Sunday, December 17, 2006

Mother Nature is dying for a cashmere sweater.

There was a great article in today's Chicago Tribune about the real cost of cheep cashmere products from China. It seems like China is following in our footsteps in creating a great dust bowl by over grazing arid land with goats and sheep which break up the topsoil with their hooves and kill the plants that hold the soil together. With the topsoil broken up it allows the fine sand beneath to freely blow in the wind and mix with the high amounts of pollution caused by the heavy use of coal in China. The clouds of dust and pollution are so large that it can encompass most of China. Blowing eastward it clouds Korea and Japan, crosses the Pacific and even blows across the western United States.

This article reminds me of the Dr. Seuss book, The Lorax. Except in this case it's not a children's story, it's real life. I guess we can replace Thneeds (a thneed is something that everyone wants, but nobody needs, and rhymes with greed) with cashmere.

The article also points out that the cashmere industry is set to implode. Currently the price of cashmere has dropped dramatically due to the oversupply. But due to the destruction of the environment caused by cashmere production the supply will soon drop dramatically. Because the vegetation the goats used to graze on have been killed the goats are now starving and the populations are quickly dwindling. This will cause the price of cashmere to once again rise, however since the supply will drop bellow what used to be sustainable, prices will probably rise higher than the historical price.

Greed may create a quick buck, but when greed causes the destruction of the environment we all lose. In the end we will all be paying much more than what we saved. I think we need to start exporting copies of The Lorax translated in Chinese to China.

The Tribune also has a multimedia version of the article as well.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Just when you thought global warming couldn't get any worse

Nova Science Now had a great segment on tonight's show on mass extinction and how it relates to global warming. Scientists are trying to figure out the cause of the great extinction at the end of the Permian era 250 million years ago. This extinction wasn't like the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous that killed off the dinosaurs. This extinction killed over 90% of life in the oceans and most life on land.

There are many theories of exactly what caused this mass extinction, but one theory is a large build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere caused by volcanic activity. Being a greenhouse gas, high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere trap in heat and cause the Earth to heat up. One of the interesting affects of the worlds oceans heating up is that warmer water holds less dissolved gasses and minerals. This is one of the reasons why warm pop or champagne is less fizzy than when it's cold. As the oceans heat up the water releases more and more of the dissolved gasses, including oxygen. With lower levels of oxygen aquatic animals have a more difficult time surviving. The interesting thing is oxygen depleted water is not devoid of life. In fact anaerobic bacteria thrive in oxygen depleted water. The byproduct of this bacteria is hydrogen sulfide, a nasty smelling deadly gas. If enough of this bacteria is present it can produce hydrogen sulfide is such large quantities that it will bubble to the surface and be released into the atmosphere. The hydrogen sulfide in the atmosphere not only would poison life on land, but would also damage the ozone layer allowing in more ultraviolet radiation.

This is an extreme example, but we must remember that life on Earth has existed for over three billion years. Humans have only been around for about 60,000 years. A mere blip on Earth's time-line. As one of the Earth's more recent residents we have managed to make major environmental changes, most within the last 100 years as we started burning huge volumes of coal and oil, destroying enormous forests, depleting the oceans of wildlife, and releasing such large volumes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that our current level is many times higher than the highest recorded levels of the past several thousand years.

As fossil records have shown us, mass extinctions have happened many times before and will happen many times to come. Life in some form always manages to survive. However human life is very fragile as we are susceptible to extreme temperatures, lack of oxygen, high levels of radiation, diseases, and many more. Artificially speeding up our extinction is foolish. It is imperative that we develop some type of technology to undo the damage we have done. Until that time we must for our own sake do what we can now to reduce the amount of damage we are inflicting on the environment before it's too late.

Friday, June 02, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

I saw a great movie tonight called "An Inconvenient Truth" starring former Vice President Al Gore. This is a movie that EVERYONE needs to see and brings to light many of the issues that I've been writing about.

This movie is a wake up call and explains just how serious global warming's affect is on our planet explained in a way that everyone can understand. We must all work to stop global warming and we must take action now. See the movie and visit the web site for a list of things you can do now to help reduce global warming. I've already taken steps to reduce my energy usage, how about you?

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Politicians once again blowing in the wrong direction

The Chicago Tribune published an article today about how the federal government has stopped work on more than a dozen wind farms that were planned to be built across the Midwest. The reason? Several politicians complained that a proposed wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod Massachusetts would spoil the view for summer homes of the rich. Do you really want to know what will spoil their view? Having their homes and beaches underwater due to rising sea levels caused by the melting of the polar ice caps due to the continued release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels instead of using renewable energy such as wind power.

Once again the people we elected to make the right decisions for us have made the wrong choice. Instead of doing what's right for the people they're doing what's right for themselves and for the wealthy lobbyists who line the politicians pockets with green. And when I say green, I'm not talking about what grows on trees.

If they don't want wind turbines off the coast of Cape Cod, fine, but don't shut down wind farm projects elsewhere in the country. In fact for Cape Cod instead of building a wind farm they could build a system to generate electricity from the movement of the waves. Something like this has already been done in the U.K by a company named Wavegen, why not in the U.S.?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Hey, who turned up heat?

Despite what the president of the United States and others outside the scientific community say, the Earth is getting warmer and there's scientific proof to back it up. If you think it's not, you're probably one of those that still believes the world is flat.

Everyday around the world stored energy in the form of fossil fuels, gases, oils, and radioactive materials are being used to generate electricity, move our cars, heat and cool our buildings, and power everything else you can imagine. All of these forms of stored energy release heat. Some additionally release carbon dioxide gas and other greenhouse gases that trap heat. All of that heat has to go somewhere.

If you remember back to your school science class you might remember something about the laws of thermodynamics. The first law of thermodynamics states that energy can be changed from one form to another, but it cannot be created or destroyed. The second law of thermodynamics states that in all energy exchanges, if no energy enters or leaves the system, the potential energy of the state will always be less than that of the initial state. This loss of energy dissipates as heat.

This second law of thermodynamics is the most relevant when we discuss global warming because it means that anytime you transfer energy from one form to another, such as conversion of gas to the motion of your car, some of that energy is lost in the form of heat. Over the years the amount of energy that we have been releasing through the use of more and more cars and more and more machines has led to the release of a vast amount of heat energy.

Lucky for us the earth has it's own air conditioning system. It's called the great ocean conveyor belt and I wrote about it in one of previous blogs. The problem is not that the air conditioner is broken. The problem is it's overwhelmed just like when you leave your shades up during a hot summer day.

So what's the point of all this? The point is global warming is real and getting much worse. We need to come up with solutions now to reduce the amount of our heat emissions and greenhouse gases before it's too late.