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[1THING] Blog: Archive for April, 2013

[ Extreme Green Buildings ]

Photograph from Xinhua/Eyevine/Redux

Photograph from Xinhua/Eyevine/Redux

Across our planet a growing number of buildings are being designed to be “net zero,” meaning they produce as much energy as they use (Walgreens recently announced plans to build the first net zero energy store).

To some, net zero is the logical extension of a green building movement that has been growing steadily from the 1970s, when people started putting up solar panels and boosting insulation, after decades of cheap fossil fuels in the early and mid-20th century.

“It’s critical to look at buildings as whole systems,” David Bergman, a green architect, professor, and author of the book Sustainable Design: A Critical Guide, recently told National Geographic.

“How much can they be self-sufficient or impact free, both in terms of their materials and internal systems, and how they affect communities?” he asked.

Check out the rest of this story and see more pictures of Extreme Green Buildings at National Geographic.


[ Report Points to Stormy Waters for the Smallmouth Bass in PA ]


Lesions on smallmouth bass. Photo by C. Yamashita/Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission

Lesions on smallmouth bass. Photo by C. Yamashita/Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission

The smallmouth bass is in trouble in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna River, and a new report from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation points to a nasty combination of pollution, pesticides and other factors as a major reason why.

According to Harry Campbell, Pennsylvania executive director for the Foundation, it is a deadly serious situation for a prized game fish that experts say generates $166 million for local economies and supports 1300 jobs.

“They are suffering from disease and extensive die-off, particularly the adults and the young of the year, to the degree to which many fishery scientists fear that this vitally-important economic driver of an aquatic species is at or near collapse,” he declared.

Campbell said the science is still maturing on exactly how this combination of factors is forming, adding that what’s important is to control what can be controlled, and that’s pollution.

“In terms of the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution: the endocrine disruptors,” he specified. “And that’s why it’s so important to continue on our efforts to reduce pollution entering into our rivers and streams that feed into the Susquehanna River and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.”

Campbell believes that, in terms of pollution reduction, there are common-sense, low-cost steps that the state, and individuals, can take in order to reduce pollution.

“For instance, the passage of a lawn-care-fertilizer bill as it pertains to how much phosphorus and nitrogen suburban and urban communities can apply that are going to have demonstrable impact, bringing us further and closer to solving the problem of the smallmouth bass issue.”

Campbell stated that everyone who values healthy fish and clean rivers should be concerned. The Bay Foundation encourages the state to continue efforts to reduce pollution, commit the necessary resources to clean water programs, and to further study the issue.

Because smallmouth bass are intolerant of many types of pollution, experts liken them to the “canary in the coal mine”: that is, their health is a solid gauge of water quality.

See the full report at CBF.org.

Source: Keystone State News Connection


[ It’s Air Quality Awareness Week ]


Healthy Air. Healthy You.
It’s Air Quality Awareness Week.  The U.S. EPA has put together a calendar for Air Quality Awareness Week,  April 29-May 3, 2013, to help you learn how air quality affects your health every day.

Monday: It’s Not Just Ozone. Particle Pollution It Matters, Too

Two of the most common pollutants in the U.S.–ozone, sometimes called smog, and particle pollution–pose health risks for hundreds of thousands of Americans each year. Are you one of them? More

Tuesday: Know When You Can Breathe Easy

Many people think of air pollution as a big-city problem, but that’s not always the case. Ozone and particle pollution can be problems in rural areas – in both the summer and winter. More

Wednesday: Heads Up: Particle Pollution Can Harm Your Heart

Think you have to stay inside on a Code Orange AQI day in your area? You may be surprised to learn that isn’t usually the case. Think of the AQI like a weather forecast– and use it to plan your outdoor activity. More

Thursday: Where there’s smoke…there’s particle pollution!

Start a School Flag Program.The School Flag Program improves awareness of outdoor air quality–and helps teachers and coaches ensure that children get plenty of physical activity, while protecting their health when air quality is poor. More

Friday: You Can Help Keep the Air Cleaner and Your Family Healthier

Nearly every day, each of us contributes a little to air pollution–but we don’t always realize it. Take a few minutes today to think about what you do that contributes to air pollution. Then come up with a plan to make some changes. More


[ Find the Scranton Farmer’s Market on Facebook ]

farmer's market

The warm weather is finally here in Northeastern Pa.  With the warm weather comes fresh fruits, veggies, and the Scranton Farmer’s Market. 

Opening in mid-July, the Scranton Farmer’s Market recently announced that they are on on Facebook.  You can get the latest news, check out photos, and more. Like them at https://www.facebook.com/coopfarmersmarketscranton/

They also have a just-published website, which was a class project by Sue Jenkins’ class at Marywood.  You can find their website at http://coopfarmersmarket.com

Let us know in the comments if you will be visiting the Scranton Farmer’s Market this year!


[ New Vineyards Could Create Conservation Challenges ]


Could wine lovers soon be sipping Montana merlots or Beaujolais clones grown on the shores of theBaltic (map)?

Changing climate may well redraw the familiar map of world wine production, making it harder to grow grapes in some traditional regions while opening up new frontiers for vineyards. But satisfying our thirst for wine in a warmer world could take a toll on biodiversity, a new study suggests, if vineyard changes aren’t managed carefully.

Lee Hannah, a climate change ecologist with Conservation International, and his colleagues modeled the impacts of changing climate on winemaking, an art that’s fine-tuned to local climate conditions, in a study published this week in the journalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Today’s top wine-producing regions fromChile to Tuscany could see their suitable growing area reduced by as much as 20 to 70 percent by the year 2050, the study suggests.

That means some growers will likely adjust by planting new vines in previously undisturbed ecosystems at higher latitudes or higher elevations—displacing the plant and animal species currently residing there.

“This can lead to serious impacts on wildlife habitat as new areas become suitable for wine production and open up to planting,” Hannah said.

Read the full story on National Geographic.


[ 72,000 Ladybugs Released Inside Mall of America On Earth Day In Place Of Pesticides ]

untitledWhat sounds like an April Fools’ Day prank was actually intentional — The Mall of America celebrated Earth Day on Monday by voluntarily releasing 72,000 ladybugs into its indoor shopping facility.

The ladybugs were released in the Minneapolis mall in an effort to protect the large amounts of the mall’s greenery, which are usually plagued by aphids.

Mall of America (MOA) Senior Manager of Environmental Services Lydell Newby said the bugs take the place of commonly used pesticides to control pests that would otherwise eat away at the mall’s tropical plants.

“Ladybugs are what I like to call, sort of a biological defense system,” said Newby, who added that ladybugs are a great and natural alternative to pesticides.

“You can release some ladybugs in your own garden,” he said. “And in an outside climate, once the conditions are right, they can live in your garden forever.”

A third-grade class was on hand to release the bugs, and many appeared to enjoy the experience.

Some shoppers took to the mall’s official Facebook page this week to complain about the possibility of the bugs infecting the mall’s food court, but according to an MAO spokesperson, the bugs only live on the plants for their two-week life span and are maintained by staff.

“We’ve been doing this for years,” the spokesperson said. “No ladybug takeover yet. Chances are, you’ve visited the mall during this short period and have never noticed them. They are completely harmless.”

According to the Mall of America’s blog, the shopping mall currently houses 30,000 live plants that act as natural air purifiers for shoppers. Since its opening in 1992, the facility has been using environmentally friendly procedures such as passive solar heating and an extensive recycling program


[ If It’s Good for Schools, Will It Be Good for Energy? ]

Power lines

Improving the nation’s power grid is a huge task. Is “Race to the Top” the right model? Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery. But is duplicating “Race to the Top” the way to get a new energy grid up and running?

If you don’t keep track of education policy, Race to the Top is the Obama administration’s signature schools initiative, with $4 billion in federal grant money awarded to states in a competition for the best education reform plans. In effect, the plan offers a carrot rather than a stick to states that implement broadly-backed reforms such as “common core standards,” new data systems for measuring progress, and overhauls in how teachers and principals are judged.

Since the Obama administration views Race to the Top as a successful approach, it’s no surprise that the president proposed budget includes $200 million for a similar program to improve the nation’s power grid. Overall, the nation’s electricity grid is aging, and without significant improvements it won’t be able to keep up with current demand, much less make full use of renewable and other new technologies.

So the goal is worthy – but so far the plan is short on specifics. Here, in fact, is everything the president’s budget says on the subject:

Challenges States to Cut Energy Waste and Support Energy Efficiency and Modernize the Grid. Modeled after a successful Administration approach in education reform designed to promote forward-leaning policies at the State level, the Budget includes $200 million in one-time funding for Race to the Top performance based awards to support State governments that implement effective policies to cut energy waste and modernize the grid. Key opportunities for States include: modernizing utility regulations to encourage cost-effective investments in efficiency, including combined heat and power and demand response resources, and in clean distributed generation; enhancing customer access to data; investments that improve the reliability, security and resilience of the grid; and enhancing the sharing of information regarding grid conditions.

Even putting the bureaucratic prose aside, this is obviously going to need to be fleshed out quite a lot before anyone can judge how effective it will be. But here are a few questions based on the education world’s Race to the Top that are worth considering:

Do the states have enough skin in this game? There’s no question that education is a state government responsibility. State and local governments put up the lion’s share of the money for public schools, set the standards, hire the teachers, and face the voters when things go wrong.

The electricity grid, by contrast, isn’t something state governments run directly. It’s something states regulate, with most of the money and the management handled by private utility companies. And it’s more questionable whether voters hold states accountable for the grid. Race to the Top could directly affect decisions made in schools. With the power grid, state policy is one step removed from those actually doing the work.  The impact may play out differently.

Is there enough of a consensus on what needs to be done? While Race to the Top could be controversial, generally speaking it promoted ideas that many  governors and educators already accepted. States had to implement certain policies even to participate – for example, states couldn’t have any laws preventing them from using test scores to evaluate teachers. Even so, some states, like Texas and Virginia, passed on the federal competition in order to implement their own school plans. And of course, the debate over the state role in health care reform, where many states resisted participating in different elements of “Obamacare,” shows what can happen if states don’t buy into a federal program.

There are certainly models to follow here – the Energy Department’s Strategic Plan for Grid Modernization presents a compelling example. But have governors bought into these plans on what can and should be done about the grid?

Is this enough money to make a difference? In education, Race to the Top dangled a tasty enough carrot in front of state governments to make it worth their while to change policies and develop plans to participate. New York state alone got $700 million in federal money. But $200 million in energy grants spread out over multiple states isn’t going to go very far. The task before us is massive. Some 30 percent of the grid is 40 to 50 years old, in a network that connects more than 15,000 power plants, 220,000 miles of high voltage lines, and another 5 million miles of distribution. Private utilities spend about $5 billion a year on upgrades, and it isn’t enough. New Jersey’s PSE&G alone has proposed spending $3.9 billion over 10 years to strengthen its system after Hurricane Sandy. Overall, the Electric Power Research Institute estimated we need up to $476 billion to modernize the grid nationwide.

Maybe the $200 million could be effective if focused on crucial sticking points in state government policies. But we still need to leverage those changes to encourage the necessary private investment in the grid.

The idea of a “race to the top” for the energy grid is certainly appealing. There’s no question we need new and compelling methods to get states and utilities to the starting line. But it still isn’t clear whether the federal government is envisioning a dash or a marathon – or whether states will want to run the race at all.



[ Climate Change Could Mean Bumpier Flights ]


Buckle up—thanks to climate change, airline passengers may be in for a bumpier ride.

By 2050, airplanes could see a doubling in instances of moderate-intensity turbulence over the North Atlantic Ocean—one of the world’s busiest flight corridors—due to shifts in the jet stream as a result of global warming, according to a new study. (Related: 6 Ways Climate Change Will Affect You.)

Those bumps could also become stronger due to the intensification of conditions that lead to a type of turbulence called clear-air turbulence, according to the study published online today in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Unlike the turbulence associated with storm clouds, clear-air turbulence is mainly associated with jet streams—large rivers of air in the atmosphere—and can occur in clear blue skies. (Related: Severe Weather More Likely Thanks to Climate Change.)

“The pilot can’t see it and the sensors onboard can’t see it—that’s why it’s a particularly dangerous form of turbulence,” said Paul Williams, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom and lead author of the new paper.

Turbulence occurs mostly because of a change in airspeed with respect to height, said Mitchell Moncrieff, an atmospheric scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, who was not involved in the study.

It happens mostly in in frontal areas—places where air masses of different characteristics meet—and jet streams.

Since climate change will accelerate the jet stream over the North Atlantic, Williams said, that river of air will flow faster, making the atmosphere more susceptible to turbulence—much like a fast-running river develops white water.

Check out the rest of the story on National Geographic.


[ Green Quiz: Geothermal Energy ]

Green Quiz: Geothermal Energy


Honza Soukup

Over 450 geothermal power projects are being developed around the world today. According to the World Bank, nearly 40 countries have enough geothermal potential to meet a significant proportion of their electricity needs.

Which region of the world supports the largest collection of geothermal plants in operation?

A. El Tatio-La Torta, Chile

B. Nesjavellir, Iceland

C. Soultz-sous-Forêts, France

D. The Geysers, Northern California

Be one of the first three responders to email the correct answer to info@earthshare.org and you’ll win a green prize from EarthShare.


[ Plant a Tree on Friday for Arbor Day ]






Arbor Day is an annual observance that celebrates the role of trees in our lives and promotes tree planting and care. It has been over 135 years since J. Sterling Morton founded Arbor Day. His simple idea of setting aside a special day for tree planting is now more important than ever. Here are a few ideas on how you can celebrate Arbor Day this Friday, April 26th!

  • Celebrate Arbor Day in a personal way by planting a tree yourself. It is an act of optimism and kindness, a labor of love and a commitment to stewardship.
  • Read a book about trees. Learn to identify trees in your yard and neighborhood.
  • Enjoy the outdoors. Visit a local park or take a nature hike.
  • Attend a class on tree and plant care.
  • Volunteer with a local tree-planting organization. You’ll meet new people and make a difference in your community.
  • Read this story from the Sierra Club explaining how stressful urban landscapes are to trees and find out what you can do to help.

Find many more ways to celebrate and learn more about Arbor Day by visiting the Arbor Day Foundation here.