any statistically significant impact on property values. Continue reading
“When you get a large temperature increase over time, as we are seeing, and little change in rainfall, fires will increase in size.”
— Loretta J. Mickley, senior research fellow in atmospheric chemistry at Harvard SEAS
The devastating wildfire currently raging through California on the edge of Yosemite National Park is the worst that Sierra Nevada has ever had and the worst in California’s history. More than 455 square kilometres are gone already. It may be topping the headlines right now, but it’s only one of dozens of wildfires affecting 11 states in the western U.S.
There are a number of factors that have made this particular wildfire so devastating: fire suppression policies and thick forest floor vegetation have provided a lot of fuel for the fire to consume to be sure, but warmer and drier summers have also played a part. So is this just one example of what we can expect in the future, where the extreme example becomes the norm in just a few years?
New research by some environmental scientists at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) unfortunately says it is. Continue reading
“How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean.”
—Arthur C. Clarke
You’ve heard of feedback loops before. Negative feedbacks naturally impact on systems to help them to regulate themselves: the greater the response, the more it is negatively impacted to curtail that response. Although there are many complex scientific examples, I think a great example that everyone has in their own home is the float in the back of a toilet: as the water level climbs in the back reservoir after the toilet has been flushed, the float rises along with the waterline, helping to close off the valve that allows water into the tank.
Positive feedback on the other hand amplifies the impact rather than regulating and reducing it. An example I deal with in cardiovascular medicine is the formation of blood clots. When you cut your skin and start to bleed, platelets (which are like bricks in our blood clots) become “activated” and release a bunch of chemicals to promote clotting proteins (which are like the mortar) to bind together with the platelets. These components all interact to help form the clot. But as platelets get activated, some of the chemicals released attract and activate other platelets, amplifying the response. Without this mechanism, clots would form way too slowly to prevent us from bleeding to death after any substantial injury.
When it comes to global warming, we’ve already witnessed a few positive feedbacks that our planet is experiencing. One is melting ice at the north pole, Greenland, and the numerous glaciers found all over the planet. As that ice slowly melts away, we have a relatively darker planet surface leading to more sunlight being absorbed rather than reflected back. The absorbed light energy is then converted into infrared radiation and eventually absorbed in the atmosphere by greenhouse gases leading to even more global warming and more melting ice. And so on. And so on. Another is with melting permafrost, leading to the release of significant amounts of methane which is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology have found another: ocean acidification. Continue reading
“What we’ve seen too often in Congress is that the fossil fuel industries tend to be very… influential, let’s put it that way, on the energy committees in Congress.”
—President Barack Obama
Let’s face it: we all know it; we all think it; many of us even talk about it. Congress doesn’t always do what’s in the best interest of voters because they’re more influenced by lobbyists and those who fund their efforts. Case in point: many members of energy committees are in the back pockets of the fossil fuel industry and vote the way big oil and coal want them to.
But it’s nice to see President Obama calling them out on it. Last week at Birmingham University, he did just that in a speech he gave, pointing out that influence from the fossil fuel industry has led to resistance in Congress to a variety of green initiatives such as increasing the energy efficiency in appliances and investing in clean energy technologies. But as Obama stated loudly and clearly: Continue reading