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[1THING] Blog: Archive for June, 2013

[ Biofuels at a Crossroads Forum Probes Key Climate Change Question ]

When President Obama unveiled his long-awaited climate change strategy this week, he never mentioned biofuels. (See “Obama Unveils Climate Strategy.”) But with nearly a third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions due to burning petroleum for transportation, a key and controversial question is what role plant-based alternatives can play in cutting the nation’s carbon emissions.

As part of National Geographic’s Great Energy Challenge initiative, we brought together two dozen experts from industry, academia, and environmental organizations to discuss whether biofuel can be a sustainable part of a cleaner energy future. (See in-depth coverage at Biofuels at a Crossroads, and vote and comment here: The Big Energy Question: Are Biofuels Worth the Investment?“) The forum Wednesday at National Geographic’s Washington, D.C. headquarters was timely, not just because the group convened the day after the President’s long-awaited climate speech.

It also came at a time that U.S. biofuels policy is under fire, as petroleum refiners are leading an effort to roll back the mandate (the Renewable Fuel Standard) that gradually increasing volumes of biofuels be blended into the U.S. transportation fuel mix.

Thanks to that policy begun in 2005, ethanol made from corn now makes up about 10 percent of U.S. gasoline consumption by volume; it’s one of the reasons that U.S. gasoline demand has fallen 6 percent from its peak in 2007. But it’s not clear that today’s biofuels can (or should) grow further.

For one thing, the vast majority of vehicles on U.S. highways today were not designed by automakers to run on a high volume of ethanol, even though the technology for flexible fuel vehicles is well-known and inexpensive. Most of the autos sold in Brazil are flex fuel, which has helped that nation do more than any other to give motorists a choice of fuel beyond gasoline. (See related, “Brazil Ethanol Looks to Sweeten More Gas Tanks.”)

But then there are the far thornier issues of food, water, and land. More than 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop is going to make ethanol and ethanol by-products (About one-third of each bushel dry-processed for ethanol is turned into livestock feed product.) Since most of the U.S. corn crop is rain-fed, drought is a risk, and the irrigation required is heavy in some areas. (See related, “Water Demand for Energy to Double by 2035,” and “Drought Withers U.S. Corn Crop, Heats Debate on Ethanol.”) Even more difficult is the indirect land impact issue: whether the increasing use of grain for fuel has prompted other nations to destroy valuable rainforest ecosystems for agriculture to make up for lost U.S. exports.

Any effort to undo the U.S. mandate on biofuels, however, would affect more than corn ethanol. It would also unravel the incentives that were meant to spur the development of more environmentally friendly alternative biofuels made from feedstocks like waste, grasses, and wood chips. (See related: “Beyond Ethanol: Drop-In Biofuels Squeeze Gasoline From Plants.”) Although cellulosic biofuel has not come on line as quickly as hoped, the first plants are opening, with thermo-chemical and biotechnology processes showing promise. Yet the industry’s future is precarious due to lack of capital and lenders willing to take a risk on the technology.

That’s why we brought together some of the leading thinkers on this complex issue for our forum, Big Energy Question: Biofuels at a Crossroads. You can read some of their comments and see photo coverage of the forum above.

What do you think about biofuels? Vote and comment here: The Big Energy Question: Are Biofuels Worth the Investment?

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[ Global Renewable Energy On Track to Soon Eclipse Natural Gas, Nuclear ]

Renewable power sources are increasingly cost-competitive, and demand for them is growing globally.

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[ Global Renewable Energy On Track to Soon Eclipse Natural Gas, Nuclear ]

Renewable power sources are increasingly cost-competitive, and demand for them is growing globally.

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[ Obama Unveils Climate Change Strategy: End of Line for U.S. Coal Power ]

President Obama announced his long-awaited climate change policy: more clean energy, wasting less energy, and the first ever limits on carbon pollution from coal plants.

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[ Obama Unveils Climate Change Strategy: End of Line for U.S. Coal Power ]

President Obama announced his long-awaited climate change policy: more clean energy, wasting less energy, and the first ever limits on carbon pollution from coal plants.

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[ The Sierra Club’s Complete Guide to Healthy, Chemical-Free Hair ]

hair

Long hair, short hair, curly hair, blue hair — no matter how you wear your hair, by making a few changes to your beauty regimen, you can limit your exposure to the unnecessary chemicals used in commercial personal-care products.  The Sierra Club has come up with a complete guide to healthy, chemical-free hair that minimizes your environmental impact and saves you money.  Read on to learn more:

TOOLS AND PRODUCTS:

Shampoo & Conditioners: The use of natural or organic products helps limit the chemicals (like the questionable parabens) that inevitably make their way down the drain. Further research is being done to determine exactly how parabens impact humans (and the environment) but in the meantime, consider whether you feel comfortable being exposed to these and other synthetically made chemicals.

Another advantage to choosing a certified organic shampoo and conditioner is that these products are often minimally packaged, saving energy at nearly every step along the supply chain. You can’t always trust product labels, so to determine whether a product is safe or not, look it up using the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Skin Deep Database

Buy shampoo in bulk whenever possible.

Read the rest of the article from the Sierra Club here.

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[ Beyond Ethanol: Drop-In Biofuels Squeeze Gasoline From Plants ]

The first commercial cellulosic biofuel plant aims to turn Mississippi wood chips into diesel fuel and gasoline that are chemically identical to petroleum products. Can homegrown “drop-in” biofuels transform transportation?

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[ Beyond Ethanol: Drop-In Biofuels Squeeze Gasoline From Plants ]

The first commercial cellulosic biofuel plant aims to turn Mississippi wood chips into diesel fuel and gasoline that are chemically identical to petroleum products. Can homegrown “drop-in” biofuels transform transportation?

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[ Green Quiz: Presidents on Pollution ]

Green Quiz: Presidents on Pollution

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President Obama gave a landmark speech on climate change on June 25, 2013. Several decades ago, another president gave a speech ushering in the new Clean Air Act. Who was it?

 
A. Lyndon B. Johnson
B. Richard Nixon
C. Gerald Ford
D. Jimmy Carter 

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.

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[ Heading To The Beach This Summer? ]

beachDid you know that more than 77% of plastic water bottles are not recycled, and that plastic makes up 80% of the trash that ends up in the ocean?

It’s astounding that more than 9.5 million plastic bottles have been collected in coastal cleanups worldwide over the past 25 years. Plastic water bottles are having a devastating effect on our ecosystems along our shores and beyond, and the worst part is, it could all be prevented!

The Surfrider Foundation — an organization dedicated to protecting oceans, waves and beaches — is encouraging beachgoers to Take Back the Tap!

So as you’re preparing for the beach this summer, do your part to make sure your trip to the beach this summer is green and plastic bottle-free!  Here are a few things you can do to help out:

1) First: Sign the pledge to Take Back the Tap at the beach
2) Pack a few reusable water bottles —don’t forget to fill them up first!
3) Headed to the beach with a lot of people? Get some big water containers, fill them with ice and tap water, and bring reusable cups!
4) Have fun, stay hydrated and don’t leave anything behind!

Check out this new report from Food and Water Watch to learn more about how bottled water impacts our environment and our wallets!

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