Archive for October 1st, 2009

Public Citizen hopes for climate change legislation that will direct us in becoming more energy efficient, less dependent on foreign oil, and better stewards of out state’s environment. As we await the outcome of the Waxman/Markey and Kerry/Boxer legislation in Congress, Governor Perry irresponsibly dismisses the issue with outrageous arguments to scare up more votes for the upcoming governor’s race.

In a speech that New York Times reporter John Rudolf described as fiery, Governor Perry addressed the climate-change bill passed by the U.S. House of Representative in June. The Waxman-Markey bill is now facing great opposition by many Republicans ,along with some conservative Democrats, while being debated in the Senate.

Perry anticipates that the “misguided” piece of legislation, as he describes it, will wreak economic disaster on the state. “Between 200,000 and 300,000 Texans who today work to supply the rest of America with energy would find themselves out of work,” said the governor. But these numbers do not conform with the numbers given out by Martin Huber, the Deputy Comptroller of the State of Texas. Perry’s numbers are more than a hundred thousand off. Both numbers, given by Perry and Huber, disregard what researchers say and boldly ignore the serious economic impact of climate change on the state. Texas has already experienced a devastating drought this year which has negatively impacted the agriculture of the state.

Texas needs some fundamental change in terms of energy production. In addition, a recent study conducted by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Boston and the Center for American Progress shows that investments in clean-energy have the potential of creating more than 153,000 jobs in the state of Texas alone — about 90,000 of which are jobs for those with lower educational credentials.

Such figures would have brought down the state’s unemployment to 3.6 percent in 2008. These numbers prove that in investing in green energy, the state has a great potential in ameliorating its climatic conditions as well as boosting its economy.

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For the second time in a month, it’s very popular among my friends and co-workers that they know a BYU Cougar (the first, of course, after the football game against Oklahoma, exciting my Longhorn-lovin friends and officemates, but I digress…)

From the Edmunds Green Car blog:

Brigham Young University Scientist: Sugar + Weed Killer = Direct Carbohydrate Fuel Cell

BYU-Professor-Gerald-Watt.jpgResearchers at Brigham Young University claim to have developed a fuel cell that harvests electricity from glucose and other sugars known as carbohydrates using a common weed killer as a catalyst.

Lead researcher and BYU chemistry professor Gerald Watt (pictured) said in an article published in the August issue of the Journal of the Electrochemical Society that carbohydrates are very energy rich and that he and his colleagues sought a catalyst that would extract the electrons from the carbs and transfer them to an electrode.

Watt said he and his colleagues discovered a solution in the form of a cheap and abundant weed killer. He described the effectiveness of the herbicide as a boon to carbohydrate-based fuel cells.

By contrast, hydrogen-based fuel cells such as those developed by General Motors require costly platinum as a catalyst.

The study conducted experiments that yielded a 29 percent conversion rate, or the transfer of 7 of the 24 available electrons per glucose molecule, Watt reported.

“We showed you can get a lot more out of glucose than other people have done before,” said Dean Wheeler, who was part of the research team. “Now we’re trying to get the power density higher so the technology will be more commercially attractive.”

This isn’t the first time that a glucose-based fuel cell has been reported. In 2007, Japanese scientists announced they had invented a device that used sunlight to convert glucose into hydrogen to power a fuel cell.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is going to be one of our ongoing series on climate change and how we can all make a personal impact.  Since today is World Vegetarian Day, I think this is an appropriate way to kick things off.

With various climate change proposals circulating on Capitol Hill, and the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen right around the corner, we are all reminded that legislative action and global cooperation are needed in order to protect our planet. While it is the responsibility of our leaders to work out an effective agreement, we must not forget that normal people like us can also make a big difference in reducing greenhouse gases. The Green-up your life! blog series will discuss the many ways in which we can all make a difference, just by making small changes in the way we live. Today, it is about what’s for dinner.

Many discussions about climate change are full of scientific jargon and are political in nature, making them hard to follow. We hear about increasing wind and solar power, implementing cap and trade, and reducing industrial carbon emissions. For those of us who want to personally contribute to the effort, we might switch to more fuel-efficient vehicles, or install solar panels on our homes. In addition to these large (and sometimes expensive) personal changes, there are many little things we can all do on a daily basis to make our planet healthier. One thing we can all do to decrease global warming is not always on the top of the list: eat less meat and dairy.

So, does the agricultural industry really contribute that much to climate change? Yup. Meat production accounts for a whopping 18% of total global greenhouse emissions–more than all forms of transportation put together. About 9% of anthropogenic (read: derived from human activity) carbon dioxide emissions are attributed to agriculture. In addition, methane, the smelly heat-trapping gas emitted from both ends of livestock, warms the world 20% faster than carbon dioxide. Almost 40% of methane in the U.S. is generated from enteric fermentation (which takes place during a ruminant animal’s digestion process) related to animal husbandry. Beyond carbon dioxide and methane, agriculture is responsible for ­65 % of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide only accounts for 5% of total greenhouse gases, but has heat trapping effects 310 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

Unfortunately, that’s not all. More than 37% of the earth’s land is used for agricultural purposes, and as the global demand for meat increases, the creation of more grazing land is a major contributor to deforestation, especially in Latin America, where 70 % of previously forested land in the Amazon is used as pasture, with the remaining 30% largely used for growing feed crops.

Beef is the largest culprit, but there are similar stories for all farm animals, including seafood. There is no doubt that agricultural practices contribute to global warming, both directly through emissions created from all levels of production, and indirectly through deforestation. Beyond this, it is just plain inefficient (as tasty as it might be) to get our calories this way. While most grains, fruits, or veggies require 2 calories of fossil fuel energy to create 1 calorie of food, this ratio grows up to 80:1 for beef!

When breaking bad news, honesty is the best policy. Nobody really wants to hear it, (and the agricultural industry most certainly doesn’t want to tell it), but as responsible stewards of our planet, and as daily consumers of food, one of the best things we can do is to eat less meat and dairy products. (Cutting down just on meat, but not dairy, will not make a big difference, because dairy cows burp and produce manure too). The silver lining is that what is better for the earth is also better for our health. Studies show that veggie-based diets decrease the chance of suffering from numerous types of cancers, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. When we do choose to eat meat, buying from local ranchers who raise pasture grazing livestock will ensure that we are limiting our impact on the earth. It appears more expensive to buy meat this way – but not when all the hidden costs are accounted for.

Nobody is asking that we all take up a diet of strictly brussels sprouts and brown rice, but if we all spend a little more time learning about the impact that our food systems have on the planet, a greener diet may just start to look more appealing. Stay tuned for next time, when, sticking to the topic of food, the importance of purchasing organic products will be discussed.

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