Economic recession and the credit crisis are savaging the wind and solar energy sectors. Installation of both wind and solar power are plummeting by a projected 30-50% this year. Biomass and geothermal are also affected, but less so than the high flying wind and solar industries. Layoffs are rife due to falling sales. Bank financing has dried up, leaving wind and solar developers starved for capital. Where once 18 banks made loans to finance the installation of wind turbines and solar arrays, today only four do so. The Obama administration’s stimulus package will help a little but it will take time to kick in so both industries are retrenching further. Even T. Boone Pickens has delayed his wind farm plan. One silver lining is that the availability of panels and turbines has improved; another is that the price of solar panels has 25% in six months, and is expected to fall another 10% by midsummer. However, homeowners installing solar arrays won’t pocket all those savings, because panels are only about 60% of total installation costs. Both industries are confident that in time they will revive, but nobody is predicting that a recovery will happen soon.
Bedford, New York, a wealthy community of 18,000 north of New York City, recently kicked off an ambitious plan for a sustainable future. It hosted a conference called an Environmental Summit to launch its efforts to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020. The number of S.U.V.’s in the parking lot underscored the challenges facing the town in reaching that goal. It will have to convince residents that each needs to make a difference, and can do so through their choice of cars. Another issue is that houses are large in Bedford, and energy-hungry. Because Bedford provides some of New York’s water supply, the town can’t build a waste treatment plant. About fifty students attended the conference, signaling how much environmental consciousness has grown in just a generation, and providing an example for other towns to follow.
One of the more far-out ideas to “fix” the carbon dioxide emission problem and save the planet still has its proponents, although many remain opposed. The idea is to use plankton as a sponge to draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into the sea, where it sinks to the bottom and is locked into deep sea sediment. But the amount of carbon dioxide stored away was less than predicted, so some have proposed “seeding” the plankton with iron, which can stimulate it’s growth. Others fear that adding iron to the ocean may damage ecosystems. Experiments show that natural iron increased the amount of stored carbon, but it still fell far below estimates. The next steps, using artificial iron, will be crucial to determine the ecological impacts. The German government has now authorized an ocean fertilization experiment near Argentina. However, squabbling continues over what rules and safeguards should apply.
This article is not about an asteroid wiping out the dinosaurs. It is about a much more recent cosmic event, an hypothesis that about 13,000 years ago a comet killed the woolly mammoths as well as the prehistoric humans known as the Clovis culture. One feature of that hypothesis is that a cometary impact over North America ignited fires across the whole continent. Unfortunately, analysis of charcoal and pollen records from the time of the hypothesized impact doesn’t support the theory. The research reported here and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences doesn’t show any sign of continent-wide wildfires on a scale that could exterminate entire species and cultures; it does indicate that the greatest incidence of fires occurred just after periods of sharp climate change. Not surprisingly, the proponent of the cometary impact theory and the current researchers disagree over how to interpret the latest findings. Climate watchers, however, place more importance on the fact that the research provides the first hard evidence that more fires than normal occur after periods of climate warming. This suggests that areas of low fire occurrence, like Britain, aren’t prepared for increases in wildfires due to climate warming, which can have impacts other than just rising sea levels
This short article from the New York Times isn’t really about climate warming or climate change, but air quality is related to emissions of many types, some of which do affect the climate or the populace. Researchers at Brigham Young University in Utah studied how changes in air quality from the early 1980s to the late 1990s impacted life expectancy in 51 cities. The found that for every decrease in 10 micrograms of pollutant particles per cubic meter of air, life expectancy increased by seven months. Over all, average life expectancy increased by two years and eight months. Controlling for smoking and other factors, they estimated that five months of the increased life expectancy was due to improvements in air quality. Efforts to clean up the air pay off in longer life.