Something promising: A wind farm in Smøla, Norway painted one blade black on each of four turbines, and measurably reduced bird kills. Of course, this change only protects daytime fliers: nighttime migrants and bats wouldn’t benefit.
Richard Conniff makes the case for a carbon tax on beef.
Agriculture, including cattle raising, is our third-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, after the energy and industrial sectors.
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Beef and dairy cattle together account for an outsize share of agriculture and its attendant problems, including almost two-thirds of all livestock emissions,….
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The emissions come partly from the fossil fuels used to plant, fertilize and harvest the feed to fatten them up for market. In addition, ruminant digestion causes cattle to belch and otherwise emit huge quantities of methane [a much stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide].
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The way feedlots and other producers manage manure also ensures that cattle continue to produce methane long after they have gone to the great steakhouse in the sky.
- Craig Morris and Arne Jungjohann write about strategies for mustering grassroots support for transitions in energy sources. How did the German Energiewende reverse the rise in nuclear energy dependence, replacing nuclear power with other renewable sources?
- Andy Newman does a ride-along on New York’s century-old technology: manually operated elevators. (And a map of buildings that still use them.)
- J. F. Meils reviews what’s news in the struggle to fully enfranchise the District of Columbia.
A mini-roundup of bird-related links:
- Alan Neuhauser reports estimates of avian mortality attributable to various energy sources. Although wind takes a toll, the big killer, on an absolute basis, is coal. It would be interesting to see this data on a per-kWh basis.
- GrrlScientist summarizes recent research that indicates certain bird species do better in areas under more intensive agriculture that leaves some patches undisturbed (so-called “land-sparing farming”) while others to better under “land-sharing” (e.g., intercropping in a shade-grown coffee plantation).
Brad Plumer updates his post on the kinds of energy sources we depend on, illustrated by maps of the lower 48.
Robert W. R. Parker and Peter H. Tyedmers present research results that indicate that energy consumption by fishing fleets has a significant greenhouse gas effect, perhaps even as important as the tropic level of the fish that’s caught. Fishing for small fish like mackerel and sardines is the least energy-intensive, while going after crustaceans like shrimp and lobster can be worse by a factor of 50, consuming nearly as much energy as raising terrestrial livestock. The disparity is even more pronounced in Europe, where crustaceans are scarcer. April Fulton interprets the results.
So why is all this fuel getting burned? As the fishing industry has evolved in the last century from throwing out a few lines over the local dock to industrialized operations, we’ve been able to fish in more parts of the ocean and freeze our catch right on the boats….
And the boats – not the packing plants or trucks transporting fish to the store — are where the bulk of the burn comes from, Parker says. The energy needed to get fish to the dock accounts for 60 to 90 percent of the fishing industry’s total energy use and emissions.
Babbage reports on a new development in energy management, based on the not-at-all-new concepts of district heating and steam radiators: capturing waste heat from data centers and using it as a source of energy for nearby buildings.
Snow days are good for cleaning up the inbox of bookmarks.
- Jeff Kelly shows how to build your own RFID data logger for $40 or less. It’s suitable for tracking birds at feeders, nest boxes, anywhere they hang out. The system works with any animal species large enough to carry an RFID tag; a battery at the logging station provides the power.
- A new paper by G. Bohrer et al. describes an “exclusion zone” approach to siting wind turbines in an urban environment, as Roberta Kwok explains. The approach manages the tradeoff between maximizing the power produced by an array of turbines and minimizing its adverse effects on wildlife.
Clearing the bookmarks for things that I had intended to post more fully about:
- William J. Ripple and Robert L. Beschta report on trophic effects due to reintroduction of Gray Wolf (Canis lupus) into Yellowstone National Park. Some herbivore species are down, but aspens, cottonwoods, and willows are up. And, perhaps surprisingly, species that depend on woody plants like beavers are up, too.
- The key to Broadway success might be in assembling a creative team with a mix of old hands and newcomers, suggests research by Guimerà et al. and summarized by Matt Golosinski for Northwestern’s KelloggInsight. The optimal number of team members has remained constant at seven since about 1930.
- Vi Hart’s “Doodling in Math Class” videos (independent, pre-Khan Academy) are smart and delightful. Perhaps the centerpiece is her three-part demystification of the Fibonacci sequence.
I am as far as possible from the only two other leaves in the universe!
- Related: Alexander Mitsos and Corey Noone report that the optimal arrangement of mirrors in a solar energy collector follows the pattern of a Fermat spiral.
Leta and I spotted this polyethylene-bodied Th!nk City electric vehicle getting a drink of juice in a local parking garage. The manufacturer has gone bankrupt four times in twenty years, but Electric Mobility Solutions AS has plans to restart production soon. Most of the U.S. production was to the state of Indiana for government fleet use. What’s this one doing in Silver Spring?
Meera Subramanian reports on current efforts to reduce bat and bird mortality at wind turbine sites. Progress has been made even at the eagle-deadly Altamont Pass.
In Cádiz [in Spain], temporarily shutting down turbines has worked because the biggest threat is to migratory birds, which pass through only occasionally. Similar methods could reduce mortalities along the migratory bottlenecks in Central America, Europe and Asia, says Miguel Ferrer, a conservation biologist at Doñana and a co-author of the Cádiz study.
But that tactic will not work in Altamont Pass, which has both migratory and permanent avian populations. Instead, companies there are making headway by replacing small, ageing turbines with fewer large ones. Choosing sites carefully can help, too. “Raptors do not use the landscape randomly,” explains Doug Bell, wildlife programme manager with the East Bay Regional Park District, which manages parklands and monitors wind farms around Altamont.
As Leta likes to remind me, the carbon footprint of an electric vehicle (or anything else powered by mains electricity, for that matter) depends on the underlying energy source used to produce the electricity, be it solar or nuclear or coal. Paul Stenquist previews an upcoming report from the Union of Concerned Scientists on the greenhouse gas impact of pure electric automobiles (Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf) across the country.
The study translates the effect into an apples-to-apples, miles-per-gallon comparison to conventional cars. Since cities in the Great Plains and upper Midwest get much of their electricity from CO2-spilling sources, driving an electric car charged up in the middle of the country is no better than driving an gasoline-powered econobox that gets 35 MPG. By comparison, in hydro-dependent southeast Alaska, you’d have to drive something that gets 112 MPG to best an electric vehicle.
Vincent Kartheiser just got dreamier, IMO. To get to work in Los Angeles where he films Mad Men, he rides public transit. Tricia Romano rides along.
A case where a wind farm appears to be the less damaging alternative: Tom Zeller, Jr. reports on efforts to forestall mountaintop removal mining at Coal River Mountain in Raleigh County. W. Va.
The idea for a wind project first surfaced in 2006, after David Orr, a professor of environmental studies at Oberlin College in Ohio, approached researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, part of the Department of Energy, about its analysis of wind potential around the country.
“We were supporting lots of groups trying to stop mountaintop removal and to do remediation at former sites,” Professor Orr says. “But we realized that, while that’s fine, it’s hard to get something done if you’re always just against something. So we began looking for alternatives to mountaintop mining.”